“But how did you bypass the automatic shutdown?” Richard Tarek always seemed to get hung up on certain things and even though, in Si’s view, there were far more exciting events than the particulars on how he had transitioned the reactor to be self contained.
Si smiled and his dad apologized, realizing that he’d interrupted the story for perhaps the thousandth time for explanations on the details of his various projects. He countered with his own question.
“What I don’t understand is, if this was all a ‘shared dream’ how did I figure out how to do any of it. It all seemed too accurate to be faked, especially with the…less-than-impressive contributions from the rest. There’s no way any of them know how to disconnect the reactor.”
“You’re forgetting that the computer was tied in as well. You had access to it at all times.”
“So I learned how to disconnect the reactor… like, in real life?” His dad laughed and nodded in confirmation.
“I’d imagine that the company would be a little uncomfortable to know that a fifteen-year-old knows more about their most confidential colonial procedures than the colony’s own chief engineer.”
Si nibbled at a bland protein wafer, then threw a small piece to Cato, who snatched it up before it hit the floor. He rubbed the big dog’s muscular face. The crewmen in charge of the dog’s wellbeing had given up trying to get him collared and into the Captain’s quarters, and he worried that at any moment more men would come to try and take the dog away again.
“What happened after that?”
A flash of a Rossian’s mottled skin covered in dark, wet, human blood. The fire’s light reflected off of the shiny stuff. Its wide jaws opened and closed on Peter’s chest.
He closed his eyes at the memory.
He felt his breath catch and a sob escape him. It was shock, not really sadness that created the sound, he told himself.
“Are you alright, son?” Si felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I’m fine. It wasn’t real after all, was it.”
“It was as real to you and the rest of those kids as my fear for you was. I was worried that you wouldn’t wake up.”
Si continued with the story, and even got through the rest of it without any questions from his father. When he was done, his hands trembled and his skin felt clammy.
At some point during the most difficult part of the story, Cato climbed up on his low cot and rested his giant head in Si’s lap. He could sense the stress he was under, or maybe the dog was dealing with the same anxiety he was and needed the added comfort. Either way, Si was grateful for the big dog’s company. He fondled the pointed ears. After a long pause during which his father just patted his back and thought to himself, he cleared his throat. Si looked at him and noticed his eyes were wetter than normal.
“This girl,” he said, obviously trying to direct the conversation to less traumatic waters. “How do you feel about her?” Si didn’t answer right away. “She clearly has some strong feelings for you,” he rushed on.
Si had intentionally not gone into a whole lot of detail when it came to his feelings for Iris. He wasn’t sure how his dad would react. They’d never really had the need or inclination to talk about any potential love interests he had and the fact that she was a shareholder was especially troubling.
Si cleared his own throat before a reluctant answer emerged. “Um…I don’t know, Dad. I mean, am I allowed to even think like that now? It was different when it was clear that shareholder and Yakka didn’t matter anymore, but now, I don’t know.” His dad didn’t answer right away.
“I won’t tell you what you can and can’t do. I came on this…adventure because I wanted something different for us, for humanity, and I hoped that this new place would breed new and more open-minded thoughts when it came to society’s acceptance of us. Your mom had the same hope. As much as I hated leaving them, I knew that this was the only way our family could have more opportunities. Your mother and brother and sister will be taken care of by the Company. Well, I guess they already have been, and we have the chance to impact this colony in a way that could change it for generations to come.” He swallowed and hugged Si with only his right arm. Si rested his head on the man’s sturdy shoulder.
“So, no. I won’t tell you can’t have feelings for her, and I won’t even tell you that you can’t pursue those feelings. I’m just going to warn you to be careful. Take it slow. Let the rest of them have a chance to realize that this isn’t earth.”
A chirp sounded at the door and Si stiffened. Richard stood and walked to the door and pressed a button. The door slid open and he was surprised to see the Captain of the Samsara standing there.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you.” The Captain said. His voice was rich, and had a hint of a melodic accent to it. Indian, Si thought it was.
“Not at all, sir. What can we do for you?” His father said. At the sound of his master’s voice, Cato’s sleeping head lifted and his nub of a tail started up. Before the Captain could speak again, the dog had jumped down from the cot and was receiving well-deserved scratches from the now kneeling man.
“Oh, Cato, my boy,” the old man laughed as Cato nearly pushed him over with his big head.
Si felt a little uncomfortable, like he had been nothing but a place-holder for the dog until he could be reunited with this man. His father and him stood there awkwardly while the highest ranked official of their new world knelt in front of them and ignored their existence.
Finally, the man stood and held out his hand to Si.
“Arun Shah. A pleasure to meet you.”
Si didn’t take it right away. It wasn’t common for a shareholder to initiate such niceties between the separate castes, and he was naturally suspicious of the offering. Finally, he realized that he was being rude and grabbed the hand in the firm handshake his father had taught him.
“Osiris Tarek, the pleasure is mine,” he felt like a fool saying the words and they sounded forced to his own ears, but the Captain smiled respectfully. He had a kind smile. He was a striking individual. His dark skin contrasted with his white hair and he wore his uniform as if he was born to it. There was a twinkle in his eye.
“Manuel and Steven said he wouldn’t leave your side, so I had to come meet the boy who had gained the great Cato’s trust. From what I know about Cato here, you must have made quite an impression. He doesn’t throw around his allegiances like a cricket ball.”
“Honestly, sir, I don’t know why he stayed with me, but I’m glad he did. I lost track of how many times he saved my life. Or…well, you know what I mean.”
“I do, and I believe that, for all intents and purposes, what you lived through in that dream was real and shouldn’t be discounted. I also think that you probably returned the favor a time or two or Cato would have gotten bored rescuing you.” He chuckled at his own joke. Si laughed too, not really because it was funny, but because he could see Cato doing just that.
He liked this man. He seemed much more down-to-Earth or rather down-to-Ross than most shareholders would be in this situation.
“Would you like to come in, Sir? I think I have some tea I can prepare, if you’d like,” his father invited.
“You are too kind, Mr. Tarek. No, no. I really must be getting along. I am due to venture out on my first away-mission at thirteen-hundred hours and I really shouldn’t dally,” he paused and looked at them strangely. “In fact, would you have any interest in accompanying me?”
Si’s eyes went wide. His interest in just how this planet compared to all of their imaginations was so intense that he’d had to keep himself from running to the closest air-lock more than once since waking.
“I would love that, but are you sure…we’re allowed?” Arun Shah laughed in pure enjoyment.
“My boy. If I say it is allowed, then it is allowed.” He turned to his dad. “What about you Mr. Tarek. Are you interested? I can always use a trusty man such as you.”
Richard Tarek beamed. “Yes, Sir. I would be honored.”
“That’s settled.” The Captain turned and walked stiffly away. Si and his dad looked at each other with barely contained glee on their faces then ran to catch up. Cato walked next to Si as they wended their way through the corridors. He was walking almost as if they hadn’t just woken up from a thousand-year sleep, but Si started to worry that he wouldn’t be able to keep up even this slow pace when they arrived at the air-lock the Captain intended to use.
A small group of uniformed men and women stood waiting for their turn to receive the vaccination/ antibacterial shots that the doctors assured would save them from the micro-organisms on this planet.
The doctor in charge was the same woman that had come in when he’d first woken and she balked at giving the valuable shots to the two of them, but the Captain snapped at her, that if she didn’t have enough then ‘maybe you should just give them yours’. Her mouth was closed tight after that, and she injected them with the drugs.
As they waited for the minutiae of procedure to wind down so that the doors could be opened the Captain came over to Si and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You know. I have read the transcripts of all of the children’s stories that have woken except for some of you that haven’t been awake long enough to give an accounting, and I must say, I could not be happier with your exceptional courage and resourcefulness. I am grateful that such a person as you will help build this civilization.” He’d said it in a low voice, but from the way several of the other officers around them stiffened, Si knew they’d heard the remarks.
A swell of pride gripped him when Arun squeezed his shoulder.
The doors opened and a rush of air and scent wafted over them. Arun Shah stepped out of the Samsara followed by the rest in ones and twos. Several of the officers held rifles and one even carried a UTS 15. The sun looked the same, and there were even two moons, though they looked…different, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly how they’d changed.
He walked over to the edge of the ridge upon which the Samsara sat, and was struck with a wave of fear that pricked at his skin like a hundred bees and made sweat break out. This was the same planet. There was no mistaking it. As he looked out he even recognized some of the same hills and trees in the near distance. His breath came faster and he started backing pedaling toward the Samsara.
“Are you okay, son?” his dad called and before he’d made it back inside the doors he noticed Cato. The dog, having received one of the shots without complaint from the doctor, circled him and barked. Si looked down at him and Cato tilted his head at him. At the sight of him, Si could feel the fear sliding off of him, and reason began to come back.
Of course it looks the same, he told himself. The computer would have fed them terrain information to incorporate into their dream, but he couldn’t shake the fear entirely. He looked around the top of the hill for any sign of the terrifying animals that had been so dangerous in his dream but didn’t see any.
It was beyond strange, and his anxiety was evident enough that Captain Shah did his best to reassure him.
“It’s okay, lad. None of our scans or drones have shown any sign of hostile creatures like were described by the other dreamers,” his smile was so calm, so genuine, that Si couldn’t help but smile in return. This new life was going to take some getting used to.
Weeks passed in a blur. The entire colony worked like a beehive on the new settlement in one way or another. Si worked continuously on prepping the hab units for setup. He’d found that it was the best way to divert his attention from his own anxious feelings. Every second that he wasn’t busy his mind drifted back to Iris or the kids.
He also couldn’t help but continue to feel nervous about this planet. The hair on the back of his arms always stood on end when he walked out of the giant motor pool doors and saw the familiar hills and trees. They swayed and rustled an endless chorus of dark memory.
Si wiped his greasy hands on his dirty coveralls and stood.
“Hey, Si. I need you to go down to hab forty-one and check their door,” his dad’s voice came from behind the half wall that separated a small office area from the rest of the motor pool.
“Their door?” His dad’s head popped into view over the wall and he nodded then shrugged. “The work order just says it doesn’t latch right,” then his head disappeared again.
Si pulled a rag from his back pocket and wimped his hands again, more thoroughly then grabbed his tool satchel and headed out the door. He’d been the one they always sent on “house calls”. He’d assumed it was because he had a good relationship with most of the shareholders. Well, at least their kids.
Because of this, Si had been able to visit with some of the children he’d dreamed with that he normally wouldn’t have even seen, but he still hadn’t been permitted to see Iris and Peter.
It was an interesting thing. Some of the shareholder parents tolerated him, even seemed to respect him. Others treated him like a particularly disgusting virus that had infected their children.
On his occasional trips to the settlement, Si had to pass down newly formed streets along which shareholders and Yakkas bent on their separate tasks passed. Every time he walked these streets he’d scan up and down for any sign of Iris, but even a glimpse of her eluded him.
It seemed like a cruel twist of fate that he’d seen Geoffrey several times, his sunken eyes, shrewd and feral never seemed to miss his passage. He would stare at Si with a murderous will that gave him the chills. As in times past, he did his best to ignore the boy and took a left toward hab forty-one.
The door opened before he could knock and there stood Peter.
“Took you long enough! This door isn’t going to fix itself,” his grin showed just how proud he was of himself.
Si couldn’t help but smile and laugh as Peter wrapped his arms around him in an exuberant hug, but he tried to pull away when he saw Peter’s dad standing in the dark interior of the hab.
When the man came closer, however, he too was smiling, though with a lot less exuberance and a touch of nervousness. He looked around the street in front of his hab for anyone that had witnessed the peculiar display of a Yakka boy hugging his son.
“Come in, Osiris, please,” he ushered them into the living room and hurriedly closed the door. “Can I offer you anything? We have some powdered lemonade I can mix up.”
Si was off-balance. Was this the same man who had come so close to violence when Iris had kissed him before? He couldn’t help but wonder if this was all a trap of some kind. “No, thank you.”
“Right. I don’t care for the stuff either to be honest, but Peter can’t get enough, can you Peter?” Peter nodded enthusiastically.
“Can I make some anyway dad?” Mr. Thatcher just nodded his response and Peter ran off to the kitchen where Si heard cups clinking on the counter as Peter helped himself.
Si stood awkwardly for a moment, wondering what he was doing here, and where Iris was. Finally, he cleared his throat.
“I guess I’ll get about checking the door.”
“Oh…The door’s fine,” Mr. Thatcher said. He was a little uncomfortable with the admission. “Peter just thought this was the best way to get you here.”
“I see.” Si said, but in reality, he was confused to the point of fear.
“She hasn’t been well,” and with that Si felt his fear for himself shift.
“Is she okay? What’s wrong?” Mr. Thatcher lifted a hand to calm his worries.
“She’ll be okay I think. She is just too stubborn for her own good,” he smiled sadly. “Too much like her mother.” He sat on a cushioned chair and motioned for Si to take the one across from him. He did. “I have been equally stubborn I suppose. I wrote off your love as nothing more than infatuation built upon shared experience. I thought it would fade with time, but I was wrong,” he was looking down at his hands as he spoke and when he finally looked up Si saw a man there in his eyes, a father even, but not a monster. He loved his daughter and was willing to do anything for her, even if that meant allowing a Yakka boy into her life.
William Thatcher stood. “Would you mind coming with me?”
“You can leave your tools here.”
Si realized he still had the satchel clutched in his hand. He set the bag on the chair and followed Iris’s dad down the hall where the man stopped and knocked on a closed door before opening it.
“Iris sweetheart. You have a visitor.”
“If I have to talk to that mind shrinker one more…” She turned and saw Si standing in the doorway and gasped. She jumped up from the bed and came to him. Despite her red, puffy eyes and paler than normal skin, she looked as beautiful as ever. She seemed skinnier than usual. Though it was a word he never thought he would have associated with her, she felt fragile in his arms as he lifted her of her feet and spun her around.
Si caught sight of William Thatcher as he spun and remembered that he was standing on thin ice as it was. He quickly set her down and released her, but she wouldn’t let go so readily. She hugged him and cried.
“I’m sorry, my coveralls are getting you dirty.” he tried, but she just waved the stains on her own clothes away.
“Thank you, daddy,” she said and hugged her father too, who laughed and sighed in relief.
“Well, do you feel like going for a walk now?” He asked, as if this had been something he’d wanted her to do for some time.
“With him?” she asked.
“As long as you promise to behave yourselves.” he gave Si a threatening glance out of the side of his eye.
“Of course, daddy!” She grabbed Si’s hand and pulled him through the hab to the front door.
“I’ll have some lemonade ready for you when you get back!” Peter called as they ran out the door, laughing.
She led him to the nearest patch of trees where a trail had already been blazed through the thick foliage. As the shade from the trees was added to the already gloomy twilight that familiar nervousness tightened his chest. It must have affected her as well, for she stopped running and clutched his arm closer to her as she walked side-by-side with him through the trees.
They talked as they walked and discussed everything new in their lives as well as their feelings with their new world. It seemed she too had felt the oppressiveness of this new/old world. The fear and trauma were real, even if the animals weren’t, and she had refused to leave her room for days and had even all but stopped eating. Her father had been understandably scared for her mental wellbeing and had tried everything short of relenting to her wishes to see Si in order to appease her, but nothing had done the trick.
He told her about how the Captain had almost become a friend to Si and he’d go and visit Cato everyday after his shift in the motor pool, and would even go on walks with the old man and his dog. They’d talk about his dream experience and he had even admitted to the Captain that he knew how to disconnect the reactor.
The ever constant sun on Ross 128 b made it so that time flew by without their notice and after walking for over an hour they sat on a fallen tree and just held each other.
Suddenly a branch smashed into Si’s back. They were thrown to the ground with the force of the blow and before he could lay eyes on him, his assailant spoke.
“I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t stomach watching you two anymore. It’s disgusting.” Si saw him now. Geoffrey, stood on the other side of the fallen tree resting a thick branch on one large shoulder. He scowled down at the two of them as they picked themselves up off the ground.
“Really Iris, you should be embarrassed to be so infatuated with this janitor.” Geoffrey jumped up on the log and came down swinging the branch at Si’s head. He was able to dodge most of the blow, but he saw stars and felt blood well up from a cut on his scalp when a sharp piece of the wood clipped him.
“Stop it, Geoffrey!” Iris yelled as she searched the ground for her own weapon.
“Why should I?” he yelled and launched himself forward with impressive speed. He jabbed the end of the branch into her stomach. She coughed and fell backward to the ground. “I must say, I am glad you two finally got together again though. I’ve been waiting. Makes too much sense not to wait and do you in together out here away from everyone else.”
Geoffrey turned back to Si as he was trying to get his bearings and smashed the branch into his leg so hard that the wood snapped as did his tibia.
Si cried out, and crumpled to the ground once more.
“I must say. This is the most fun I’ve had in weeks.” Geoffrey laughed and threw the splintered branch to the side. He stood there for a moment, looking down at them as if deciding which bite he should take first out of his favorite dessert. He went to Iris and knelt down next to her.
He brushed a lock of red hair away from her sweating forehead and then spit in her face. He crowed loudly, then back-handed her across the cheek. She went still.
Si crawled toward her, swearing at Geoffrey as he went. Geoffrey laughed maniacally and jumped on Si, rolled him over and put a booted foot on his chest.
Si fumbled his multitool up over his head and brought it down into Geoffrey’s knee. He hit him just above the kneecap and the pliers were buried deep. It was now Geoffrey’s turn to scream in pain and he fell backward when Si pulled on the boy’s other foot. Si scrambled atop the bigger boy and began punching his clenched fists into his face, but Geoffrey was strong and he was able to ward off most of his blows.
Si pulled on a smooth rock, half buried in the grass and used it as a hammer on Geoffrey’s face.
He dully heard Iris stir beside them, and felt her hands on his, stalling his swinging.
“It’s okay. He’s done. He’s had enough.”
There was blood on his hands, on the rock. It wasn’t a rock. He turned it over and would have dropped it, but the sight of the elongated jaw and sloping forehead froze his blood, and he just stared at the skull instead.