Read Chapters 1 - 11 at: Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 12 (Part 1) - Belated Truth and Secret Nobility
It was an educational time for Alex during the half hour he spent in Rainah's, "Resting Room", as she liked to call it. It was also a time for healing. Miss Vee gently immersed Alex's burned hands in a basin filled with a cool, healing gel compound. After only a few minutes soaking in the gel, Alex withdrew his hands to discover that the throbbing pain had subsided considerably. Bandages were then wrapped around each hand to prevent infection.
After the shock and strangeness wore off, seeing Rainah put her prosthetic legs on was quite fascinating. As Miss Vee put it, "Any challenge or hardship in life can be overcome with a determined mind and a little ingenuity."
The legs were very interesting because they not only performed perfectly as replacements for the ones that were lost during her hibernation, they also provided Rainah with several distinct advantages. The first and most obvious was that she could literally run the legs off anybody and barely break a sweat. The legs, which had ‘Fluid-Motion High-Speed Servo-Motors’, were powered by high-powered, rechargeable ‘Tritium-Cell’ Batteries, and had ‘Endo-Nerve Ganglia’ sensors which amplified her normal nervous system's electrical impulses.
The resulting normalized feedback from her brain mirrored all the proper movements and reactions that any biological legs would have. But because of the nerve amplification and the extreme power output that Tritium-Cell batteries allowed, short bursts of higher than normal strength and speed were possible. But there was more, much more than Miss Vee or John Faraway had expected when they gave Rainah new life with the new legs.
Because of the thinner atmosphere on Mars, Rainah's people not only adapted to it, they also learned telepathy because of it. This eliminated the need to waste precious energy (and breath) talking. Because of the two-way biofeedback connection with her nervous system, the new artificial nerves amplified not only Rainah's physical but also her telepathic abilities. A mind could not just be spoken to, she could also read it like a book.
Under ideal conditions, such as a mental exercise (like a geography test) Rainah could even find and mentally pull the appropriate memories to the forefront of a person's mind. It was like opening a facet wide and letting the information spill out of the person so fast, that they would have no comprehension of what was happening until it was finished.
The first time it happened, Miss Vee was in her kitchen, trying to remember an old cookie recipe that her mother had taught her years ago. She wanted to make enough for both Rainah and Alex, since she was caring for both of them at that time. Before she knew what was happening, ten minutes had elapsed and a fresh batch of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies was baking in the oven. Miss Vee was completely befuddled and Rainah had a secretive, mischievous grin on her face. The legs had one more distinction: they grew in perfect unison with Rainah‘s natural growth.
With the aid of ‘Omni-Balanced Molecular Silicate Growth Plastics’ the bionic legs constantly mirrored their own growth with Rainah's. They were, for all purposes and appearances, her legs. The only time she had to take them off was during the night or any time she needed some rest in her little room. Her prosthetics were then placed into a specially designed recharging container attached to her bed. All Rainah had to do was shuffle over, drop down onto them and then walk away after opening the small container doors.
During their time together, the mood in the little Resting Room had soon changed to an upbeat and happier one. And so, after Rainah had had a short rest to allow her prosthetic legs to recharge, Miss Vee called a brief but serious meeting with both of them. During that time, she discussed important matters with Rainah about the Biosphere. A particular issue they focused on regarded the routine operations in the habitat and how well each successive crop was growing in the artificial Martian environment over the past twelve years.
Soon, however, the topic began to shift back to a familiar worry that was always on their minds: how much longer they could remain hidden from the Others. Alex soon was forced to realize that there very little time left at all. But out from that ominous train of discussion flowed another topic from Rainah which immediately captured his attention and left him wanting to know much more. Yet, it was how she said it, how she turned to the subject, as though on cue from previously scripted lines that gave Alex his first hint that all was not quite as it should be.
“I must be on Homeworld soon, for the time of the Great Change, when my people wake up”, she said to the old gardener, in a matter-of-fact way. Alex sensed a change in the tone between the two long-time inhabitants of the strange subterranean hideaway and, for the first time since entering the Biosphere, felt uneasy.
Miss Vee coughed uncomfortably and could not make eye contact with Alex. He thought he even saw the same look of pity in her eyes that she’d had earlier; when Alex discovered Rainah’s crippling disability. And in that odd moment when intuition held him, Alex’s nimble mind began to connect the dots and fill the void where no answers had been before. With growing excitement and not a little dread, he suddenly interrupted them, saying, “Rainah, your people are all going to wake up soon, just like you did, aren’t they.” “That’s what the Great Change means, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, that is right Alex”, she said after a pause, “and all that we have grown in the garden will be ready for them when they do wake up.” As the gravity of Rainah’s last words dawned on him, the realization of what else the massive Biosphere Dome could do suddenly became apparent to the boy.
Not only that, but Alex could not shake the feeling that he was being lead down a path that had been well prepared for him some time ago. Yet, his curiosity about Rainah’s people and the need to know more about them left him too enthralled and helpless to turn back from the path; the urgency of the moment drew him ever onward as well.
Rainah did not waste words with him any longer and gave voice to his worst suspicion. “We are flying back to Mars with our newly grown crop of food, Alex…and more, we are leaving tonight”, she continued with that same calm, matter-of-fact tone.
“It has become too dangerous here to stay here any longer. The Others number many more than you realize and I may have already betrayed too much to them by venturing beyond the scrapyard today. Yet the risk was worth it, for I was allowed at least a few hours to enjoy your school and perhaps make a new friend.” Her voice dropped to shy, gentle inflection for a few moments and she struggled to regain her composure and finish the rest of what she had to tell him. “We have been planning for this moment for some time – ”
“W-wait”, Alex yelled as everything hit him at once, “you mean you’re flying away – this whole place is flying away? Tonight?”
“Yes, that is what I said”, Rainah replied, “but before we can, we need your help Alex.” “You see…that is the main reason why I brought you along with me; why I let you follow me here tonight.”
“What do you mean”, Alex breathed, now backing away a step from the Martian girl and Miss Vee, the gardener who had waited ten years to arrive at this moment in time. As though to punctuate Rainah’s statement, Jade sidled passed Alex and gave him a solid thump on the back of his leg with her long tail, effectively halting his retreat.
“I mean that we need your help, Alex”, she said with that same sense of urgency creeping into her voice. “If we are ever to leave here - to escape - we will need Parathagon Fuel. Do you know what that is, Alex?”
“Of course I know what it is…so what”, he retorted.
“So, we need some, desperately”, Miss Vee cut in abruptly. “I used all I had when I returned from Mars and burrowed down into this scrap yard ten years ago. I had to hide the Biosphere and its plant-life - Rainah as well - she is just as precious - even more so.”
“You’re leaving too”, he cried, hit hard by yet another shock to his normal world. “But…we’re friends -”
“This is not my world, Alex”, Rainah said bluntly with arms spread wide, “and maybe it isn’t yours either.” "All my life, after I woke up in my Time-Tomb, I have dreamed of returning to my beloved Homeworld and now that I have the chance to return, I am going to.
Someday soon, my world will awake again with new life and I want to be there to help replant and spread that life." "Even though it will be only a small oasis, hidden deep in The Valley, that will be more than enough for me", Rainah said with steadfast conviction.
"I told you at school that we needed your help, Alex", she said, "but I also said we could help you too." Rainah then turned to face Miss Vee with an expectant look. Something disturbing happened to Miss Vee then. A hesitant and guilty look came over her and remained there. An awkward silence fell between her and Rainah and remained hanging in the air until Rainah impatiently turned back to Alex. She was about to tell him something when Miss Vee reluctantly lifted her hand to gently interrupt the girl.
"There is something I would like to say to you, Alex", she began quietly, with a deepening tone of guilt in her voice. In her eyes was that look of soft pity again. "Lies are told, not only by what is said but also by what is not said", she continued as Rainah looked back at her, frowning, slightly confused.
"I should have told you this long before now, Alex...when you were small...when you asked me…but I was torn between two needs. There was the need to keep you hoping and striving to find your father, and the hope that I had that someday I would hear from him as well.
The first reality has, in an unexpected way, grown from the second, for you see...I haven't heard from your father since the day I made my last lift-off from Mars to return here ten years ago. Your father knew the dangers of being left behind on Mars, but he felt he had to stay so he could finish building the rest of the base station. If he didn't then the young plants in this Biosphere would perish in the harsh climate that Mars still has."
"I am truly sorry, Alex", she said as both children realized the awful truth, "we had agreed to keep in regular contact but there haven't been any replies to the calls that I've sent to Mars all these years." "Your father and I both knew that the Others were becoming increasingly dangerous and were hunting for us." "I am here, as you see me now...a woman old before her time, because of the Others", she said with a sad break in her voice.
Miss Vee shook her head then, as if trying to forget an unpleasant memory. "I withheld the truth from you, Alex because I wanted you to keep hoping and to keep working and growing in your mind and with your inventions...if not for the sake of my mission, at least for your own future as you grew up. You are a very special and gifted boy, Alex, even if you don't fully understand it yet. You are on the right path but you must keep going now. Not for your father though, but for yourself and your mother."
"No, you're wrong", Alex cried, pushing aside her outstretched hand. Confusion and hot anger welled up inside him - "my dad is alive, I know it, I don't care what you say!"
Fiercely Alex faced Miss Vee, his eyes welling up with sorrowful anger. "I'm leaving!", he yelled, feeling her stinging words dashing the hope he’d kept closest to his heart. A painful lump of sorrow was already growing in his throat, stealing away with his most precious dream. Alex swatted a hand again and stumbled blindly toward the door from Rainah's room.
"How could you", cried Rainah from behind him. "You lied to both of us with your silence!"
"But Rainah", Miss Vee countered, "we all need something to hope for...he needed that hope to keep himself going, through all the hard times he and his mother had." "I truly thought his father would call again someday - believe me I did. How could I tell him his father was dead, when he was so small?"
"That is no excuse", Rainah cried, "it would have been far better had he known long before this!" "Do you realize how hollow his hope will be to him now?" Rainah was shifting angrily out of her bed and down to her waiting prosthetics. She waited in impatient fury as her legs obediently coupled themselves to her. She then whirled and strode from the room but not before shooting a look of helpless fury at Miss Vee.
"How could you do that to my friend!", she yelled over her shoulder. A silent old woman was left in her wake, searching for some way to apologize for the hidden truth she had kept to herself for too long.
Alex struggled with the awful truth Miss Vee had just handed him as he numbly tried to open the door leading to the stairs and the elevator. He needed to get out, to get away...he wished he had never met Miss Vee. "He's alive...my dad is alive", he kept saying to himself. He wanted the last hour to vanish from his life – the memories along with it!
"Alex!”, Rainah called from behind him, Alex got the door unlocked and yanked it open wide. He stepped through it and was hurrying along the narrow, curving hallway when Dart came around the bend toward him, limping badly from his battle the night before. Alex stopped short when he saw his loyal robotic Guardian limp up to him like a badly beaten dog that nobody wanted.
Next: Chapter 12 (Part 2) - The Secret Nobility of Miss Vee...
More amazing devices of the Biosphere Vessel are revealed to Alex, including the powerful heart of the ship itself - the DIIVE Drive that his father invented. Alex is also given a glimpse of the tragic yet ever-mysterious past of Miss Vee, even as they prepare to depart to evade the grasp of The Others.
As of 2017-05-08, Chapter 12 (Pt. 1) is at: Deepskystories.com