For a change of pace, join me on a four part, kinda silly, detective caper set on an apple growing colony located on a far off moon (complete with any pie but apple).
“When we got assigned this gig, I expected we’d be eating homemade apple pie by now,” Ned said as he shifted on his perch in the apple tree across from me. The branches swayed with his every movement and a few glossy red apples fell to the ground with moist thunks.
“Huh?” I wasn’t really listening. The incessant itch on my inaccessible nose demanded my attention.
Protocol required we wear type E-1 hazmat suits, the kind so airtight they could double as spacesuits. Ned and I wore the department issued variety, procured by a fiscally focused committee in a shade so yellow they glowed. In theory they were one size fits all, which translates to one size fits no one. I scrunched up my nose in a failed attempt to ease my itch.
I looked over at Ned. “I thought you filled yourself up on Space Chews on the way down.” He’d interjected his love of the new trendy candy into every conversation we’d had in the last week.
“Nah, that was just a snack.” A smile spread across his face. Through his face mask, his white teeth contrasted against his dark skin. “That new Rainbow Starfield flavour is awesome.”
I pursed my lips and returned my focus to our surroundings. We were on the Red Apple Colony, in the apple orchard dome—the source of every apple that made it to Indigo Station, in fact, every apple I’d ever eaten had come from this orchard. I glanced up at the dome keeping the near vacuum of the moon’s atmosphere at bay as I wondered if today would be the last day I ever saw an apple.
My climb up the apple tree had been an exercise in panic—adrenaline propelled me up, out of reach of the people on the ground. Unable to put it off any longer, I glanced down.
The colonists were still there, randomly spaced around the pond separating the two apple trees now supporting Ned and myself. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, the colonists were all naked, but I tried not to think about that. If I climbed down, I’d be forced to pass several of them, and the infected colonists had already proven they’d come after us—just like zombies in old horror movies. It was a good thing they didn’t look up.
But what had infected them? That’s what Ned and I were here to figure out—well not us personally, as we’re just a pair of imported detectives. Dr. Vega, the medical investigator assigned to this case, needed blood samples—a need that somehow translated into sending two detectives out with big syringes.
When the good doctor explained what she needed us to do, it sounded easy. According to her, the colonists were nonreactive, that is, willing to just stand there while we jabbed big needles into them. Turns out that was just a theory—a theory that was wrong (which answered the question as to why she didn’t just get the samples herself, she needed us to be her guinea pigs).
A buzzing from behind drew my attention. Hoping my oversized gloves wouldn’t slip, I turned, sending another bushel of apples tumbling to the ground. One of Dr. Vega’s drones gathering footage of the infection hovered an arm’s length away. Part of me wondered if she was excited by this plague. She certainly seemed enthusiastic when she briefed us. This plague appeared different from the station’s semi-regular plague outbreaks, so perhaps for her, it was a new puzzle. At least no one had died of it, yet.
“What do we do now?” Ned asked as his tree swayed again. His perch on the smaller apple tree was precarious. Through the clear plastic of his mask, I could see his wide eyes. His humour about the situation had faded—or perhaps it was always a ruse and he just couldn’t maintain it any more.
I needed to come up with a plan, and fast. More and more bots started flying around the crowd of colonists below, like a swarm of pollinator bots, except these ones zoomed around the colonist’s heads. The sound of Dr. Vega’s drones, compounded by my itchy nose made it impossible to focus. Next time there’s an off-station assignment, I’m calling in sick.
A drone flew too close and a colonist swatted at it, clipping its body. The drone spun away, tumbling directly towards my partner.
“Ned!” I shouted a split second too late.
Ned lurched to the side to avoid getting hit by the drone. Apples rained down onto the grass, then the tree righted itself. For a brief moment, I thought his perch would hold. A loud crack punctuated my error.
The branch supporting Ned snapped, dumping him to the ground right next to a trio of infected colonists, two women and a man in only a red sweater (he didn’t have another stitch of clothing on—for some reason this was worse than if he’d been naked like the others).
All three swivelled their heads to stare at Ned, then they turned their shoulders, then hips. The man in the red sweater licked his lips.
“Flo!” Ned shouted as he backed away from the colonists, but they followed. He hunched over and extended his hand out, palms facing the grass, in an attempt to calm his pursuers.
I was at a loss as to how I could help. I had a stun gun, but it was stashed in Dr. Vega’s lab with the rest of my gear. Even un-armed, I needed to do something. I scrambled down my tree and sprinted through the loose group of colonists. They all turned my way as I passed, but too slow to catch me. I ran right through the water directly to Ned. I moved as fast as I could, yet it felt like I moved in slow motion.
One of the three colonists surrounding Ned, lunged for him. Ned backed up right into the man with a red sweater. He grabbed Ned’s mask and ripped it off.
“Crap!” Ned has been forced to breath the dome’s air.
Still moving, I emerged dripping from the pond and reached Ned’s side, but I was too late, he’d been exposed. As a female colonist with long, brown hair lurched forward, hand out to grab my mask, Ned stepped between us, using his body as a shield.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “You can get the sample from me.”
“Ned…” my words trailed off as he grabbed my hand and started running towards the dome’s airlock. A constellation of drones swirled around us as we ran. The colonists followed us for about fifty metres, then returned to their vigil around the pond.
to be continued…
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