They’ve gone too far. Arc has violated every fiber of scientific ethics that I’ve learned to live by. Human or not, these beings are sentient and these experiments are on the level of humanity’s greatest atrocities.
The Greatest Good
Officially, I was transferred here “to provide data and insight about the anatomy of alien species to Laboratory 14 staff” but I’ve learned better from my experience here. The BioTechnicians and R&D teams have ignored my objections to their methods from day one. Nearly two years later, I’m exhausted. Every untested chemical they pump into a Felni cub breaks my spirit more and more. Each body that gets dumped overboard is like a knife in my chest.
The surgical wing of the ship is a mad man’s playground. The techs express a frightening glee when discussing how to Upgrade or Mod their helpless subjects as if they were consumer electronics. The only reason they follow basic safety and sterility precautions with their ‘patients’ is to preserve the integrity of their experiment. An lethal infection would be a minor inconvenience to their project.
Each day that passes by, my routine leads me into the holding area. I shed tears each trip; not because of the intense stench from the unbathed creatures, but from the pained wimpering of the malnourished cubs. I’m told not to mention these conditions in my reports. When I send samples to the Orbit Team for tests, more than half of them never come back to me. It seems my only true function now is far more simple than my title indicates.
Keep quiet about the expedition.
I don’t think I’m cut out for that line of work, however. These logs can serve as my manifesto one day, when I release them to the public. It’s my turn to be brave now. My turn to fight back.
–END LOG M5.92–
–DR. MARTINE DEPALO–
–LEVEL 2 BIOLOGIST–
The screen cleared back to the transparent tablet computer in Martine’s hand. Sitting in his tiny quarters aboard Lab 14, he lamented his weakness. That log entry was written months ago and he had done nothing outside of his normal routine. He had the greatest of intentions and the most compelling causes, but not the will to act. Seeing the bags under his eyes and his prematurely thinning hair, one could tell that it weighed heavily on him.
He had continued writing the logs, even after Major Colissa’s order to do so had ended. They were like therapy for him and his only friend on the ship. Reading his older entries were the closest thing he had to having a conversation since he boarded Lab 14. The rest of the crew were instructed to avoid him as best as they could. Arc had even increased some of their wages to endure his interference in their projects. This was a very expensive jail cell.
Arc had good reason to hide him of course. Morale and safety concerns would likely capsize their entire enterprise if people found out how forty three people were killed by angry plants. The planet was fighting humans the same way the immune system fights an infection. If that powerful of a resistance was made public knowledge, their investors would quickly jump ship in the face of the risk. They didn’t even know about the most damaging part of that mission: Martine’s sighting of Canis hunters.
Those images stuck with him and came to life in his dreams. While many of the pictures had faded away, the most jarring had only become more detailed and emphasized. He often wondered if Colissa had the same problem. The Major and he were seperated and debriefed as soon as they docked on the orbiting Base Ship, and he hadn’t seen her since.
When Martine encountered the Canis aboard Lab 14, he quickly learned what had happened that week. Canis were slightly larger than Felni and resembled different types of wolves and dogs. Adults had unique white markings in their fur that cubs never developed in captivity. Their bodies were muscular and lean in most cases, despite how diverse their appearances were. They rarely spoke, but when they did it was found to be a unique dialect of the same language that Felni spoke.
Any information he couldn’t identify from the limited experiences aboard the lab was obtained from the reports of field Biologists on the surface. They were doing the job that Martine had studied and worked for his entire life for. At the very least, he was able to see their findings in real-time from his tablet. He became fascinated with the Canis and their natural interactions with the planet.
Canis society was geographically and socially isolated from the other races of the world. They only allowed other Canis into their capital city in the mountains except for select traders from the other tribes. Most other races have no idea how Canis territory looks, how many of them there are, or even where their city is located. The humans only know these things from photos and scans from orbit.
Included in the field reports were several assumptions that Martine took with a grain of salt. They were said to have no communication or negotiation skills, but their coexistence with multiple other nearby races was evidence otherwise. Proportedly, Canis brutally killed humans on sight without provocation. The following note that stated “Canis never speak with humans unless aggressively restrained” spoke volumes to what these people’s definition of without provocation meant.
The reports also said that the Canis were immediately enraged at the mere presence of a human. They painted the picture of ruthless savages that killed for the sake of racism. Martine toiled to find what the humans did to the Canis that could have caused this bad blood, but there was little truth to be found in his corporate confinement.
Martine sympathized with them. Even without knowing the catalyst, it was hard to find virtue in the actions of humans since they arrived. Seeing it from the perspective of the occupied natives made them a clear enemy. It would take humankind decades to undo the harm they have already done here in only two years. Considering those actions weren’t profitable, they would probably remain a fantasy.
Martine’s research was all but ignored by anyone else aboard Lab 14, but invisibility had its advantages. For the last six months, after he ate his lunch, he would go into the containment area for the lab subjects and visit one particular Canis. She was a silver-haired female that resembled a wolf, with a narrow nose, a lean build, and eyes of differing color. She was caged away from the other subjects ever since the other subject across from her died on the operating table, so it was the safest place for Martine to attempt to communicate with her.
Their conversations began as complete silence the exchange of intense gazes. When Martine began asking questions, she responded by cursing and threatening him with unspeakable violence. It took everything Martine had to disguise his fear. Soon after, he would sit down across from her and she would already be halfway into a tirade. He would sit quietly and tap notes into his tablet. His silence seemed to irritate her even more.
Eventually, her curiosity got the best of her, “Why do you come to sit with me and say nothing?”
“I’m trying to learn about you” he said without missing a beat.
“So you can kill us more easily and steal more of our cubs?” she asked with a growl.
“I don’t want to kill anyone and I don’t want your cubs.” He didn’t even look up from his tablet, despite his joy of finally having a conversation. The wrong kind of eye contact or body language could ruin it.
She spat at him. “Then why?”
“So I can think of a way to set you all free” he said abruptly as he looked up into her eyes. Martine had blurted it out without thinking. He was shocked at the weight of those words, but his eyes never wavered.
The Canis recoiled for a moment before returning to her original stance. Her nose poked out from between the bars as her eyes fixated on Martine’s, searching for sincerity. She was quiet, trying to hide the internal stimulation she felt from his words.
She paid closer attention to him from that day forward. She never threatened him anymore, but she didn’t trust him yet either. Each day when he sat down with her, she had a new question. Once he answered, he sometimes asked one of his own. Most of the time, the questions that the Canis asked were more informative than the answers she gave. Soon, he was able to speak in the Canis dialect and he stopped reading the reports sent from the gorund teams.
She never gave her name, so Martine gave her one that she didn’t object to. Rosetta seemed an appropriate name for someone that he considered the key to understanding an entirely new culture. At first, the lab staff was concerned with Martine’s daily meetings with Rosetta, but their suspicion waned once they were able to enjoy a month or so without him objecting to every procedure. Martine was free to explore this new world on his own.
The Canis culture had changed dramatically since the arrival of humans. They once walked on two legs for formal occasions to maintain a height advantage over the other upright races, but reverted back to quadrapeds when they declared walking like humans and their pets to be despicable. She never mentioned what made Canis hate humans so much, but he learned to respect her discretion and be patient with her answers.
Since the refinery was built, one of the rivers within their territory became polluted with a large quantity of dilluted Corrite –a harsh mineral compound that normally resides deep in the rock beneath their mountain. Corrite killed fish, irritated their skin, and bleached their fur, so they were forced to abandon it. When they decided to fight against the humans, they made it a coming of age ceremony to brush water from that river on their adolescents to remind them of their commitment to fight for their race. Each Canis’s markings were unique and had personal meaning to their parents.
She told him about other races that humans had not yet detected as well. He learned about the Felni that lived out in the eastern plains and considered themselves seperate from the ones that lived in the city. She described the Ursus, a dying race of very large mammals that Martine associated with bears, that roamed the darker areas of the woods. Most compelling of all, however, were the mysterious races of the swamplands near the southeast rim of the great glacier. She spoke about them the way humans once spoke in myths about dragons and sea monsters. Very few witnesses of these reptilian beasts ever returned to her village.
Rosetta was spared the more ‘in-depth’ procedures because the technicians wanted nothing to do with Martine. He made himself a nuissance to them every time they tried to perform a procedure on other subjects. They feared what he would do if they took his favorite. Rosetta’s only modification was a Brain IOS that no one else would notice without shaving her head to see the surgical scars. She recieved innoculations and software updates on occasion, but no one ever attempted to put her on an operating table once Martine showed interest in her. This went a long way toward helping her grow to trust him.
Martine reported very basic information in every scientific report, but left out anything that Arc could use to harm the Canis. His real notes were kept in his private database along with his log entries. He was certain that his study of the Canis society, language, and customs was going to be far more useful than just their anatomy. And he wanted to protect those details from Arc at all costs.
Leaving an Impact
Martine was just finishing his snack-sized bag of chips as he walked down the corridor toward Rosetta’s cell. The routine he had been following was wearing on him. He ate his meals alone reading from his tablet and avoided eye contact with the seventy-something other workers. As all Arc employees had to, he signed papers preventing him from contacting his family on Earth until he was given leave. He felt disconnected from the rest of the human world.
The highlight of his day was sitting on an upside-down metal bucket on the floor in a smelly oversized dog pound. Each hour he spent in there was extremely interesting, but also empty. None of the knowledge he was gaining was being put to good use and he had long forgotten why he continued to put on his scrubs every morning.
His own words reverberated through his mind. Martine felt himself deflate and wallowed in his cowardice. What was he going to do to set them free? He only had standard security clearance and no one listened to him. He let out a sigh as he pulled the bucket from the corner and slid it under him across from Rosetta’s cell.
When he looked up, the cell was empty.
Martine sat for a moment, staring through the bars at the freshly cleaned concrete floor. His eyes traced downward as if he was looking for footprints or scratch marks, but nothing was there. He hoped that he made a wrong turn while walking there and staring down at his tablet. He looked up at the door and saw the same familiar CANIS-4 sign that had always been there. A cold droplet of sweat slid down from his temple.
He burst through the doors into each operating room one by one, finding no trace of Rosetta. He ran down the hallway toward the R&D Department until he found one of the technicians in the hall. Gasping for breath, he shouted at her “Where is Ro–Subject Canis-4?!”
“Relax, wolfman. They’re releasing her back into the wild.”
Martine froze. He had never heard of a subject being released from a lab ship. Some of the early projects were lost in the woods during trials, but installing Leash had kept that under wraps since then. Why was Rosetta any different?
“You alright?” the Tech didn’t really seem to care either way.
Martine wasn’t sure what he felt. For a moment, he felt selfish sorrow for wanting her to stay here with him for longer. “Is she the only one being released?” he asked as his breathing slowed down to normal.
Something was wrong. The whole situation contradicted every protocol he had known. Martine broke into a run toward the large cargo bay where he suspected they were releasing her.
“We’ll miss you!” the sarcastic technician yelled to him once he was several meters away from her.
Martine was used to their mocking. A few days after he first arrived, he would ask for directions around the large ship and they would make him go in circles to get anywhere. He had them to thank for knowing every hallway in the whole place of course. The cargo hangar was about 100 meters away from him now, but he closed that distance with a determination he hadn’t felt for nearly two years.
When he entered the hangar, he expected to see Rosetta in a cage being carried by a forklift toward the open bay doors. He expected the technicians to be in a hurry to get her out before he had a chance to stop them. He expected them to land before releasing her.
What he saw upon turning the corner into the cargo bay countered his expectations. A small group of Security grunts stood at attention looking directly at him when he entered. The Captain –whose name Martine had forgotten– leaned against the wall beside them grinning smugly. They were expecting him. He couldn’t see any cages or forklifts, but behind them was a large stretcher. On that stretcher laid the motionless body of a Canis covered by a white sheet and Rosetta’s serene face poking out from underneath.
“We’ve decided to promote you, Doctor Depalo” announced the Captain as he slowly walked forward with the swagger of a schoolyard bully.
Confused and worried about Rosetta, Martine faltered, “P-promoted?”
“Yes, the staff on this ship have all elected you to be the personal escort of Canis-4 as it is released back into its natural habitat.” The young officer strained to enunciate the words to make it obvious that there were alterior motives. His manner remained condescending as he picked his teeth with the nail of his pinky finger. His brazen and careless body language was a stark contrast to the six clean-cut soldiers standing at attention behind him.
“Why are we releasing her?” Martine decided not to ask the stupid question –‘why me?’– in effort to skip the huge paragraph of procedural bullshit that they would have to explain to mask their efforts to get rid of him.
“She’s going to be our first Free Field Trial. She has minimal mods and is in good health, so she will be a study subject for you once she reunites with her tribe.”
“I was given no notice of this. You expect me to gather all my equipment and sign out of all my other projects today?”
“You have no other projects as of today. This is what you’ll be doing.” Even the Captain’s short-cropped blonde hair was irritating.
“What if I refuse?”
“Suit yourself” The line of soldiers parted like double doors. It felt choreographed. The captain turned around and pushed the stretcher with his foot. It rolled between the grunts, toward the open bay door. The ship was easily 200 meters above the surface.
“Wait! What are you doing?”
“This project is being released with or without you, Depalo. You want to let her hit the ground alone, that’s fine. She looks tough enough to me.” He strolled closer to the stretcher again.
“All I have with me is my tablet! I need-“
The captain pushed the stretcher all the way to the end of the platform and held it with one hand.
“Stop! Okay! Fine! I’ll go right now. Just land this thing and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Gotta love animal-lovers. They’re so perceptive when they want to be.” the other Security members chuckled with him as he pushed the stretcher off the edge and it fell out of sight.
Martine ran to the open bay doors in a panic only to be stopped by the captain just before the edge.
“You could probably use one of these.” the blonde bully spoke directly into Martine’s ear.
Martine looked down at the captain’s hands and saw the hook and tether from the cargo hold wall. Before he could react, another soldier threw a heavy vest on him from behind and locked all the clamps in place while the captain hooked him. Once the captain stepped out of his way, he could see another tether hanging from the roof of the hangar.
And a stretcher flailing in the wind beneath them.
“Good luck, Doc” the captain whispered with a hint of sincerity. He patted Martine on the shoulder, then shoved him off the platform. The rest of the Security team lowered him to the planet’s surface alongside the stretcher.
Martine was in shock. He didn’t have any time to gather his thoughts or consider what was happening to him. As he felt himself being lowered into the most dangerous place he had ever been, he couldn’t help but worry for the giant wolf strapped to a table next to him. He witnessed 43 people being killed near this very spot, but somehow he still felt like he could protect her.
When they passed the upper canopy of the jungle, it was as if someone flipped a light switch off. In the moments that it took for his eyes to adjust, Martine saw nothing but dark shapes passing by him. The first thing he saw when his eyes were able was a huge network of spider webs high in one of the trees. He would have reached out and grabbed a sample if he had any of his tools. This would be the first and most minor of his future frustrations.
When he removed the straps and white sheet from Rosetta’s unconscious body, he was surprised to find bruises all over her torso and her left arm broken in two places. They beat the hell out of her. As the stretcher and his hook ascended up through the canopy, he couldn’t stop the feelings of dread that consumed him.
If they wanted him to treat Rosetta’s wounds, why didn’t they let him grab his gear? The idea that they just wanted to leave him out in the jungle to die hadn’t escaped him. In an attempt to stay calm, he rejected those notions in favor of his more productive hypothesis.
After frantically pacing for a few minutes, Martine felt his heart beat punching through his chest; he was having a panic attack. He Sat down by a nearby tree, closed his eyes, and tried to slow his breathing. After one exceptionally deep breath, he leaned back against the tree only to feel something between him and the trunk.
He hadn’t noticed the vest they put on him had a pack on the back. He pulled it off and untied it to find a cantine, a first aid kit, a knife, and a handgun.
He gathered some branches and stripped them with the knife to fashion a splint for Rosetta’s broken arm. Luckily, the first aid kit had plenty of gauze to wrap around her massive swollen forearm. He packed everything up and managed to fit his tablet into the pack as well.
Vines on the jungle floor twitched and slowly moved toward him, but Rosetta’s body was too heavy for him to move by himself. He was stuck there until she regained consciousness. Hopefully the BioRepel radiation she was treated with would also protect him from the encroaching plants.
As dangerous as he learned that this place could be, the sounds of exotic birds and the wind blowing through the towering trees made it feel peaceful. Martine closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree trunk, breathing slowly and clearing his mind. It had been years since his last panic attack, but he knew that relaxing this way would help him calm down. Counting his breaths and slowing down his heartbeat, he accidentally dozed off.
A small stinging sensation woke Martine little more than an hour later. He looked down to see thorny vines reaching over his right leg. As he pulled away and stood up against the tree, he saw that Rosetta was gone.
All this time, Martine was hoping that she built some loyalty to him and didn’t think he needed to tie her down. Their talks had been very personal of late, so he felt very close to her. She apparently didn’t share his trust.
He pulled out his tablet and launched his navigation program. He knew what area of the jungle he was in based on the plants that were approaching him, but he wasn’t sure which direction he was facing. The vines made it impossible for him to stay still, so he may as well choose a direction and move toward something relevant.
His stomach growled as he set in his course for the Canis village. He knew some of the plants along the way would be edible, so he would manage. Martine hoped that all the things that Rosetta taught him about the respectful navigation of Canis territory would keep him safe. He was careful not to touch any trees with his bare hands, not to relieve himself near water sources, not to openly carry a weapon, and to leave as few traces as possible. There were no other landmarks within fifty kilometers, so he was hoping that he wouldn’t be killed before he was able to reach his destination and attempt to communicate with the Canis.
Tablets like Martine’s are self-contained computers in the form of a thin sheet of glass with rounded corners. When not active, you can see right through them except for the silver lining around the sides. All of the processing and connectivity are embedded in that rim while most of its data is compressed and stored on a beacon or satellite that it can access at extremely high speeds.
The interface is designed with both touch and voice recognition. Having no moving parts and zero heat generation, the tablets require very little energy and can be powered by solar energy or body heat from its user’s hands touching it during normal use.
Members of Arc’s Science teams carry large tablets that are about 20cm x 28cm and have access to nearly all areas of the Arc database. Security teams carry smaller, more durable tablets (Lances) that measure about 10cm x 4cm. Their devices relay information about their missions, scans of their environment, medical support data, and other intelligence tools. Heavy Artillery and Special Ops soldiers have similar systems (HUDs) built directly into their helmets.
Brain Internal Operating Systems (or BIOS) carry out similar operations as tablets. More information about BIOS appears in coming chapters.