Pendulum Ch. 26: Spores

Maon’s legs had healed without a problem, as expected. Fir bolg regenerated at an unbelievable rate, unless something killed them instantly, or if the damage outpaced the speed at which they could heal. It was the first time he had witnessed this himself; these extraordinary abilities only appeared when Aes Sidhe changed over to this universe. In Tech Duinn, he had been an unremarkable man, average in every respect, apart from his overwhelming curiosity and insatiable thirst for knowledge, which had led him to visit Earth and continue his studies there, on the slowly dying planet. Science helped explain it only so far. The phenomena had been observed and tested, and the theories for their mechanics looked more advanced than anyone could feel comfortable with; but in the end, things were just the way they were, for now.
Finding out what caused it had been one of many reasons to come, albeit the most important, and now, he had seen it himself—had felt it with his own body. The excruciating pain when his legs shattered and his hips fractured, followed by the equally brutal healing process. Any human suffering such an injury would have died before even modern medicine could have helped them. Yet here he was, in perfect shape, not even sleepy anymore, as he stood in the small makeshift lab inside the medical module of the Wisp.
The first examinations of their small expedition had shown no signs of a fungal infection yet, but the complete lack of any spores was suspicious. He had been covered by them himself, had combed some out of his beard. That had been an excellent decision. No traces of them had remained, and not thanks to disinfection measures in the airlock—which had not been powered up when they had entered the vehicle.
He returned his attention to the data sheet in front of him. The image of the microscopic organism was fascinating. It looked like tiny balls on thin strings, like nothing he could even identify. The chemical makeup didn’t tell him anything, but he wasn’t the expert. The exobiologist, Adams, had only taken a brief look at the image and shrugged. No use speculating, not enough data, he had said and returned to whatever it was he had been busy doing. Maon could emphasise. Without proper tools, even the best expert could do little, and making haphazard guesses would only lead them astray.
He had taken blood samples from everyone. None of them had shown any signs of spores in their circulatory systems, but that proved nothing. They could have inhaled them, or the spores had penetrated the skin, and not been detected by the comparatively primitive diagnostic unit. Not until they grew into colonies noticeable enough for the machine. Nobody had expected something like this to happen, which only showed how inexperienced they still were in the exploration of alien worlds.
Maon had collected more blood samples afterwards, from his own body. Spores that came in contact with his blood died quickly, with no hint what about his physiology was poisonous for this life form. He’d need more spores to conduct further experiments, but none were left now. If it was his Aes Sidhe nature that killed the fungus, the ghillie dhu marine would probably be safe as well. What about the humans, though? The druid was asleep, but her breath came regularly. The young marine tech sat at the control console, fully immersed in his attempts at steering the Wisp out of its swampy trap, while Murray watched him with a disinterested expression on his face. So far, so good. Maybe their bodies were incompatible with the spores, too, which would solve the issue.
The Wisp jumped forward with a jerk and rocked violently. Maon almost lost his balance, but caught the cold metal of the bed frame and recovered. The machine let out a howl and continued its shaky movement. A quick glance around the interior. Nobody hurt. The druid had awoken, and she didn’t look happy about it, but if that was the extent of their worries, they were in good enough shape to continue their trek and… do whatever it was they had come for. Maon had no background knowledge. The order to accompany the crew had come last minute.
The redheaded human sat up on her bed and mumbled something under her breath, her hand moving to the pouch on her belt, as if to check if it was still there. Probably subconscious. She looked up and their eyes met.
“What’s the matter, doc?”
What was the matter? Had he looked worried? Considering the content of his thoughts just a moment ago, he wouldn’t rule it out.
“How do you feel? You got too little rest. Do you want to—”
She made a dismissive hand gesture and smiled.
“I’m used to not getting enough sleep. Doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, but there’s something I have to do before I can relax, anyway.”
She stood up and staggered, but caught her balance and straightened her posture as if nothing had happened. Dark shadows under her eyes betrayed her exhaustion, but he wouldn’t ask. All in all, she looked healthy. She had been the only one too far away for the spores to land on, but now they were inside a closed system. The air filtering of the Wisp would catch any foreign particles, but if the fungus was transmissible by touch, that wouldn’t matter. Adams was right, not enough data to make an educated guess.
“Why did they send a druid with the team? Isn’t this a scientific mission to evaluate if this planet is habitable?”
Her green eyes seemed to glow in the compartment’s twilight, but that was surely an optical illusion. Human eyes weren’t luminescent.
“I’m here to find the place where I can establish a gate to Luna City. But I can’t see it without help.” Her hand touched her pouch again, and her smile returned. “I’ll call my friend. Maybe he’ll listen this time. He’s a stubborn little guy.”
Nothing of this made sense, but he was afraid to ask for details. The way she spoke, she probably assumed he knew exactly what she was on about, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He nodded sheepishly, and she laughed.
“I’m talking about my Cu Sidhe, Cailean.”
Cu Sidhe were mysterious creatures, even for fellow Aes Sidhe. He had never seen one in person, and no desire to meet one now, but he had no say in the matter.
“You don’t like dogs, doc?”
Her smile had turned into a mischievous grin, but there was no malice in her eyes. Almost like an oversized, wing-less faerie. Druids were at least as mysterious as Cu Sidhe, at least for him. Humans able to wander the lands of Tech Duinn were rare creatures. In the past, before the Aes Sidhe had revealed themselves to the humans, druids had been the stuff of legends, but times had changed, and this one didn’t seem sinister at all.
“I… don’t know. Never met any, especially not a Cu Sidhe. Where is he?”
She closed her eyes and froze. Her breath slowed in what looked like a deliberate attempt to filter out the environment, reminiscent of a meditative trance. The air in front of her bunk seemed to scintillate. Yes, a definite flicker; it intensified and took shape, but it was still unstable—until a white mist formed and solidified. Maon blinked once, and a shaggy, humongous canine stood in the room.
Murray reached for his gun, but the ghillie dhu raised her hand. She had identified the creature immediately.
“There you are!” The druid’s voice was accusatory as she poked her finger in the air at the animal, but the look in her eyes showed affection. The wolf-like creature snorted and twisted its snout into a grin that showed far too many teeth. He was huge, reached Maon to the chest, more similar in size to a bear than any dog walking the earth. Powerful muscles stood out under his matt white coat. The tail was as long as Maon’s arm, and blood red, as were his ears and claws. “Took your sweet time, didn’t you? If you thought I’d have abused you as a mount, you’d be… not wrong.”
She laughed again, and something in her voice made him relax, despite the colossal beast just two metres away. The glass wall wouldn’t have hindered the Cu Sidhe, but he didn’t look particularly threatening, now that Maon got a better look at it. He wiggled his ears, as if to answer the druid, and sat down in front of her, like a well-behaved pet dog.
“I know Brilann told you everything you need to know. Can you help?”
The creature tilted the massive head and snorted again.
“I don’t need a shower,” she said in obviously fake disgust and patted his head with a fearlessness Maon couldn’t fathom.
“Go. I’ll know where you are, if you don’t run off too far. You hear me?”
The Cu Sidhe shook his head without breaking eye contact.
“Good boy. Now go, you traitor. We’ll talk about you chatting behind my back afterwards.”
A third snort. The air flickered once more, and the beast was gone. The druid turned her head toward him.
“He’s such a baby sometimes. Are you okay?”
The tiny human female sure had charisma. Just a few minutes in her presence, and he had already almost forgotten all about the spores. But not completely. He would monitor the situation. He lifted his palms, and she seemed satisfied.
“Now I can sleep. At least until you wake me up again with your reckless driving.”


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