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Authors: Jennifer Foehner Wells

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BOOK: The Druid Gene
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48

D
arcy ended
up going to Legare herself with Selpis, Nembrotha, and a rather large and fluffy four-eyed prisoner named Balg who was well liked for being congenial but looked pretty menacing. Tesserae71 piloted a tern for them, but he would stay inside and wait to be safe. He seemed grateful for that concession. He did much better flying a ship that was in good condition, though his landing was more than a little rough.

The city was laid out in a grid, with large landing pads in each quadrant. A trolley traveled the center of every narrow street, and a variety of people were walking up and down brightly colored sidewalks.

But that wasn’t the strangest thing. Every building was tall and blocky, with rounded edges and a peculiar finish that resembled dripping candle wax.

Darcy hopped out of the tern and onto bright green pavement, the swishy neutral-tone clothing that Selpis had found for her swirling around her. She was wearing shoes again, and they felt strange and ill-fitting, despite their universal configurable state. When she’d channeled the lightning, the heat must have killed the fungus growing on her feet, but the strange markings it had left behind remained under her skin like a tattoo done in a pointillist style. The fungus had also left her feet feeling more sensitive.

Selpis had insisted that wearing anything else—especially the prison jumpsuits they’d been wearing on the
Vermachten
—would stand out as unusual. Selpis herself was decked out in similar flowing garments in various shades of grey, topped with a black robe sort of thing.

The sky was blue with a hint of violet on the horizon. The few treelike plants that she’d seen between buildings during their descent were various shades of yellow to orange. She’d been warned that the gravity here was going to be slightly stronger than what was standard aboard ship or what she’d experienced on Ulream. That was true. She felt sort of heavy and ponderous.

They had to cross a checkpoint before they could exit the landing pad and go out onto the thoroughfare. Nembrotha had had a digital ID made for Darcy using their connections. It identified her as a species called nieblic.

Nembrotha’s willingness to forge documents for her was useful, if a little troubling. They had stated imperiously that anything else would just raise a lot of questions she wouldn’t want to answer. She had to stay under the radar if she wanted to avoid serious trouble. She didn’t disagree.

The attendant didn’t bat an eye at their credentials, which they displayed on handheld devices similar to the one she’d found on Raub. Darcy walked next to a purple building and inconspicuously touched it. It felt like plastic to her. Even from this angle it looked like this substance had been poured over the building.

“What is this stuff?” Darcy asked Selpis quietly.

“Mm? What stuff?”

“On the buildings?” Darcy gestured briefly with her thumb.

“Oh, this is very common these days, but you wouldn’t know that, would you? It’s a polymer that’s impervious to the elements. It’s a good structural support and insulator. It allows buildings to be erected quickly and inexpensively and lasts forever.”

Darcy leaned toward Selpis. “Is it poured on?”

Selpis smiled. “Why, yes, I believe it is. Here we are!” Selpis stopped in front of a building. Darcy couldn’t see what differentiated this building from any other, but maybe Selpis knew something that she didn’t. She’d ask later.

“Darcy, I believe you’d better have a look at this,” Nembrotha said.

Darcy looked up at the diminutive baryana on Selpis’s shoulder and followed their gaze. There was a jumbo screen covering the front of the building on the opposite side of the street. On it was a woman’s face.

A human woman’s.

She was blonde, wearing an elaborate cream-colored outfit. The look on her face was determined and maybe even angry. She was speaking, but her voice had been muted.

Darcy’s heart started to pound. How could there be an image of a human woman on this screen on Legare? Was she nieblic? Did the two peoples really look that similar?

The image changed to display another woman’s face. That woman she recognized. It was Ajaya Varma, an astronaut who had been a member of the first mission to Mars, which had launched about a year before she’d been abducted. Varma looked calm and patient.

The broadcast was silent, but there were subtitles. They read: “Members of a species calling themselves terrans have appeared in Terac space in a proscribed sectilian science vessel asking for sanctuary and wanting to meet with the heads of the Unified Sentient Races. Could these be descendants of the ancient race the Cunabula bred and hid so long ago? Who are they and what do they want? Why do they make an appearance now after so long—and why in such a small number?”

The screen flashed, and a very pale, no-necked individual without hair came on. The subtitle stated that he was an expert on terran lore. “This is a hoax! It is as simple as this: terrans are meant to be a warrior race. Do these two women look like warriors to you? I think not. The search continues.”

Next on the screen was a blotchy lavender person with large scales covering her head in place of hair. She was a former ambassador to a planet called Sectilia. “This is how desperate the Sectilius are to be free of their quarantine. They will do anything—including surgically mutilate themselves to look like another species—to get our attention. We should blow them out of the sky of Terac!”

Then another scholar was on the screen, this one resembling a hedgehog. Sort of. “Nothing has been released to date that sways my opinion one way or another. I urge the greater sentient population not to jump to any conclusions at this point. It’s impossible to know what is happening in Terac until more information is released.”

The display cycled back to the blonde woman again, and underneath her face it read: “Freshly emerging news. Terrans Jane Augusta Holloway and Ajaya Varma seek audience with the USR at Terac.”

“I can’t…I mean…what the actual f—”

“People are starting to take note of Darcy. We should move on,” Balg said in a low, gravelly voice.

“Put your hood up,” Selpis whispered in her ear, and grabbed her arm.

Darcy dragged her eyes from the screen as Selpis tugged her through the doorway into the bank. Before the door slid closed behind them, Darcy noted at least a dozen people on the street looking up at the jumbo screen and the image of Ajaya Varma, then back at her with expressions of curiosity, surprise, suspicion, and even fear. She pulled up the hood on her flowing cloak and turned away from their probing gazes.

The rest of the exchange in the bank on Legare passed in a fog. She let Selpis handle everything. They soon had the chits and quickly made their way back to the tern. She kept her head down so her face would be hidden by the hood. She felt like a fugitive.

She sat passively in the back of the tern as Tesserae71 launched them up into the atmosphere, worrying her upper lip with her teeth, lost in thought. There were humans at the galaxy center who wanted an audience with the galaxy’s most powerful alliance. What did that mean? How had an astronaut destined for the first Mars colony ended up there? The reactions she’d seen to their sudden appearance seemed to be very negative and suspicious. And those misgivings looked as though they might easily transfer to her, despite the nieblic credentials she held.

What would that mean for Adam and the other humans who had been sold?

How would it affect her search for Adam?

She didn’t know.

Who was that mysterious blonde?

More from the Confluence Universe:

About the Author

A
s a child growing
up in rural Illinois, Jennifer Foehner Wells had the wild outdoors, a budding imagination, and books for company. Her interest in science fiction was piqued early on when a family friend loaned her a Ray Bradbury compilation, among loads of other wonderful scifi books.

Jen currently lives an alternately chaotic and fairly bucolic existence in Indiana with two boisterous little boys, two semi-crazed cats, and a neurotic chihuahua mix.

BOOK: The Druid Gene
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