Ethan checked once more. Wouldn’t you know, Doctor Augustus’ world was the first and only transition the Chernobyl had made, thus far. That gave him time to try his newly reprogrammed chits, when they were ready which he hoped was soon.
“Ethan!” Jill called. Ethan ran. He did a quick check. He had already found the place where the ship kept track of her vital signs, including psychic health and everything else. A scan told him everything looked good enough. Nothing was fluctuating off the scales, but he noticed that she had thrown up, and she certainly had a fever. He got a damp cloth for her forehead and cleaned her up with another wet cloth and a dry one.
“You are going to be fine,” he said. “Hang in there a while longer.” She tried to smile, but her eyes closed again.
I have waited as long as I can, Ethan thought, and if this does not work, I don’t know what I am going to do. His chits and the ships vast knowledge had little or nothing to suggest in this matter. He noted the arguments in the record against exactly what he was trying to do. No one knew when the chits went into the host to fight the Chernobyl variety, if they would extract themselves later, or lay dormant, in a sense, like a new parasite. They also did not know if the people set free would be able to function, especially if they were possessed by the Chernobyl for decades or even their whole lifetime. But mostly, they wondered if the Chernobyl chit technology might be planted deep in the brain where the minute the people were set free, the people might start in making new chits with which to infect themselves. Standard precaution was to seed the worlds with air born anti-virals, and fry any Chernobyl infected people that got too close.
I need Jill, Ethan thought, and it was a good thing he did not read through that stuff before he made his reprogramming chit. He feared that this might be the only way to save her. He dropped down over the Chernobyl circle. He focused in on the scene until he could pick up the trace of the Chernobyl chits themselves. They were multiplying as fast as they could, but as soon as they entered the air, they were being destroyed by the Gaian chits that had been drawn to the area. Those Chernobyl chits would soon run out of materials with which to build. By contrast, the Gaian chits were organic, fulfilling a genetic function, and could reproduce wherever there was organic material available, or even where minerals could be restructured into carbon and protein and strung together in a pattern. But then, they would reproduce only to the extent they were needed, not to the point of choking the atmosphere. Ethan likened their action to chewing the Chernobyl bits up and spitting them out as useless waste product. At once everything stopped.
“Ethan.” Jill called and Ethan ran, but she was still out of it and calling his name in her delirium.
Ethan checked. There were no Chernobyl missing, none wandering the wilderness, he was sure; but he changed his mind about what they were doing as soon as their chip production stopped. They appeared to be communicating, probably with the folks back home, and that was not a good thing. It would punch great holes in Jill’s cover, unless he made the cover story true. He sprayed the group with chits he had infected with his enter and destroy programming. The effect was almost immediate.
Men and women stood up and began to move about wildly, almost thrash about like fish out of water, and a few were injured in the process. Some gurgled and fell over. Others staggered out of the circle and stopped only when they ran into a tree, bush or boulder, or when they tripped over some obstacle. Some appeared incapable of moving at all, and Ethan felt great distress for them, knowing that they had been thus possessed and controlled since they were born, and had never known a day of freedom. There were a few terrible moments before he was able to scan a body and find it Chernobyl free. Any chits outside the body would not escape, and any within were now destroyed as well. Still, he waited to be sure that none of the former hosts died.
“Ethan!” Jill screamed and Ethan dared not wait any longer. He let the enter and destroy chits into the ship, and then he held Jill while she did her own thrashing about. It ended with her in tears, but she was sound and whole. “They had me,” she said. “They almost won.”
“Hush.” Ethan rocked her as she cried. “It’s all right now. Hush.” He was not slow to give up a prayer of thanksgiving to whoever might be listening.
“The one we called Missus Gurgle said hi today when I said hi.” Doctor Augustus told them with some pride in his voice. “They are like newborn infants just learning to eat and speak for the first time.”
Jill nodded. “They are Chernobyl free, and psychic probes indicate that the Chernobyl took over cognitive functioning and used short term memory, but nothing was laid down long term, most likely to keep their hosts as flexible to change as possible.”
“No bad habits?” Ethan joked. Jill shook her head.
“No reckless stunts either,” she said. Ethan said no more, but smiled. He knew he overstepped his bounds by a long shot, but he was glad and fortunate things worked out as well as they did. Jill took his hand. She was glad, too. She had been very close to the edge.
“One of the main arguments against what Ethan did was that the Chernobyl might have implanted some vital, irresistible information to rebuild and re-infect the people at some future date, but that does not seem to be the case. All the same, I would not take my eyes off of them as long as they live.”
“I understand.” Doctor Augustus was serious when he turned to Colonel deMartin. “And I appreciate the volunteers you have allowed to act as my makeshift nurses. I am sorry to deplete your ranks in that manner, but I will not lie and tell you they are not needed.”
“Not a problem,” deMartin said. “They are genuine volunteers and they will have Captain deMarcos to watch over them if they should get out of line.” He turned to Jill and Ethan. “That is the first time in army history when the only volunteers allowed had to be married with children.”
“We don’t mind bringing the families,” Jill said, sweetly. “As long as they don’t mind coming.”
“And a little repopulation of the area will not hurt,” Manomar noted and everyone agreed.
“But now we need to go,” Peter Alexander said. “I have seen cyborgs, Sorvee and these Chernobyl zombies as well as the Nelkorian menace in my own back yard. When I said yes to dear Lela, I never imagined what might be on the horizon.”
“Just remember, you have friends. You are not facing the worlds alone,” Jill said and she kissed Ethan’s hand that had slipped over her shoulder. “You need not ever be alone.”
“That’s right.” DeMartin slapped Peter Alexander on the shoulder. “And when we are not fighting off other world monsters, we have a world of our own to save. To be sure, the culture of war after war has to stop.”
“I’m not listening,” Jill said. “I am not hearing this.” Doctor Augustus and Peter Alexander laughed.
“We are not hearing this,” Ethan said, and he kissed her in a commitment that was forever.