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The tension masked by her silky tones was faint, curling around the ends of her words like tendrils of smoke around burning timbers. “No. I’ve just chosen another candidate. On closer inspection, Captain Neil is much better suited to lead, and with the right guidance he’ll be…receptive.”
Genesis removed her VR-Com goggles and yawned, glancing around the dim room, small lights recessed into the red stone illuminating just enough to compensate for the failing light of dusk. Taking up her hand-held, she activated her customized note-taking program. A crowd of figures, shimmering and semi-translucent, appeared in hologram form above the handheld.
“Captain Neil.” The crowd vanished, winking out one by one as a figure grew in size and moved to the forefront until it stood alone. Genesis examined the iridescent figure of a man that rotated over her hand-held. The image wore the dark blue and silver dress uniform of a space captain and was tall, broad-shouldered, and true to life with a lopsided grin and a twinkle in his eyes.
Slowing or speeding the rotation of the image with a touch of her finger, she made notes, inserting nuances of character and details of previous interactions. Each notation hovered, flashing and then fading into the figure, stored for future use. She passed the time it took for her message to reach Earth and the reply to make its way back to Mars, updating her files on the colonists.
The VR-Com chimed for her attention, the sound simultaneously melodic and demanding. With the swipe of a finger she closed out the file program and slid the glasses back over her yellow-gold eyes.
“And what of David Raiklin?” Instead of a visual of the speaker as was customary, the message contained only sound. “I’ve looked over your previous assessments and am well acquainted with the colonists and their potential at this point.” The voice had a resonant quality that felt like old memories half recalled. “By your reports…You had Mr. Raiklin eating out of your lap, as it were. And now you toss away that hard work and progress in favor of another candidate, one with a high moral compass, and other…entanglements. The pieces don’t add up.”
Genesis narrowed her eyes, listening as the message finished.
“My working theory is that you got in over your head and had to bail out. If that’s the case then I’m concerned about your reliability.”
She swallowed, jaw clenching as she reached up to her temple and pressed the flashing blue button on the VR-Com. “You don’t even do me the courtesy of a video communication, sending only the grating sound of your voice…and spewing accusations.” The image projection that would have been sent back to Earth winked out. “Considering that, I’ll assume you prefer not to see the one you’re conversing with either.” Black lashes batted over glaring cat-eyes. “Better? Not two weeks have passed since you were assigned as my new contact and you think you can question my every move?” She stood, pacing to the window overlooking the central garden, where tall saplings impeded the view of the purpling sky, and stared out as her breathing slowed, losing the uneven rhythm that tried to echo her elevated heart-rate. Patches of magenta, crimson, and midnight-purple showed through the leaves, mossy lichen hanging in swathes from the branches, whipping against the trunks like tattered sails in the heavy wind.
Genesis slid her fingers into her raven tresses, resting both palms against the back of her head as a smile crept across her lips. “I don’t think you know how this works. The Council chose me to safeguard their interests on Mars and while you may be my new contact, I’m here and you are on Earth. So let me be clear. I am the one who will be making the decisions on how to succeed at my task, and I’ll keep you informed of my progress…if you’re very nice.”
The reply came several minutes later, leaving a perplexed scowl in its wake. “That state of affairs is entirely temporary, child. In the meantime…please, pretty please… consider me your consultant and advisor. I can promise you our interests are one and the same.”
Can you really? She rolled her eyes for an invisible audience, sliding the VR Comm from her face and tucking it into a drawer. Stepping closer to the large screen she pulled out a comb and pulled it through the cascade of black hair that fell past her lower back. “Mirror.”
The screen on the wall lit up, reflecting the room in front of it and serving as a wall sized mirror. Genesis offered a profile to the mirror and then the other side, a soft smile of satisfaction lighting her face as she inspected it. She glanced at the time on the top of the display. Just in time to go mingle.
A chime from the drawer halted Genesis’s movement. “Can’t he tell when he’s been dismissed?” Diverting from her path she opened the drawer once more and placed the VR Comm over her eyes. Before any message played, a visual appeared. A robed individual, taller than her by at least six inches, with his arms spread wide as if in supplication turned in a circle before her.
“Better? My identity must remain confidential until a later time.” He pulled back the hood of the robe to reveal shifting features that took shape before her eyes. A friendly visage resolved from coalescing pixels of data, and smiled. “But I can give you a face to converse with every so often…you know, if you would like a more intimate interaction we can continue instead, using time-lapse VR. I’ve found it most satisfactory for removing the gaps and allowing a more seamless conversation.”
Genesis gave a sunny smile, turning on the visual on her end for him to see it. “As tempting as it is, I don’t have time for dream-talk. I’ve better ways to use the time between your long-awaited contributions to the conversation. Perhaps another time.”
Slipping the VR Comm from her head, she dropped it into the drawer once more.
The room was full when Genesis slipped in through a side entrance without announcement. She could feel the thrum of the meeting, the restless excitement of bodies ready to move. It was winding down after several hours of business and the shift in tone from work to play was tangible. She settled into the feel of it, leaning against a back wall and absorbing the energy of the room.
Captain Neil stepped towards the seats of the colonists that formed a semicircle around the central dais where the ten department heads sat on stone benches. “So, because this is my last time speaking as the Colony’s head honcho, I wanted to thank you for trusting me with your lives, on the ship and planet-side, in the colony and out in the North mountains…” Laughter erupted from pockets around the room. “Seriously, it takes some real loyalty to follow a man up into mountains that you know damn well he’s hiking for the first time so…good on ya.” The Captain chuckled along with them. “It’s been a good ride…it has.”
A voice from the crowd yelled out through the fading laughter. “Third term!” Another echoed the sentiment, and another, until the voices multiplied and melded together into a single voice chanting. “Third term, Captain Neil! Third term!”
His mouth fell open and he stared around the room, shock and distress pulling the humor from his features. He lifted both hands, directing palms to the floor in the gesture the colonists knew was a call for silence. The chant died out, almost at once and was replaced by worried glances around the room, nervous laughter, shifting in seats. The Captain hesitated, brushing a hand through his sandy hair. He shook his head, crooked smile emerging. “Wow. That’s just—thank you…If you want me on the ballot again, then who am I to argue? I’d be honored. But then, well, maybe some of you chanting for my third term should look at yourselves.” Neil gestured with a sweeping hand around the room, winking at the tall slim woman in the front row. She gave a dry laugh, shaking her head and causing her short blond locks to flip across sharp cheekbones. “Yes, that means you Trina! And think about whether you might have some leadership skills to offer the colony. Maybe. There are no candidates registered as yet.” He pointed one long finger out at the crowd. “Think about it. Meeting adjourned now. After party commencing.” A light jog carried him down the steps to scattered applause that grew into a steady stream of clapping and filled the room. The crowd of colonists began to break up, shifting and moving as some stood to stretch and others moved over to the Kitchen-bots on the East wall. Conversation built from murmurs to full banter.
“Well, somebody’s got the whole colony burnin’ and crushin’ on him.” Kendra met Neil near the base of the stairs. She grinned up at him, blue eyes matching the shimmering jumpsuit she wore, setting off the sandy brown tone of her skin.
“Psht. They’re just hoping to get closer to our only songstress and midwife through my good graces.”
“Keep that up and you won’t be sleeping alone tonight, Cap’n.”
Neil chuckled, pulling closer and wrapping his arms around her waist.
“I did tell you though, didn’t I now?” She flicked her gaze towards the room full of exuberant Mars colonists. “These people aren’t gonna let you fly the Pinnacle back to Earth anytime soon if they can help it.” The Captain’s smile faltered a moment, before recovering.
“What about you?”
It was Kendra’s turn to snort. “I’m not about to tell you what to do. Doesn’t work on children, so I hear at least. Doesn’t work on men…shoot, doesn’t work on me. You tell me to stay put on Mars and I’m liable to jump on the next flight out.”
Neil glanced around the amphitheater dome, comfortably full with warm bodies and the rise and fall of conversation among ninety-eight colonists. “I believe that…”
“Who you lookin’ for?”
He shook his head. “Just looking. I’m still Council Lead until the next one’s in office so just…lookin’.”
“I think you spooked them, though.” Kendra meandered over to the back of the food line guiding the Captain along with her.
She shrugged, looking away, her tone casual. “You seemed a little reluctant is all.”
Neil threw his head back, laughter bubbling up. “You make me sound like a ten year old balking at apprenticeship—”
Trina approached from the right and took up the scenario, laughing as she finished for him. “—hiding under the bed to give his parents a sample of just how much they’ll miss him.”
Kendra looked from Neil’s face to that of his second in command and closest friend. Her eyes were warm with good humor. “Sounds spot on to me.”
“Seriously, though, I think you should run, Trina. You’re more than qualified. Smart, experienced…a good listener.”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t want to switch roles, Captain. You’d chafe in a second’s uniform—forget to take orders and start giving them.”
It was Neil’s turn to roll his eyes, mimicking her expression of a moment before. “I think I could learn—you just let me know if you want me to back your campaign.
Genesis stood across from them in another line and turned to greet the trio as they reached the kitchen-bots at the same time.
“Good evening, Captain. Kendra. Trina.” She inclined her head to each of them, a warm smile lighting her face. “That was some chant, was it not? Seems they’d have a monarchy, if you were willing.”
Mario raised his glass to them in passing, bumping into several colonists behind them in line. “I’d give ‘im a crown.” He gave the Captain a wink as he leaned in and chucked him on one shoulder.
Neil’s lopsided grin emerged and he blinked away the compliment with a faint blush. “Three terms is not a monarchy…and I’d turn it down if it ever came to it.”
“Oh?” Genesis arched a brow as she collected a plate of steaming food, a stir-fry of lab-grown meat, edamame, leeks, and onion, seasoned with dried lichen flakes and basil. She pinched a mushroom between two fingers and popped it into her mouth. “Why change leaders if one is so well suited to the task?”
The Captain collected his own plate, a frown pulling at his face. “I’m not better suited than…well, probably a good portion of people here. There’s been no basis for comparison.” The crooked smile emerged again. “At this point it’s just loyalty. I brought them here safe and helped them settle in.” He shrugged.
“If you say so.” Genesis moved to break away from the conversation. “Oh, and Captain?”
“Let me know if you need any help writing your speeches, assuming you decide to put yourself on the ballot. I’d hate to see you flying off any sooner than necessary, especially if you decide you want to stay a bit longer.” The grin was bright and full of humor.
The Captain smiled back with a fraction of the enthusiasm. “Will do.”
Trina raised both brows. “See that? You have the third term in your back pocket.”
Theresa lifted Abby from her lap to her shoulder, where the child curled small soft arms around her mother’s neck and rested one rounded cheek. “Did she fall asleep?” Emily leaned closer to see the small face, catching a glimpse of large red-brown eyes framed in long black lashes before the child turned her face into Theresa’s neck to hide. Emily’s smile and her voice were tremulous. “Oh. I guess not…” Her words came in a breathless rush. “She’s so beautiful, Theresa. Like a tiny fairy in a storybook!”
Theresa beamed, stroking the dark, almost black curls that made a halo around Abby’s head. “Thanks. She’s pretty perfect.” She bit her lip, the smile faltering as she struggled to formulate some sort of return compliment. Yours will be, too—We can only hope. She leaned her face closer to the child’s delicate ear, voice just above a whisper.“Abby, do you want to say hello to miss Emily?” There was a slight shake to the small head and shoulders.
“Am I frightening her, do you think?” The other woman’s face creased with worry.
“No, no. I think she’s just tired and overwhelmed.”
Emily nodded. “Is she talking much yet? I’ve been reading for—well for when this little one arrives.” She gestured to her still narrow waist. “And they’re expected to talk some by this age. That’s right, isn’t it?”
Theresa nodded, traces of irritation showing in her eyes and the set of her jaw. “It is right, and she’s actually ahead of the curve. She just keeps it to herself… well, and me.” With a slight shift in position, Abby turned her head where it rested in the crook of Theresa’s neck and sat back in her arms to stare at Emily. “There you are, baby. Do you want to get some food?”
Abby nodded in reply, curls bouncing in time with the movement.
“Want to join us?”
Emily turned her stare from the child in Theresa’s arms to the woman herself, her smile apologetic. “I think I’m going back to my room. I can’t seem to shake this headache today—and I’m just tired, from work, from the meeting. I’ll probably go straight to bed.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Yes, go then. Rest. Have you told Carla?”
“It’s just a headache, and first trimester fatigue. I think I’ll take a day off tomorrow.”
“Sure. Sure. Jon can pick up the slack for the three-D printing department.”
“Sure. Goodnight, Theresa.” With a wave, she headed to the nearest security door to scan and exit. Theresa watched her go, worry creasing her brow as she then scanned the mingling colonists for one in particular.
There she is—either plants or pregnant bellies. She took up a light jog towards Emily’s grandmother. The older woman stood in a triangle with David and Donovan, conversing. David held a large basket full of flowers under one arm and was in the midst of tucking one into Carla’s silvery braid.
“Mmmmm…David! You two need to cover the planet with these. The smell is amazing. On second thought—I want one in my room, how about that?”
David grinned at the matriarch and gave a mock bow. “All you have to do is ask, Carla.”
Donovan pushed a lock of ebony hair back from prominent cheekbones. “For her room you mean…eh? The planet’s surface isn’t ready to support your plumeria yet. Close but…well, the aspens are still spreading.
The other man laughed, shaking his head. “Yes, Donovan. I’m not gonna go off half cocked without you, spreading my seeds all over the surface of your martian landscape without rhyme or reason, at the behest of our lady.”
“When’s the next trip out? The next quadrant to seed, so I can tag along?” Carla’s eyes glimmered as her gaze flicked from one companion to the other.
“Oh, um, you know it’s all automated right? Aerial drones and such…”
“Tsk..Tsk…” She clicked her tongue. “We’re missing the fun, you know.”
David blinked several times. “Hey, we could go. Make an adventure of it, and add a little human touch to the process.”
Theresa approached the trio without greeting. “Carla? Emily turned in early. A headache, she said, and fatigue. Did you know she wasn’t feeling well?”
The older woman nodded. “Watched her eat a good meal myself, and down a tall glass of broth. She’s tense though, jumpy.” She gave a wry smile. “So are you, it seems.”
“I just…Well I’d hate to see anything happen like before. Are you monitoring?”
“I am, but it’s early yet.” Her lips pressed into a tight line, like a taut rope pulled cheek to cheek. “When I run her numbers, a sim with imaging, hormones, blood tests, growth rates—” She cut herself off. “Well you know it isn’t as accurate in the first trimester.”
Theresa held her in a steady gaze. “What are the numbers?”
“Thirty-seven percent viability.”
David leaned in, his eyes questioning. “What does that mean exactly? Is that chance of survival?”
Theresa flicked her gaze from Carla to the horticulturist. “No. It means thirty-seven percent of progeny with the same values end up viable.”
“So that’s not very good?”
Theresa shrugged, glancing between him and the midwife, her eyes evasive in expression and demeanor. “It’s all relative. In the lab we only kept Progeny with an eighty-five percent rating.”
“And here?” Donovan’s eyes were wide with concern as he tried to keep up. “What about mine and Alissa’s? What’s the—rating?”
He missed the look of shock that David threw him.“You went through with it?”
Donovan nodded, his blush deepening as he fidgeted with his weighted overgarment, adjusting the sleeves. His voice was a mumble. “Least I could do for a friend, and for Nicole.”
Theresa’s frown was accentuated by the combination of weight in mind and weight in arms. She shifted Abby to the other side and the child leaned back against the new shoulder, staring at the group of adults with silent attention. “So far our numbers have ranged between fifty-four and forty-six percent at the stage of pregnancy that Emily is.” She turned to Donovan. “Alissa’s test results are private. She doesn’t even know them yet.”
“What? Why wouldn’t she?” He chewed a nail in agitation.
“She doesn’t want to. These numbers aren’t helpful, just data that Carla and I are tracking to stay on top of things.—Abby, why don’t I put you down?” She leaned over, lowering the delicate toddler. Small hands clung, limbs tense and resistant like a kitten above water. Theresa sighed, hugging her child close again.
Reaching into the basket, David produced a single bloom. A double layer of white petals, thick and smooth with fuchsia edges and a faint glow of yellow pigment in the center. He placed it in the center of one tanned hand, rough from working Martian soil, and held it out in front of Abby’s face.
The large almond eyes widened and she pressed further back against her mother’s chest. He held the flower steady, neither retreating nor advancing. The dark eyes, almost red like clotted blood, flitted from the flower and back to his face again and again. David smiled back. Theresa felt Abby’s grip loosen, her bird-like heart beat slow. The small face leaned down, upturned nose pressing into the soft velvety petals. She pulled back, a grin of delight showing tiny white teeth between bow lips.
“Take it if you like it.” His voice was gentle and patient. “I brought it for you…Plumeria, or something like it anyway.”
Small pointed fingers reached forward, grasping the gift and clutching it against nose and lips.
Theresa’s eyes were damp when David looked, her smile pained. “Thank you for that.”
He inclined his head, echoing the smile. “My pleasure. Flowers are a rare luxury. It would be selfish to hoard them and hide them away.—Here…” He tucked one in Donovan’s pocket with a smirk and then held one out for Theresa.
The smaller fist of her child grasped the offering before Theresa’s hand reached it. “Thant’yoo.” The small voice emerged from the child as a faint chirp.
Theresa covered her mouth, breaking out in gales of restrained laughter. It was infectious, inciting the other three to join, and drawing the stares of the other colonists in the room.
David scanned the room, taking in the colony’s sharing of the mood. He was still shaking with laughter, when his eyes met liquid-gold ones, and caught there.
She was staring at him. How many seconds? David’s breath caught at the end of a laugh. The smile on his lips froze, eyes tightening, as a niggling swarm of confusion kindled there. She wasn’t smiling, or frowning—just staring. That damn look. Like in the garden that day. Better she scowl…or smile like she doesn’t give a shit.
David took a step in her direction, and another. He glanced back at his companions, giving a quick wave in parting. He turned back to Genesis, and she was still frozen, a note of panic in her yellow-gold eyes. Shit, she’s gonna run and I’ll look like a damn stalker. But she stood firm as he approached, her standard smile of welcome falling into place.
In absence of a smile, his face was severe. He rubbed at the short-cropped beard on his jawline and narrowed his dark eyes. “What’s going on, Genesis? Are you okay?” He searched her eyes for that look but the wall was back up.
She licked her lips, eyes flicking away and then meeting his. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The sigh that escaped was forceful, propelled by frustration. “It’s been almost two years and you’re acting like we have a problem. I backed off, like you wanted…Now you’re canceling scheduled meetings and staring like we just called it quits yesterday. Do we need to talk?”
“Never my favorite thing.” Her smirk faltered and was replaced by cool indifference before he could even process it.
“You—shit, Genesis, what was that? Are we on or off? And what made you decide to show up for the after meeting, before I’ve left it I mean?”
She leaned in to speak sotto voce. “Careful, your bitterness is showing. It’s unbecoming.”
“It’s not bitterness. I just don’t get why you can’t either talk about what happened or stop acting like there’s something there to talk about. We don’t have to have a problem. You said you’re done. Fine. But you aren’t acting like it and it doesn’t look good.”
Genesis held a pleasant smile in place. “There’s nothing to talk about—and my schedule doesn’t revolve around—what? Avoiding you? Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“Fine. If you say so. In that case, we’re overdue for a meeting. Because people are starting to notice. Isn’t that part of your job?” He pulled a thin smile from somewhere within, less convincing than the one she wore. “To meet with all departments and assess effectiveness, progress, and all that crap to report to the Captain? Somehow our meeting keeps getting canceled.” His eyes softened. “You’re not like this…don’t drop the act, normally. But lately you’re dropping cards left and right. Just tell me what this is about?”
Her eyes were cold. No, not cold. Closed. And then the wall slipped, for no more than a second, he could see something beyond it. Confusion? fear?
She blinked and the look was gone, replaced by a mask of nonchalance. “Busy schedule. I’ll fit you in this week, okay?” He could have almost taken the soft tone of her voice for kindness, conciliation.
Slipping a hand into the basket at his side, he lifted a thin string of flowers, a necklace of blooms like the one he had given Abby moments before. He held it out between them.
Genesis raised both brows, eyes sharp with alarm. “You’re giving me gifts. Please, David—”
“Hey, relax.” He gestured with one hand. “Look around the room, They all have flowers. Just sharing the wealth, building community…That’s your thing, right?” Most of the colonists sitting and standing in groups, partaking of animated conversation, had a blossom or two tucked into their hair, their pockets, or cupped in their hands. The room had taken on a strong floral scent, sweet and intoxicating.
“May I?” He held up the string of flowers.
“Fine.” She reached out to receive the gift.
Instead of handing it to her, he sidestepped, and, lifting the curtain of black hair against her back, twined the garland around her neck. Her breath caught and she shivered, the trembling evident in her bare shoulders, a golden brown several shades darker than her eyes.
He stepped away, moving back to face her and restoring the distance between them. His eyes smoldered above a casual smile. “There—it suits you. The smell. Wild like Mars and complimentary to the spices you dust with.”
He could feel her response, even at this distance, the humid warmth of the air between them, the tenuous nature of the gap that held place between their bodies. She took a step back.
“Good night.” She turned then, a spin that set her hair flipping out behind her, and left through the nearest exit several feet away.
David watched her go, shifting the basket of flowers to his other side. Why are you stirring that up again?
Another voice from within answered the thought. It was never finished. Flames are out but the embers are there, underneath the dirt she piled on it.
He shook his head, turning back to the gathering to banish the unwanted thoughts that lingered like smoke in clothing. Dirt, huh? More like a heaping pile of shit.
Update: Progeny was written in the California desert amidst Joshua trees, ravens and the yips of coyotes. Adaptation was crafted almost entirely on the luscious island of Oahu, sprinkled with sudden cloud bursts and fueled by Plantation Iced-teas(And VOG, lots of VOG–look it up). Reunion is now being created on the misty Nor-Cal coast in Seaside, Ca….Yes, I move a lot. Next stop would be Mars if the Pinnacle was ready to take on passengers! The crafting of these novels has also coincided with the creation of tiny humans as we’ve gone from two to four spawnlings in our household. No AUC’s were used in the growth of our latest; a baby girl named Lilith, now a year old. So I’m homeschooling four for now and writing and publishing in our self-made magical chaos!
An artist of multiple mediums with a myriad of interests, CL Fors is a multipotentialite, mother, author, and adventurer. Daughter of the Antelope Valley’s premier chemistry teacher, John Fors, and student of genetic research and botany, CL is a science and science fiction enthusiast with a passion for research based sci-fi.
Refusing to take the conventional route after high school, CL moved down to Hollywood to act in films and later joined the army as a military intelligence linguist. She now spends her days raising and homeschooling three sons and an infant daughter while continuing her studies as a student midwife, fighting the good fight as an activist, and, writing and publishing books.
CL and her husband, Jason P. Crawford, founded the indie publishing house Epitome Press and together bring the work of talented authors out of the brambles and into the light of day.
Adaptation is the second installment of the Primogenitor series(Progeny Book One) and will be followed by two more parts; Reunion, and Allegiance. Follow CL Fors on Social Media Sites and subscribe to her newsletter for updates and exclusive gifts!
Get your copy of Progeny on Amazon with this link! Adaptation will be available Winter 2017
Reviews of The first book in the series, Progeny
“This novel was fantastic! It’s well developed characters are complex and human. I was able to relate to many and found the dialogue to be well paced and believable. “—JAD1583
“A very interesting concept, dealing with realities that, sadly, might be in our own near future. The writing is excellent, the world well thought out. A quality science fiction debut!”—-Michael Kanuckel
“This is an excellent story that deals with concepts that we typically do not think about in our day-to-day lives. It’s so refreshing to read new subject matter, especially dealing with reproductive rights and the ability to reproduce in an uncertain future shaped by environmental destruction and interplanetary travel and colonization. Excellent and very attention-grabbing!”—Amber Delaine
“Progeny explores what it means to be human. I loved the characters and became deeply invested in their lives and stories.”—KC Hobgood
“This intellectual and stubbornly gritty dance between personal choice and established, invasive norms is brought to light through a rich character interplay swirling with themes of autonomy, personal sacrifice, empathy, tension, sensuality and trust in oneself. Progeny confronts the reader and challenges today’s thinking paving a vision of what could be our reality while illuminating the truth…that it’s never too late.”—-Tiffany Garres
“Fresh new story line. The author seems to have done extensive study of artificial reproduction, as the medical and scientific references are excellent. Well written and not too “flowery”, yet is descriptive enough to make you feel like you can see the scene.”—Sharon
If you haven’t read it yet you can pick it up below using the Amazon link in paperback or e-book. Give it a read before the second book is released 🙂