Ch. IX, p.4

. . .

Maria stared into the lifelike shadows, watching as an unbelievable scene unfolded—the shadows were moving of their own accord. At first, towards her. Then away. Then a little to the right, the trees seeming to grow tense as the darkness came over them.

And then it struck her—the shadows were following something deep in the woods. Or someone.

That doesn’t make any sense, flashed through her mind. But what did, lately? Even more inexplicably, she felt drawn deeper into the forest, into the heart of the darkness. Lana… her mother… had taught her to trust, all those years ago… had taught her how to listen to that little voice at the back of her mind, guiding her where she needed to be by some method her brain couldn’t comprehend. And she hadn’t forgotten how.

Even still, fear lingered all around her heart. The unknown lay in any direction that she might travel, but this way, it was coupled with the unsettling recognition that she was ignoring her equipment, heading away from the city.

Again, she recalled the dream. At this point in her nocturnal wandering, a glowing ball of light had drifted out from her chest and begun to guide her along the proper path. She didn’t see anything of the sort, but had a flashlight on her shoulder, and used that instead.

Much to her amazement, a kind of glowing material appeared on the leaves and undergrowth, creating a distinct stream of light. She followed the iridescent path, again conscious of the body weighing on her back; and of the oppressive silence all around her, breaking only under the sound of her feet against the earth.

For some time, her brain was absorbed in the scrambling motion of her eyes and the careful way that she treaded onward. Somewhere nearby, a stream trickled in the black. The sound grew louder as she followed the path.

I’m almost there, she thought.

Pressing through a great, leafy plant, she came upon the stream’s burbling waters. On the other side, she saw that the path continued. But before she could go on, scientific instinct demanded that she take a sample, as this was the first body of water she had come across in this world.

Outstretched fingers, covered black, dipped into the stream, and nanofibers transported samples into a reservoir where they would be tested for compatibility with her body. She enjoyed the cool comfort of the place for a moment before she continued, water sloshing at her ankles as she crossed the stream.

She was so close now. It was the last thing she had seen in her dream and...

A steep hill…

And…

Trees… Obscuring what lay ahead…

She broke through the dark branches, compelled almost by a will not her own, and came into a clearing, instantly familiar.

My god… The implications of this find were startling. But… There’s nothing here.

She wheeled around, flashing her light from one end to the other. She felt like she had arrived home, only to find her house and everything in it burned to the ground.

It can’t be… There’s got to be something…

But she didn’t know what to look for. The dream had ended just after she reached the clearing, interrupted by Frank Marrus’ body crashing to the ground outside the energy field, causing her scanners to cry out, thrusting her from her sleep.

Looking down, her flashlight sank into trampled grass and scattered leaves, leading to the left. She followed them carefully until they disappeared near a pile of rocks.

She stood, wondering what to do, when a thought came to her, saying, ‘It sometimes takes the greatest darkness to help us find even the smallest light. But that is the world in which we live.’

Taking a deep breath, she turned off her light, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the black.

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