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The Evolution of Oracle Dodd: Excerpt

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Background:

Days into a dangerous life search expedition deep inside caves within Olympus Mons, Kate, Charles, Oracle Dodd, and their team lose communication with their support group on Mars' surface. Greatly increasing the danger of their mission, the communication loss leads to serious and contentious discussions. The determined explorers decide to split their team with Kate, Charles, and a few others deciding to explore on as two members backtrack to find why communications have been lost.

Having found an underground lake at the end of an exhaustive period of exploration, Kate and her companions try get some badly needed rest. The rest period is rudely interrupted ...


Kate jerked in her sleep, her back sliding from its marginally comfortable position against a smooth, sloping pillar. She grunted and squirmed to regain a restful position. Barely awake, she sleepily resumed watching for any movement in the water a dozen feet away. It was while so engaged that she'd drifted off in the first place.

Kate glanced at her chronometer, her tired eyes blinking to focus. Still two hours of rest left. She wriggled against the rock to again find comfort. A glance around revealed the other expedition members sprawled in various positions, apparently asleep. Kate closed her eyes, trying to salvage what remained of the rest period.

Her eyes blinked open again. Something was different. She surveyed the sleeping crew. At length she noticed that the neo-lite placed in the center of their camp, the only light left on during rest periods, was turned down more than usual. She leaned back and closed her eyes again. The light's brightness must have been bothering one of the other members, and he turned it down.

Her eyes blinked open once more. It wasn't the light, something else was different. She again swept her attention across her sleeping comrades. One ... two ... three ... four.

One was missing. There should be five other than herself.

Kate sat up straighter and looked exactingly at each sleeping member. The dim setting of the neo-lite made identification difficult, but at length she was sure she could make out Oracle, Tony, Jeff, and Charles. Where was Ben?

She reached up to turn on her own lamp, then thought better of it. If Ben had turned down the neo-lite, perhaps he had a reason.

Kate slowly stood, her stiff muscles reluctant to forfeit the remaining rest interval. She realized she had no obvious reason for being so leery, but none-the-less felt compelled to be cautious. She moved slowly and quietly in the direction she thought Ben had occupied at the beginning of the rest period. When she neared the edge of the neo-lite's fading umbrella of illumination, she stood perfectly still. She turned her head slowly left and right and listened.

Would Ben be exploring? Surely not, the rest periods were too valuable. They were all exhausted, and relished the opportunity to sleep.

Kate twitched her head to the left at a sound. She crouched down and moved into the darkness. Twenty paces into the gloom brought her to a boulder that stood a few feet taller than her head. She warily moved parallel to the wall it presented, feeling her way with outstretched hands. Slowly she crept around the circumference.

When she'd traveled a dozen feet she noticed a dim light escaping from the edge of another rock formation that stood further beyond. She thought about the location of the light. From where she stood, she couldn't see the neo-lite of their camp. It was effectively curtained off by the rock she now leaned against. Just as effectively, the light she saw was blocked from the eyes of the crew collected around the camp.

Kate knelt on all-fours. She carefully ambled to the edge of the second boulder. She dropped prone to the ground and crawled around its perimeter. She tried to invisibly slither along; the light became brighter.

At last Ben's right side was in view. It appeared that he was seated. Kate was frustrated with her helmet for the awkwardness it imposed. She peered at Ben, keeping as low as possible. She hoped the subdued light he was using didn't reflect from her helmet, which was poorly designed for such clandestine maneuvering.

With a bit more creeping she could see Ben's chin within his visor. She felt some relief at not being able to see his eyes. If she could see them, he could see her.

Ben's chin continued to move up and down. He was talking, yet Kate heard nothing. He must have his acoustic mic turned off. Kate quietly turned on her receiver, but still heard nothing.

She squirmed slightly further ahead. She could now see that Ben held something in his hands. A wire connected from the object to his helmet. A radio, Kate surmised. Ben was talking to someone on a separate device, obviously using a different frequency than that of their suit units.

Kate lay frozen in fascination. Who could Ben be talking to? She fixed her eyes on the unit in his hands. He continually manipulated its controls. She looked again at his visor. His chin continued to bobble up and down. He was having trouble with the unit. Maybe he wasn't reaching anyone.

Kate watched his hands again. Maybe it wasn't a radio. Suddenly the hands froze. Kate glanced at Ben's visor -- his eyes met hers. His expression made her shiver.

Ben didn't move from his seated position, but grabbed at his pack near his feet. Kate couldn't move. She saw the events unfolding as if watching a slow-motion video.

He pulled something from the pack. Kate gasped. It was a laser. No one brought weapons on this expedition. No one but Ben.

Kate's reflexes finally commanded her muscles into motion, her eyes fixed on the laser muzzle swinging her direction. Her muscles sluggishly sprang into action. She leapt to her feet and backed away from the edge of the boulder out of Ben's view. She hesitated briefly, then darted into the darkness behind the myriad of rocks littering the edge of the lake.

"Help," Kate yelled. "Help. Ben has a laser gun." Having shouted a warning, Kate moved swiftly and silently into the maze. Without her lamp on, Ben could only find her if she broke silence.

* * *

Charles was jolted from a deep sleep. He was having such a strange dream. He'd been swimming in the lake, talking with a translucent creature the size of a child. The creature was a biped with large finned hands and enlarged eyes. It was about to tell him the mysteries of the underground world. But, had someone shouted?

His heart thumped energy into his rudely awakened body. Yes, that was Kate's voice shouting for help. Ben has a laser-gun?

Charles was on his feet quickly. Tony was already shaking off the inertia of a lagging sleep. Jeff was squirming, not yet awake. Oracle lay near Charles, and was already alert. Charles held a finger to his visor in a 'shhh' gesture. Where were Ben and Kate?

Charles saw that Tony was nearest to the neo-lite. "Turn it off," he said. "Turn it off."

Tony groped for the neo-lite. He knocked it over, then scooped it up and turned if off.

The darkness was so instant and complete that Charles almost expected a thunderclap. He sat in the stifling stillness, his heart beating rapidly. He listened, but could only hear Jeff's occasional shifting of position. Was Jeff still asleep? Charles was afraid to ask, but hoped Jeff was either asleep or would keep his mouth shut.

A shuffling noise. Charles stood and turned to the sound, so disoriented in the total darkness that he nearly fell. He kept waiting for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness, but knew this murkiness would deny any hint of night-vision.

A flicker in the distance. Charles stared in that direction. It must be Ben's lamp. He was running away.

Charles waited for the sounds and occasional glints to disappear into the gloom.

He stood quiet another few minutes.

"Kate," he said, barely above a whisper. "Are you there?"

If this scene interests you, rest assured it is only one of many exciting scenes in The Evolution of Oracle Dodd.

You can purchase The Evolution of Oracle Dodd in paperback or PDF format by clicking here.