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Chapters 1 - 12 can be found at: Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 12 (Part 2) The Secret Nobility of Miss Vee...
"Dart...oh, Dart", Alex breathed and his heart went out to the poor injured creature. Dart stopped where he was and cocked his head up at Alex as if to say, "I've got a little problem here, do you think you can help me out, kid?"
Alex knelt down and patted his ever-present companion on his soccer-ball head which now had a horrible black burn mark slashing up and down on one side and some damage to his right eye. Part of his right foreleg was missing too and his usually bright chrome skin was pock-marked with the black soot of laser burns. The long, elegant rainbow wings had sustained several holes and tears as well and Dart looked like an over-sized moth that had flown too close to a fire. The pounding he took to defend Alex back at his house must have been terrible.
"He is not very smart or careful sometimes", said Rainah quietly as she caught up with him. There was an affectionate tone in her voice though, which Alex felt good about.
"Well, I'm glad he's not so smart or I wouldn't be here right now", he answered as he felt over the robots blackened body for more damage. Dart tensed or shied away sometimes, when a tender spot was touched.
As he leaned in closer, Alex felt the now familiar warmth of the shape-changing Luss in his faded coverall pocket as it seemed to anticipate that its help was needed again. The desire to care for Dart's wounds took Alex's mind off his own anxieties and the need to be doing something healing with his hands was a blessed distraction for him.
He set to work on Dart's head and eyes which seemed to need the most attention. Dart flinched as Alex held his head and brought the amazing little device up close to his injured eye.
Without prompting, a needle-thin replicating tool slid out of the shaft and performed delicate repairs on the robot's compound eye. By analyzing and then replicating the undamaged lenses of Dart’s insect eye, the amazing tool was able to replace the damaged lenses, one-by-one.
A relaxed pinkish glow returned to the Dragonfly’s eyes and he chirruped gratefully to the boy. After that, Rainah helped him bring Dart back into the comforting surroundings of the, "Bubble Room", as she liked to call it, and guided the accident-prone Dragonfly over to a repair bench that he seemed very familiar with.
Dart shied away from it at first and hid behind Alex's legs like a dog that sensed that a bath was imminent. "It won't hurt him, will it”, Alex asked as he eyed the intimidating robot repair station with concern.
"Trust me, he won't feel a thing", Rainah answered with a trace of dark humor in her voice. Both children took hold of Dart and carefully lifted him up. The bench was actually part of the curved wall and folded down from a hollow recess to the left of the main doorway, between it and the large sphere that Alex had been wondering about earlier.
As it turned out, the workbench, itself was a wonder of the latest Nano-robotic technology as sensors on its surface recognized Dart's physical form then suddenly took hold of the little robot in a rather undignified manner.
Moments before it happened, Dart tensed up and made anxious, "chirrup-chirrup", sounds as he seemed to know what was coming next. Two sturdy robotic arms emerged from the bench at either end and moved purposefully toward Dart like two halves of a vice.
One arm in front of Dart actually had a suction cup which it swiftly popped onto his round head before he could make a move to escape. The other arm came from behind the now wiggling little robot and gripped his tail in a hollow, funnel-shaped sleeve which snapped tight, completing the trap.
Dart finally went limp, resigning himself to his fate on the repair bench yet again. The bench took complete control of all his systems and shut Dart off like a light bulb. The arms then lifted him up off the bench and began rotating him around and around as if he was being barbecued. It was such an awful turn-of-events for the hapless Dragonfly that Alex and Rainah couldn't help having a laugh at his expense.
"That will teach you, you disobedient Guardian", laughed Rainah as she gave the poor stiff, rotating robot a playful poke. Little healing robotic fingers were already reaching up from the marvelous hospital bed for Dragonflies and began by popping off the damaged leg as though they were dismembering a toy.
Poor Dart stopped rotating and hung suspended between the two clutching pincer arms while the rather rough repairs were done on him. "Come", she said to Alex, with a pat on his back, "he will be as well as he can be very soon."
Rainah guided Alex over to a wall panel adjacent to the workbench where she touched a button marked, “Refreshments". A softly humming round table slid smoothly out from the wall, with two round seats attached to it. Alex didn't need to be given any further hints and plopped gratefully down on the seat while Rainah made her choices of food and beverage from a touchscreen inlaid in the tabletop.
After asking Alex his requests, she touched the appropriate "send" button and the table relayed the data to the kitchenette computer inside its pedestal-leg. The desired molecular changes were then orchestrated by the computer and occurred at the microscopic level of two pizza-sized wafers which had just appeared. They came sliding out from thin slots in the tabletop and were presented to the children in two circular hollows in the table between them.
The two large discs were each composed of a brownish-green multi-nutrient organic material which was capable of transforming into dozens of variations of food-groups and their related tastes. The appropriate moisture content was also added to the wafer, as its molecules were transformed, through tiny steam vents perforating the bottom of each circular hollow. The steam also heated the food as it was created.
The requested foods seemed to reverse-melt upward from the table-top as each multi-nutrient disc shrank, morphed and changed into the requested food type. After the meal was finished, the plates that held the wafers would slide back down into the tabletop to be cleaned.
When the next meal requests were made, new nutrient-wafers would slide onto them again from a small storage refrigerator inside the tabletop. The process would then repeat.
Rainah, who had grown up eating in such a way, was quite blasé about such a device but Alex's eyes became as wide as the dish of food now before him; hot food too!
He cautiously settled back down in his seat and decided to follow Rainah's lead. After a minute or two he was eating hungrily and not worried one bit about how magically the food had appeared. After a few minutes of silent eating, Rainah said carefully, "Alex, Miss Vasquez owes you an apology for not telling you sooner about your father." "But we still need your help, more than you can imagine."
Alex stopped eating but kept his eyes fixed on the food before him. He had almost forgotten about the imminent danger above their heads. "If we don't leave here - and I mean leave tonight - The Others will find and destroy this hidden place, along with us and all the hope of life being reborn on my Homeworld.
Even now they are approaching and more have been called down from the sky to amass an overwhelming army. There is now no other option left to us. We must retrieve the fuel tank from your father’s old launching pad in the far woods and escape.
There is one saving grace in all this though, if we can lift away from Earth, The Others cannot follow. They have come here on a one-way trip only; they can never return to my Homeworld. Your Earth's heavier gravity has sealed their fate. The Others cannot even fly on your world, they can only hop for short distances."
While she talked, Rainah finished eating hurriedly, now more and more aware of, the passage of time; there seemed to be so little of it left. She stood up then and placed her hands flat on the table. Rainah looked Alex square in the eye and as his gaze came up to meet hers, she suddenly looked every bit the royal princess that she had been ten thousand years ago on Mars.
The time had come, and sooner than Alex would have liked. Taking a deep breath, she said, "Alex, we all have hard choices to make in life and this really is one of those times."
"You have the simple choice now of getting up and walking home to your mother and the safety of the woods around your home, or risking your life to help us get back to my Homeworld."
"Yes, that is right, your life", she finished as Alex turned pale. "There is an awful reversal though. You can choose to live as you have never lived before and help us nobly tonight, or die one day, in safety and old age, knowing that you had this chance yet turned away from it.
I have but one choice and that is to win at any cost so that my Homeworld can have life again when the Great Change, the super spring, finally returns."
Fear gripped Alex and the food he had been so hungry for suddenly wasn't so appetizing. Rainah moved away from the table then and Alex got up when he saw her linger at the large partial sphere that bulged outward from the wall and had more than once attracted his curiosity. She seemed to be making her mind up about something then because she turned and said, "Would you like to see something noble Alex, I mean really noble?"
Puzzled, he got up from the table and walked over. Rainah looked more than a little nervous about being where she was and kept looking over her shoulder for any sign of Miss Vee.
"What's the matter", Alex asked as he drew up beside her.
"I'm not really supposed to be in this area", she said, "this hasn't been used for quite a long time but I know what it is because I sneak inside it sometimes at night."
Rainah's hand was resting on the side of the plastic sphere as she spoke. For some strange reason, the bulging shape reminded Alex of something he had seen before but he couldn't quite recall what it was.
"Miss Vasquez told me it is the most critical part of the Greenhouse", said Rainah as she passed her hand carefully along its curved surface. As it passed over a certain spot at eye-level, an orange glow came from a small circular section under her hand and she gave it a light push.
Without further prompting, the shell of the large sphere began silently lifting away from the floor, rotating upward, sliding slowly away and into the curved wall of the bubble room. And as it did so, a faint, rainbow glow could be seen emanating from inside the shell. It began as mere fingers of light, but as more was revealed, all but bathed the bubble room in soft, cotton-candy colours.
Inch by inch the shell lifted away until something else came into view...it was the back of a large, well-padded chair. The chair faced deep into the softly lit, concave hollow of the inner sphere. As more came into view, however, small lights and geometric icons began igniting one-by-one with a fascinating array of multiple colors and hues like some gorgeous Christmas light display that grew brighter by the moment.
Alex’s eyes grew wide as he gazed upon it, trying to take in each and every new, curving, neon line and colorful jewel-light that winked on and came to life. The shell, when it opened fully, was aglow inside like a glimmering, condensed rainbow. The half-spherical arc that it made spanned a full eight feet from side to side and arced four feet over the armchair which rested in the midst of it.
"Wow", was all Alex could say, in a hushed whisper. After a last furtive look over her shoulder, Rainah climbed up two circular steps and nestled down into the soft padding of the central chair. Feeling her presence, the two curved armrests curled inward to form a snug, protective circle around her waist.
"Keep away from the steps", Rainah said with a warning tone and Alex backed away, startled. With that, she placed a metallic band around her head which had countless myriads of thin fiber-optic light-wires sprouting out of it to disappear into the chair's headrest.
Rainah closed her eyes for a moment and a brief exchange of light signals flashed back and forth between her mind and the chair. Then, without a sound, the winking and glowing hemisphere of inner lights and icons "popped" away from the inner circular wall and completely engulfed the armchair and Rainah like a fantastic, psychedelic bubble!
Alex couldn't believe it because he then knew where he had seen this before. In the drawings and blueprints that his father had so carefully made and hidden away in his old desk, there was an exact likeness of this same device. It was none other than the control panel for a State-Shift Virtual-Engine; a DIIVE Drive powered spaceship, which meant that the whole room as well as the huge Martian Biosphere attached above it was indeed capable of space flight!
"This whole place is going to blast-off tonight, isn't it", he said quietly as a shiver ran up his spine. Rainah didn't answer. It wasn't necessary to. Instead she demonstrated how the transparent bubble of beautifully glowing control icons obeyed her thoughts.
The encircling holographic bubble became a blur of silent motion as Rainah's thoughts commanded different sets of icons to swivel around to face her. Her fingers softly touched each in its turn and they dimmed or changed color in response like playful lightning bugs whirling all around her. An amber virtual "sign", floating off to one side, read, "TUTORIAL ONLY".
Rainah had clearly gained experience with the marvelous device because at the end of several minutes in the simulation, a green sign appeared and floated below the tutorial sign to indicate, "LAUNCH SUCCESSFUL".
At the end, when the bubble melted back into place inside the hollow curve of the wall, Rainah got up from the chair and came down to face Alex. She was holding something square and plastic in her hand as well.
"Yes", she said simply, "we are leaving tonight and taking this whole place with us back to my Homeworld. We are also taking all the hard work and labor that Miss Vasquez has done for my world during these past ten years. She did it all on her own too, Alex.
She somehow cared for you and me while we grew and nurtured the ancient seeds into the new growth which you saw in the Biosphere Dome above us. And through it all, she had no help or companionship; nobody to give her encouragement or guidance or love.
...no one to give her pity or sympathy."
Upon speaking those last words, Rainah held up the white plastic card that she had taken from the captain's chair in the vessel's Control Sphere.
"Nobility is not something reserved only for those who are born into it", she said in a quiet, solemn voice. Alex looked at the card and saw a photograph of a young woman with long, curly black hair. She was smiling brightly and had a glint of playful mischief in her eyes.
Alex saw a name in black type and below that, the date that the picture was taken. He peered hard at the date once more, then back at the photo because he was certain that a mistake must have been made with it.
"W-wait, this can't be right", he said as he took the card and looked even closer at it. "This...there's been a mistake...I mean...this picture...she's so old now...but this picture was taken only twelve years ago. She looks even younger than my mom in this picture."
But the hard fact remained, staring up at him with that same playful smile that old Miss Vee had just before she said something with teasing wit behind it.
"There is no way of knowing how this awful fate came upon her, Alex. The most important - no - the only truth worth telling is that Miss Vasquez has shown a courageous and noble heart in keeping my hope alive. That one day life will flourish on Mars again is still not certain, but Miss Vasquez has sacrificed and given so much of her life to keep that slim chance from dying away completely.
I do not blame you for feeling like you were quietly tricked all these years, Alex, but I would find it hard to understand if you just turned your back on such a kind and giving person like her and didn’t try your best to help her. At least this one time..."
"I am begging you, Alex", said Rainah with a slight quaver in her voice, "please help us tonight." Rainah took back the mysterious photograph and placed it back on the captain's chair, then let the beautiful, winking control sphere quietly curl back down to the floor till it was closed and still; the chair hidden inside it once more.
She was turning to leave, to find Miss Vee when Alex said simply, "I'll help.” “It's okay…I'll help." Rainah turned round then and Alex could see a small tear of joy on her cheek as she beamed with a quiet, grateful smile.
"Then come!" she replied with a joyful command and extended her hand for Alex to catch and hold as she hurried onward, pulling him into the uncertain future with her. Alex hung on for dear life and in sudden confusion he wondered rather fearfully, "what have I just done?"
Next: Chapter 13-The Fallen Stars and Alex's Exam
An army of Flies arrive to lay siege upon the Biosphere Ship. Miss Vee must prepare for launch even as the two children race to retrieve John Faraway's last reserves of Parathagon fuel from deep inside Brinnel's Bog. Yet, even as these events unfold, Elizabeth receives an unexpected visitor with a tale too strange to be believed, at least, in a normal world.
As of 2017-05-15, Chapter 12 (Part 2) can be read at: Deepskystories.com