Chapter 1

Isolated and rarely viewed, the kitzloc carried itself with effortless grace over an arid track. Clouds of red-yellow dust rose behind its enormous strides. The thoughts compelling its motion were inhuman, impossible to adequately express, but suffice to say it was happy, and what sustained the emotion was the simple expression of freedom found in unrestrained motion. Slits along the upper sides of its torso expanded as the creature sampled the air. Identifying an unusual odor, it changed course.

Two kilometers ahead, flickering light shined from atop a sandy dune. A crude fire with three humans gathered round. Nearby was their vehicle; an unlikely, cumbersome machine with large synthetic wheels.

The kitzloc adjusted its body temperature until it matched that of the surrounding air. Simultaneously, its skin rippled with color as it took on the same hue as the surrounding desert. Thus prepared, it moved closer to the unwary group.
Traveling in warp space inside a sentient alien craft, Harry was losing his mind. Oddly, the knowledge didn't disturb him. With little effort, he could disengage from his emotions and another world would snap into focus, a world with bizarre, otherworldly scenes yet somehow familiar and comfortable.

Harry opened his eyes, although he didn't need to in order to see. The compartment was comfortable, luxurious by starship standards. The lighting was muted, turned low for his comfort. How could Minerva know light no longer made a difference in Harry's vision? He had changed so much, so quickly, no one could fathom it. Even himself.

He ground his teeth: his bite could break chain. Were those fangs or was it another illusion brought about by the infection? His hands appeared long and sinewy, tipped with talons like a primitive prehistoric beast. But it was no primitive animal that had invaded his mind and infused its thoughts with his. Something else. Something clear and deep and entirely overwhelming.

Outside, along Minerva's hull, Harry felt charged particles as they flowed over the starship's polymorphic ceramic sheathing. Photon streams collided with the ship; with a turn of his head Harry re-traced their paths back to the stars from which they originated. All simply known in an instant. Such were the powers of the kitzloc.

Minerva was a true vessel for the universe, a scientific wonder comprised of technological configurations as yet unclear to Earth science. Harry knew in an unrealized future, Braithwaite scientists and technicians would reverse-engineer the specifications that had bought Fagen's freedom. The secrets of singularity power conversion would be exposed and once again mankind would be loosed upon the universe. The new energy source would transform Earth back into its pristine state. It would transform the moon and Mars as well, making them habitable and friendly to a teeming population.

Harry peered through the ceiling of his compartment, then through the compartment above and the space above that. His companions were gathered in Minerva's control room, waiting for the hyperspace journey to end. Harry could feel their physical presence, smell them sweaty and perfumed alike. Kathleen lounged on the long couch as she listened to Fagen talk about Mirabel and the kitzloc. Bobbi sat quietly at a control console and listened. Blane sat close to Kathleen, his neural connectors trailing filament thin wiring which ran to connectors in the nearby bulkhead. Tringl and the Bedoran boy sat on the deck behind the couch playing a game Harry remembered from his youth. Tringl was a lovable animated giant, gesturing to Arai as the Bedoran chittered back in response. "And what about Harry?" asked Kathleen.

"Minerva will take care of him," replied Fagen.

"Can she?"

Minerva's disembodied voice floated through the chamber. "Of course, I can."

"How? I need to know. Look, none of us really understands the extent of the changes. How long does he have beforeā€¦"

"Before what?" Blane interrupted. "Before he's totally off his rocker?"

"That's not what I was going to say."

"Well then, what?"

Kathleen stared at Blane. "You haven't changed much after all these years, Bart."

"You have," Blane said pointedly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you're out of control. On second thought, you always were."

Fagen held up his hands. "All right. That's enough. Kathleen wants to know how quickly the changes in Harry are going to influence his overall health, whether the changes are reversible, and most importantly, exactly what Minerva has in mind for helping him. All good questions."

"Okay, okay," said Blane, "and I'm all for getting Harry back. That's why we're on this trip. Right?" He looked at Kathleen and then to Fagen. Kathleen nodded but Fagen remained silent. Blane continued, "I'm concerned about our safety, ours and Minerva's, during this transit. What if Harry decided he's more kitzloc than human? What then?"

Out of thin air, Minerva appeared beside Blane, dressed in a crisp Corporation Survey Commander's uniform. "I won't let anything happen to you. Harry is heavily sedated and will remain so. If there's an emergency, I can push him into a coma. The situation is under control."

"I wish I felt as confident as you." Blane looked at Minerva. "Where'd you get that outfit?"

"What? This?" The holographic image posed like a runway model. "Do you like it? I was rummaging around in the back of my closet and found it. What do you think?"

"Very nice," said Blane, "very officious."

"Thank you," she said as she turned to Kathleen. "I understand your concern, Kath. We're all concerned. I'm making progress on my analysis of Harry's condition."

"What kind of progress?"

"Harry's condition is a result of new structures in his circulatory system. Admittedly, they're growing at a rapid rate despite my efforts. Tests indicate actions similar to a viral infection and, like most viruses, it is resistant to any known antibodies."

"So, what can we do for him?"

"We find a cure. I create an antibody."

"How? From what?"

Minerva shrugged. "We go to the source."

Blane leaned forward. "Go to the source?"

Minerva looked thoughtful. "Why yes, we find one of the creatures and extract the material. I'm certain I can manufacture the antiviral from living tissue -- the kitzloc secrete fragrant oils; that's how they make contact. All indications are the oils come from glands. That will be where we can find the living essence."

"Oh sure," Bart threw up his hands, "we just waltz in, find one of these things in its natural environment, hold it down while we stick it with a needle, and take what we want. Sounds kind of like how Harry got into this mess in the first place."

"Wait a second, Minerva," said Fagen, "there was kitzloc essence back on Earth. Why do we have to go to Mirabel to get what we just left?"

"The material on Earth is no longer living tissue. Its effects grow weaker with age. I need the living material to work with."

Blane shook his head. "I wish you'd told us before we got this far."

"Would it have helped Harry?" Minerva replied.

"Probably not," admitted Blane.

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