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Read Chapters 1 - 11 at Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 11 (Part 2) - Rainah's Pain...
Jade greeted the two of them as they entered. She cast them a sharp, warning look and swished her long Dragon-tail when she saw Alex. Jade took longer than most creatures to warm up to strangers of any sort; especially strangers who had just befriended her Mistress. She gave Alex a haughty, dismissive look then turned, giving him a deliberate bump with her club-like tail, and disappeared round a sharp corner in the otherwise round room.
The first impression Alex had was of being inside a large, dimly lit, cozy red beach ball. The walls and ceiling curved around and overhead as one continuous surface, even the floor stayed flat for only a fraction of its area before it too curved upward to blend in with the encircling wall. The whole effect was like being inside a large, smooth pudding-bubble room and Alex relaxed a little, feeling that he was being protected from the dangers of the outside world for a while.
Soft, dim red lights glowed down from the small dome overhead, bathing everyone in a fuzzy red hue. Everything was of a smooth-edged design and even the walls had contoured padding to prevent injury to the occupants of the sphere.
In the center of the room, about twenty feet away from the doorway stood an odd pillar or pipe, running from floor to ceiling and coiled around it were two sets of graceful spirals, one within the twist of the other. The spirals came down from the ceiling like an upside-down cone, with the wide base gradually tapering down to a point only a few feet above the floor. The inner spiral merged with the pipe and the outer spiral slid into a hole in the floor just beside the pipe.
"Don't go near that", Teresa Vasquez said with a warning tone, "you'll live to regret it if you do." Sure enough, when Alex looked more closely he saw a yellow and black checked circle painted on the floor and there was a circular handrail running completely around the area of the spirals which marked off a safe distance from them. The spirals were clearly an important component of the room and had to be given a respectful distance for some serious reason.
"What's that over there", Alex asked, pointing to what looked like a large ball at the far side of the room. A portion of it appeared to be sunk into the wall and the floor though, making it something less than a complete sphere that bulged outward from that area of the room.
For the first time since coming inside her home below the ground, Miss Vee didn't give Alex an answer to his question. In fact, she ignored him as if she hadn't heard the question, which was mildly annoying. He decided not to pursue the issue though and followed Miss Vasquez as she walked along the curved wall, pausing now and then to check a dial reading on various touch-screens set into it.
It soon became obvious to Alex that the room they were in was the main control centre for the entire Martian Biosphere. Each control console was labeled to indicate the different areas of the Biosphere that were monitored and regulated. One console marked ‘Environmental Control’ regulated the subsystems of ‘Atmospheric Pressure’ / ‘Ambient Temperature’ / ‘Humidity’ and ‘Simulated Sunlight’. As he followed Miss Vasquez further, Alex noticed one that was labeled ‘Navigation’. That was a puzzle to him, and she took extra time at that console, checking and imputing some new data before moving on.
They were almost coming full circle around the room before Alex saw the door for the first time. It was a door that had been hidden from view when he first entered because of one part of the room that jutted out toward the center and broke the otherwise smooth circle of the wall. As Alex recalled, it was also the corner around which Jade had disappeared. He tapped Miss Vasquez on the arm and pointed to the jutting comma-shaped room with the small, round door and asked, "What's that?"
Miss Vee paused, not looking where Alex pointed; she seemed to know though and nervously cleared her throat before answering. She looked as though she was mustering the courage to tell him something that was uncomfortable for her to talk about. Finally, after a last quiet sigh, Miss Vee forgot about whatever the lights and dials were showing her and turned to face him.
"I have told you", she began, “how your father and I found the chamber that held Rainah and the remains of her family." "But, what I haven't told you yet is that no matter how fail-safe their hibernation capsules were, Rainah and her mother could not have imagined they would be sleeping for ten thousand years when they entered them and sealed the doors so very long ago." "I think it's time for you to see Rainah, Alex", she said with a soft, even tone.
She took Alex's hand then and gently led him toward the small round door. "Something went very slightly wrong with their marvelous hibernation system that was supposed to keep the Time-Tombs operating properly; a small drop in the oxygen level; a slight lessening of nutrients - who knows, but Rainah, by some miracle, survived while the rest of her family perished."
They arrived at the door when Miss Vee said, "She survived, Alex, but just barely and, something happened…" The room that the round door lead into was going to be very small, much smaller than the rest of the perfectly smooth, larger room that it jutted into. It was like an unsightly bump in an otherwise perfect curve, it was makeshift and sharp-edged when compared to the rest of the pudding-smooth room. Miss Vee reached out and pushed a small intercom button on the wall beside the small, round door and waited.
"Hello", Rainah’s voice answered from inside.
"It's me, my dear...and Alex is with me", Miss Vee said kindly.
"Oh...just one moment please", she replied. Then, "You may enter now", she said with that proud, royal tone she always had.
Alex didn't fully realize how small the hidden room was until he entered through the little door with Miss Vee. What made it seem even smaller - more like a closet, actually - was the large bed that occupied over half of the room. It was a bed with white sheets and shiny metal bars running along each side and a headrest that could be adjusted up or down to suit the needs of a patient.
It was, after all, a hospital bed, and Rainah was occupying it; sitting up with two white pillows to keep her comfortable. Alex stopped short and stared with astonishment at this strange new image of Rainah. She sat up as imperiously as she could manage but there was a frailness about her now that Alex couldn't quite place.
She appeared more human again, as her body had adjusted itself to the Earthly environment. She seemed healthy enough and gave him a smile, if in a rather shy sort of way. But still, there was something...
Alex drew near to the bed - then gasped and stepped back, shocked at what he saw. For under the bed-sheets where the lumps and bumps of Rainah’s legs should have been, there was nothing!
"Rainah where -", Alex began. Then, "I don't understand...” “What's the matter with you?” “Where are your legs", he finally cried, taking yet another step back in shock!
Rainah lifted her chin, proudly defiant yet clearly stung by his reaction. Two tears came unbidden then from her deep blue, ancient eyes, and for the first time in her life, Rainah truly cried.
"Rainah...I", Alex began, but stopped as he realized that no words could change what he had just done. The old woman’s hand rested warmly on his shoulder then and Miss Vee guided Alex gently back up to the bed. There was no warrior princess there now, only a child sitting with her shoulders slumped and her head hanging low. What cries there were, though, were still quiet and dignified; he barely heard them, really.
Echoes of great suffering and pain could be heard nonetheless. Alex could now see the outline of two stumps of what was left of Rainah's legs under the clean sheets. The rest of her legs had not survived thousands of years of hibernation. They had withered away. Overwhelming pity and compassion filled Alex's heart for Rainah and he reached out and gave her the best hug he could.
"It's okay...it's okay...I'm so sorry...please forgive me, Rainah", he whispered quietly to her. Rainah leaned her head heavily against his chest and let the tears flow like any child should be allowed. The honesty of the pain she had endured was coaxed gently from her by Alex's simple hug of affection. It was the best he could do and it was the best he could ever have done. “It’s okay to cry, Rainah.”
The bond between them became stronger then than most friendships ever would. To try to describe it with mere words would be an insult to them now. Miss Vee felt it in her spirit as she stood there for as long as they needed her. The old woman's hands resting on each child's shoulder so they knew she was still there for each of them, no matter what.
Darkness and the Others…
Darkness fell and the Others awoke in threes. The sun set and the photo-voltaic cells on their black wings soaked up the last life-giving rays before they were folded down flat and the switch to battery power was made. One by one, but in mere milliseconds, each Fly made contact with his brother in each trio-cell combat unit. The cool night air was soon alive with the faint crackle of static voices calling each other through their H.I.V.E. Network to establish positions and command structure throughout the Hunt-Grid. There were many hundreds of them now and the sky above hissed and whined with the sound of sharp, hard wings cutting down from deep space.
More of them had just arrived from their Homeworld, disguised as falling stars, adding their black numbers to the steadily growing horde. They swiftly made contact with the new arrivals and updated them with specific data of the new territory they were in and their new positions within the HIVE.
The HIVE programming of the Others was such that each Fly could, at any given time, be either a Commander or a Subordinate to another Fly. There were no egos in their cold, mechanical world. It was through this method of ever-changing command structure that they came to dominate their previous Masters’ world. They would use it now to eliminate the Earther threat hiding somewhere within the, "field-of-metal”.
Just as lightning-fast, the primary mission objective was downloaded from the new Commander into each subordinate’s over-all thinking structure: Find and "neutralize" the enemy units who threatened the Flies' mission to re-establish dominance on the red planet; their old Masters' Homeworld.
A curiosity was soon discovered within their network, just after it was re-established. A signal was sent from an alert sentry, telling of the discovery of the Royal and the young Earther in the northeast sector of the Hunt-Grid. Moments after though, the signal was terminated and an "off-line-no-logoff" warning information packet was sent throughout the Network.
Something drastic had obviously happened which prompted further investigation. Enemy-Unit DNA traces were collected and analyzed at the scene of a skirmish between the sentry and the enemy. The "off-line" sentry was also analyzed and trace elements of Luss residue were found on its remains. This was most disturbing and posed a new threat to the Others.
It had long been assumed that the enemy no longer possessed such an advantageous weapon. The Luss threat would need to be terminated immediately, before its Biological Transform Strength was allowed to increase. Meanwhile, signs of fresh infra-red heat left behind by the two Enemy Units indicated a direction of travel.
It lead into a sector of the field-of-metal that the Flies had previously deemed to have be cleared. An agitation near to excitement swept through the Horde and all resources were given a convergence order towards a certain "hill-of-metal" that was somewhat larger than those around it. It was toward that particular hill that the two paths of infra-red traces lead. Search and destroy instructions were soon sent as an amendment to the unfeeling network of precisely coordinated machines.
The hunt would soon be finished!
Next: Chapter 12 - Belated Truth and Secret Nobility
Even as The Others close in from all sides, Alex must face yet another unpleasant truth about Rainah, Miss Vee, and about his missing father.
As of 2017-04-30, Chapter 11 (Part 2) can be read at: DeepSkyStories.com