Author Topic: Part 21: Infestation  (Read 2963 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 21: Infestation
« on: October 03, 2022, 12:46:01 AM »
When Char returned her attention to the network the next day, she was caught a bit off guard. A long line of qars was busy hauling metal bars to just outside the Arbormass. She'd been so taken in practicing on the radio controls that she hadn't even noticed. "What's going on here?"

"A new directive from the Chancellor," Moss said, his attention clearly on the same thing. "Since we're the only people who know how to make carts, electrical controls and articulators, she's apparently decided that it's our job to make them in mass numbers. Aysa just announced it."

"I must have missed that," she admitted. "But why us? Don't we have to refine our designs first?"

"I'm betting they have security concerns," Rax joined in. "They put the thunderer schematics out to many groves because they were in a hurry. Lives were at stake, and they had to get the defenses built as quickly as possible. That's no longer the case."

He was probably right. Large governments like the Union or Trejuna really liked to compartmentalize information when they had the ability to do so. It was paranoid, but she wasn't in any position to judge over-cautiousness.

"Can I have everyone's attention?" Aysa called out through the network. The twins and Tobor dropped whatever they were doing and became fully present as well. "I'm afraid we have a problem. One of the incoming groups of qars was carrying tarka-worms. The Health Center has strict guidelines about the possible spread of tarkas. We all have to be tested right away."

Her pronouncement was met with a chorus of groans, and not the usual song-accompaniment. The tests themselves were no big deal, but tarka-worms were a constant source of frustration to almost everyone in the Union. They spread so fast that tests almost always came back positive, and removing the infestation was time-consuming and painful. Briefly Char considered lighting herself on fire with one of her less potent concoctions. It might be a quicker way to clear the worms if she had any. Her leaves would grow back eventually.

"Just what we needed right now," Moss complained. "Whose brilliant idea was it to not check all the incoming qars to see if they had any tarka passengers?"

"They don't know how it happened," Aysa said, frustration leaking into her own words. "The Security Center checks all inter-grove qar shipments, so someone must have not been paying attention. The good news is we've come a long way when it comes to detection and removal of the parasites. The bad news is that it's still a slow process. All of our qars will return to us and remain in physical contact with our trunks for the whole ordeal. They'll be checked right along with us. Understood?"

One by one the other members of the Arbormass assented, and were examined by swarms of other qars.

Char endured the process stoically, trying not to let any fear leak into the network. This was just like when she'd been uprooted and brought here! But then, so had everyone else except for Aysa. Maybe she wasn't the only one wrestling with this.

Of course the tests came back positive. The worms embedded themselves into the trunk and branches, feeding on the fibers that treqars grew for armor. They used qars for transport, when they were small enough to remain unnoticed, trying to spread to other trees.

Apparently everyone in the Arbormass had contaminated areas, but the qars here were uninfected. That meant they could help with digging out and killing the worms. The timing of this was more than just suspicious, though. They were all suddenly stricken with a debilitating condition just after they'd come up with the thunderers? Reluctantly, Char realized that her time in the Arbormass was coming to an end.

It was even more of a shame because Moss had lent her one of his best qars, Grace. The older female was a cut above the standard: smart, driven and hardworking. In fact Char had used her to help manufacture some of her most valuable fluids.

She issued orders to her qars and sent them out to Moss, with Grace leading them. He would notice what she'd done and ask why, but not right away. Maybe she'd have a good enough answer for him when the time came.