First: The Testers
Slowly, very slowly, Kelly turned around. It was Reyansh, and yet it wasn’t. His face was more pointed, his eyes bigger and also more pointed, his skin looked iridescent, and he had wings sprouting from his back, bug-like wings that glimmered in iridescent blues. “The Bees, their most potent attack was their most subtle. They created something we’re calling a smart virus. It mutates us, all in a hope of making our brains more susceptible to the Bee Hive’s commands.”
The green-blue woman filled in. “Children born into this environment have almost no chance of surviving – they cannot withstand the immunization for the mind control, and second-generation physical alterations are almost always fatal in utero, if not soon afterwards. They weren’t looking for a breeding population – or, we think, the ‘immunization’ against the mind control alters something that is meant to let us survive.”
“Selective breeding,” Reyansh muttered. “They wanted the humans – or homo mutante – who were most likely to be vulnerable to the control.”
“So how come we’re not?”
“Well, we’ve been working on the vaccine and several other methods of dealing with this since we discovered the problem. The first step, of course, is making sure that the human population doesn’t vary too far from the base. And here.” The green-blue woman held out a needle filled with a blueish fluid. “This looks horrid, it stings for a day, and it will give you the first level of resistance against the mind control.”
“Rey?” Kelly was nervous. She didn’t want to be nervous, but she definitely wasn’t feeling comfortable.
“It’s safe, Kell. I took it. We all took it. What’s more, I can show you the science behind it once you’re settled in.”
Kelly relaxed. “All right. All right, if you’ve seen the science.” Reynash had taught her more than half of what she knew about medicine and science. She held out her arm to the woman with the needle.
A prick, a long burning sensation running up and down her arm, and then a moment of coolness before the pain began to tingle out from the injection site. “Again, if you experience anything at all, let us know. One person in three hundred has a strong adverse reaction. You don’t want to be that person, but if you tell us right away, we can save your life.”
“Oh, good.” She wrinkled her nose. “So, what turns me into an elf?”
“I told you those books were a good idea,” murmured the third one.
“The air,” Reynash told her. “Well, let’s be specific. Some of the vaccines interact with some of the viri and what you end up with is different from if we didn’t vaccinate you.”
“And that,” said the third figure, with a sound of rustling fabric as they took off their helmet, “is another story entirely. But you have been vaccinated, and we should show you your room.”
Kelly stared. “…Mom Cara?”
Hugging someone in a decon suit was no fun at all, but Kelly didn’t care about the nozzles and hard plastic bits poking into her. She hugged her older mother fiercely.
“I’m sorry, darling. We can’t contact the kids once we’re up here. It’s to – well, it’s so the kids have as natural a life as possible, and so that you don’t end up with awkward questions about why some people’s parents contact them and some don’t.”
“Why would some not?” She had a feeling that wasn’t the question she was supposed to ask, but all she could think of was Thomas’ if you’re very very lucky, they take you to a good place, and if you’re not, they take you to a bad place.
Reynash coughed. “Three, four reasons. One, some people just want to cut all ties. It’s harsh, but they don’t even take part in the education. Two, some people don’t sound the same after the changes, and even a non-video connection would reveal something was different. Three, not everyone survives the inoculation, and we still are in a war situation. Sometimes people just die.”
“And four.” Mom Cara’s voice was solemn. “People don’t all come up here and become scientists. They don’t even all come up here and become gardeners or the people who help us keep this place clean.”
And if you’re bad…
She swallowed. “What happens to the other ones?”
“We weren’t going to tell her that now,” complained the blue woman. “Cara. Reynash.”
“You want her on your science team. That means acclimating her as soon as possible. You’ve seen her test scores. You’ve seen the lives she’s saved.” Mom Cara wasn’t pleading, she was laying down a clear argument.
“Wait, what? You were watching?”
“We watch everyone down below. Well, since we’ve decided you’re going to know now, let’s show you. The thing is, many people come up here and are willing and able to do the work we need for the war effort. But not everyone. I’m Liara, by the way. I didn’t come from this Down Under – people in the higher leadership positions are often moved to different locations, when possible, to avoid making too many decisions based on emotion. Your Mom Cara has been putting off a promotion for several years because of exactly that.”
“Pleased to meet you, Liara. Where are we going?”
“We’re going to show you the testing facility.”