Category: Hyneria


Don’t Look Back

[ed note: In this chapter, the Yul we know is Aly.]

The jumper pulled up to the crowded dock and four doors opened in a gale of storm and emotion alike. In every direction ships of all shapes and sizes swayed at anchor, creaking like old men, as families were torn in goodbyes like leaves from autumn trees in a blustery gust.

“Father, may I have a minute with Aly?” asked Yul.

Their father looked vacantly annoyed, divided between honoring Yul’s request while doubting Aly’s merit. He was a large Hynerian, domineering most would say, imposing, no one would deny. Still, what Yul wanted, Yul got. “Make it quick Yul. Schedules must be obeyed.” The look he gave Aly would have frozen a battle hardened soldier.

Yul grabbed Aly by the arm and pulled her around the corner. “Look, we don’t have much time—“

“Hey, let’s cut the crap. I’m not pissed you’re leaving and I’m not. Never expected otherwise. But what the frail! Did you have to wear the same outfit. How bout I just cut my wrist so you can throw a little salt my way, for old times sake, you know, just for fun, one last time.”

“Are you through? Cause if you are, I want your scarf. Here, take mine and give me yours.”

Aly’s jaw dropped. “Are you shiotting me? Holy mother of Janus, I never imagined you . . . . Wait, no frailing sense in . . . Frail it. You want my frailing scarf. Here, take the damn thing.”

“Aly, it’s not what you think.”

“Frailing easy for you to say. You’re not the one with a death sentence, one you didn’t choose, one assigned to you by others. Ever wonder what it’s like to be judged?”

Yul’s face changed and in one fluid motion she slapped the living shiott out of Aly. “Listen up. I’m only going to say this one time and I’m going to say it real slow so that thick head of yours doesn’t frail this up. I’m dying. Got maybe six months to live, perhaps a year with luck, which certainly is longer than this planet’s got.”

Aly wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. “So why are you telling me this? You think it gonna make me feel any better?”

Yul just shook her head. “You don’t get it do you?”

“Get what?”

“You think I would dress like you on purpose? My Janus, it about killed my soul to put these clothes on. Look, here’s the deal. Your name is Yul and you are getting on that ship. You understand?”

Aly stood with a deer in the highlights look. “What are you talking about?”

“The whole purpose of getting people off-world is to save them from certain death, to give them a chance to start over. I’m dying Aly. Makes no sense for me to get on that ship when I know you could go in my place.”

“So why—“

“Father. You think he would let you go if he knew?”

“Nope.”

“So, I’m giving you your chance. Now take my scarf. When we walk back around, your name is Yul. You hug Father. Kiss Mother. Ignore me and walk your arse up that plank as quickly as you can. And Aly?

“What?”

“Don’t look back.”

Categories: Story, Yul, Hyneria

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Remembrance

Their father’s jumper struggled to maintain course in the face of hostile winds and if either of the sisters had had eyes to see, only dour grayness would have presented itself. Instead, one set of eyes looked to the right and the other to the left, and although only a foot or two separated them in the back seat, they might as well been on separate moons.

The dock was just moments ahead and one would have thought, in these last minutes there would have been a race to spill all the words bottled up inside. Instead, just silence, the kind of silence one felt on the way between church and graveyard when even the dullest recognized there was nothing to be said.

One would go and one would stay and the choice had been made. Yul was not surprised. She had never expected to be the one and the fact that their father chose her sister, again, only confirmed her world-view. She was the forgotten one, the forgettable one, the one who disappointed, who could do nothing right, the one who embarrassed, the one they didn’t speak of in family circles. And her sister, Janus bless her and it seemed he did, her dear identical twin sister was the day to her night. Truth be known, Yul would later acknowledge, she had no quarrel with the decision. Her sister was the one deserving of saving, the one who had earned it.

“Baby, it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere,” said Rog. He stroked her hair and Yul, her face wet with remembrance, pushed her head tighter into his warm chest, her eyes shut like vaults.

Categories: Story, Rog, Yul, Hyneria

Living Lantern

Zeke lifted his glass in a single fluid motion throwing back the last bit of amber snoot like an old sea captain bailing out his sinking vessel, resigned to going down with his ship. Not one to drink much, a few shots would have normally gone straight to his head, especially since sustenance had neither been wanted nor welcomed. Not tonight. The events of the day and the events to come wrapped his mind in a protective coat of impenetrable soberness as if the darkness of reality filtered the alcohol from his bloodstream before it could work its magic of deception and illusion.

Looking out the cove window, Zeke caught sight of a rare three moonrise as a bitter smile marked the memories of better times and he wondered if even the heavens were mocking him now; putting him in his place as if to say, look now little one. The wind whipped and swirled and he could see the white caps in the cove jostling with the shore like school boys shoving and pushing in line. What was would remain but a memory for the morrow and the fortnight and beyond heralded a page not written even in the imaginations of the great Hynerians of letters.

The night air felt heavy with anticipation of rain and hail and the trees outside the estate swayed and bowed in their own melancholy language as if to say we too are innocent of the crime, yet condemned nonetheless. Zeke took a deep breath of the humid heavy air, his short grey hair looking all the shorter in the brisk coil. His white tunic flapped to its own complaint revealing a musculature of one many years inferior and he felt his eyes, so full of liquid protest just a few minutes before, ache in dryness, their essence stolen by a remorseless gale.

Looking to his left, the sway of a single lantern caught his eye and against brute force his ducts succeeded as mother memory squeezed a drop of juice the child could not manage. Although it had been more than a decade, it seemed just yesterday that he had taught Kyra the art of constructing a living lantern. They had gone out night after night in search of the sea-amines, walking up and down the wet beach, hoping that this would be the night the sea would give up its most rare treasure. Sea-amines were native to the area around the cove, glowed, when in harmony or some would say love, with a porphyrous iridescence, and if properly cared for, could be domesticated. When housed inside a living lantern, their magenta radiance illuminated the porch with a slightly pulsing light.

Soon, thought Zeke, what nature had given, she would reclaim. Yet, still, on one small vessel, somewhere beyond the sable turbulence, a heart beat strong and that heart carried the hope and promise of life beyond this catastrophe. Holding the lantern in his hands, as if to calm the life within such as to calm the life without, Zeke closed his eyes and gently kissed the slightly warm shade. As our fates are destined to cleave not, so our spirit lives on beyond the touch of local disturbance. Kyra, wherever you are, we love you. May Janus be with you my dear child.

Categories: Story, Zeke, Kyra, Hyneria

Home, Blu

Kyra’s trembling hands accepted the package, grasping the slender metal folio with both hands for fear the turbulent winds whipping off the bay would snatch Papa’s gift for itself. Through eyes blurred with tears, she kissed Papa goodbye; his strong arms pulling her tightly into his broad chest with such might she feared his embrace would crush the unknown treasure in her hands. He barked a few words over the cacophony and wiped the tears from her cheeks before she turned and quickly boarded the waiting vessel.

Zeke leaned his cloaked resolute frame into Bravo’s hot bluish-white blast, the steel-plated deck beneath his feet rattling like an old wooden rollercoaster, the metal handrail transferring a final blessed kiss of warmth to his aged and leathery palms. Defiant and proud, he shunned the standard bulky blast goggles, paying for his unadulterated view with eyes that burned and teared with a scene he never dreamed would shimmer before them. He had seen plenty of mirages in his travels across the sands of Silus; but this was not Silus and that vessel was no mirage. She was leaving. She wasn’t coming back. Quick as lightning with a thunderous cracking report to match, the vessel disappeared into the roiling dark grey clouds taking its warmth and heat as quickly as it had taken his love.

“Master Zeke, are we going home now?” asked Blu, who was, for all intents and purposes, Goldie’s mechanical brother.

“Yes Blu, we’re going home.”

“And Miss Kyra, should we wait for her?”

“No Blu. She’s not coming with us.”

“Oh.”

“On second thought Blu, let’s head to Valla. I don’t much feel like being alone at home tonight.”

“But Master Zeke, you always have me.”

“Yes Blu, I do. I always have you.”

“Should I alert Miss Kyra as to our destination?”

“That won’t be necessary. Miss Kyra won’t be coming back.”

“Oh. And Goldie?”

“Blu, I’m afraid we will never see either of them again. When we get to Valla, would you fix me some snizzle?”

“Yes Master Zeke.”

“And perhaps, just this once Blu, add a drachm of snoot.”

Immeadiately upon arriving at Valla, Zeke entered his study overlooking the cove and begin to write:

I look back on the general unfairness of life, and I wonder where this idea, that everything would even out, wrongs righted, hard work rewarded, I wondered who planted this idea so deeply in the fertile soil of my adolescent mind. If I could find them today, I would beat them to within an inch of their life; an inch with asinine precision, with cold calculation, with malice born of infected rusty oozing bitterness.

“Master Zeke, your snizzle, just as you requested.”

“Thank you Blu.”

“Will there be anything else?”

“Shut down all communications and secure the compound. I need some time alone.”

Categories: Story, Kyra, Papa, Zeke, Hyneria, Blu

Embrace the Light

Kyra, open your eyes. Let the light in so that it might bathe your soul in the joy of truth.

Papa always was a bit dramatic with his wordplay reminisced Kyra, as the memories of those last days came flooding back. She wondered what he would say now.
_______

Journal Entry: 07:283:005 M24

I made my normal rounds, snizzle in hand. Goldie came with me with her customary tray of small blue onyx cups, made by Papa of course. Each one filled three quarters full with brew and mixed to individual taste. Von liked his black as did Rog. Yul and Emy both preferred a dollop of Kawai butter, which gave snizzle a smooth and slightly sweet flavor. Trev abstained from snizzle altogether. Just another reason to be suspicious of him (ed note: Kyra’s sense of humor).

Everyone elected to stay in their own quarters even though it seemed kind of silly to be in a room in a ship that was in a ship. We thanked Taren for his hospitality. The rooms he offered us were much nicer than our own, but Bravo-Four-Zero was home and with all the uncertainty, our blanket of the known. He nodded his understanding after profusely apologizing for the detail storming Mairi’s quarters only to find her half-naked and alone. I smiled and accepted his apology. I knew they would find nothing.

We saw Rog and Yul and then Emy before Trev. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits although a bit anxious as to where we were being taken. Then we made our way to Von’s quarters.

“Morning Von. Snizzle, black, for a few minutes of your time?” I asked. Von looked like he had been up for a while, his reading glasses half way down his long regal nose offsetting his immaculately groomed salt and pepper mustache and beard. Von was Zing Tao to the bone and time had not soften the edges of the discipline honed from many years in service. I tried not to stare at the scar on his right cheek, a wound, Rog told me, he suffered at the hands of the Javalinas.

“You must be a mind reader. Please come in Kyra,” he responded, taking his cup from Goldie’s tray as if there was nothing more important in the world. I watched as Von unconsciously scratched his head and wondered if the neural trace, or the vestiges of it, still tortured him or whether he scratched his head out of habit. Or maybe he just had an itch. I suppose a few less assumptions would serve me well.

“How did you sleep last night?” he asked. I wasn’t sure if it was the tone in his voice or the look in his eye that made the question more than a simple pleasantry. Fact of the matter, I didn’t sleep at all, which made me wonder if I looked that bad. Was I assuming again, reading into a look something that wasn’t there? Was he just commenting out of concern because I looked exhausted?

“Just fine.” I lied. And he knew it and he knew that I knew that he knew. How can a look and a smile say so much. Sometimes I felt Von could carry on a whole conversation without ever saying a word. And why did I lie to him. What façade was I trying to protect? What vanity?

“I’m sorry Von. I didn’t sleep at all. Either that, or I haven’t woke yet. Is this a dream? Are you really there?”

Von laughed. “If this is a dream then that damn neural trace has followed me. Goldie, may I have another please. Start from the beginning Kyra. Tell me what you saw,” said Von, sounding more like Papa than I cared to admit.

I’m not sure how long we talked. Words flowed on the back of so much pent up emotion. Von just sat and listened, listened with his eyes in a way that communicated pure attention. I told him everything. I asked him everything but he refused to engage me until I had no more words, until the retelling had wrung every last bit of emotion from me. I sat across from him, utterly exhausted, drained, yet relieved as only deep listening can do. “Please Von. Say something.”

He looked like he was carefully choosing his words. “You make too many assumptions. Clouds the mind and confuses the heart,” he said.

“Give me an example?” I asked.

“Papa.”

“What?”

“You asked why if someone were to return from beyond to visit you that it would be Kieran and not Papa.”

“And your point?”

“You assume.”

“Assume what Von?”

“You assume that your Papa is no more of this world.”

“But—“

“Stop for a minute Kyra. Do you know for a fact that he died on Hyneria?”

“I saw him wave goodbye from the dock as our ship pulled away. He told me his duty was to stay, to help maintain order in the chaos since not everyone would have the opportunity to escape. He would have followed his duty, gone down with the planet,” I responded, somewhat defensive of letting the emotions he was stirring come back to life. It was too late. Images of the last day, images I had locked away, came back with force, like a slap from a cold boney hand.

“We each have our own destiny,” he said, as if words could provide comfort. Words were just words and he must have known from the cold distant look in my eyes that I needed something more. I fought hard to keep the tears from flowing. They came anyway.

“This is not right Papa. You cannot save the planet. A Hynerian such as yourself will be needed to lead these vessels to our new home,” I pleaded, the words branded into my memory. Not just words but the cold wind and steely smell and cacophony of the dock. I couldn’t separate the day and the words. To think them was to feel them, to see them, to hear them, to taste the salty tears flowing down my cheeks.

Papa’s cloak fluttered and flapped in the strong winds issuing forth whip like sounds as if to express its own dismay. My ship, Bravo-Four-Zero, creaked and groaned against its mooring, the anti-grav modules unable to maintain equilibrium in the storm. Wolf-like hurricanes were devouring the planet. The ferocity of the winds whipped us as we stood on the dock, prolonging the inevitable. I was leaving. He was not.

“You look magnificent with your clear crystal blue eyes,” he said as I noticed for the first time his own eyes began to water. “You have the eyes of a leader,” his thumb rubbing the tears from my cheeks as his eyes darted from left to right and back again across the expanse of my brow. “And you are needed for the next generation. This one, here, is mine. You do your duty Kyra. And I’ll do mine.”

How does one respond to that? I just cried some more because I knew he had made up his mind and I knew it was the right thing for him to do. Yet, still, in a small part of my heart, I couldn’t help but wonder why he had to choose between his duty to Hyneria and me. I couldn’t help but wonder why not me.

I thanked Von for his time and excused myself to go check on Mairi. Could I really be such a selfish beotch? I had a ticket out of hell and most did not and all I could think about was having a little bit more, having my Papa come with me. Where did having just a little bit more end? And why was Von playing games with my mind by suggesting Papa might be alive? Assumptions. Why do I make so many. Maybe Von knows something I don’t. He is right. I don’t know with absolute certainty.

Categories: Story, Kyra, Papa, Von, Goldie, Hyneria, Paintings

Hynerian Snowflake

So Long Lil’ Bro

Rog closed his eyes as the vortex pulled Bravo-Four-Zero into its center. The physical sensation of artificial gravity and unexpected g-forces brought back a flood of memories both good and bad.

Rog and his younger brother had spent many hours blasting through the canyons just south of their father’s ranch. Skirting the canyons in their hopper at high speed was not without danger and required absolute trust from your co-pilot. Those times, Rog often thought, brought him and his younger brother closer together than anything else they had done.

“Rog, which gate is ours? asked Chaz. Chaz was five years younger than Rog and had always tried to live up to Rog’s expectations and earn his respect. The age gap eliminated any sort of sibling rivalry and instead created more of a mentor relationship between the brothers.

“Look for gate nine. That’s ours.” said Rog.

“Are you nervous Rog?”

“That feeling in your gut Chaz, that’s excitement. This is going to be no different than a ride through the canyons on our hopper. Besides, we always talked about what space travel would be like. This is our chance.”

“Hey, Rog, there it is, our gate.”

“Wait here Chaz.” Rog walked over to the Hynerian with the data slate. What should have been a rather short conversation became quite animated. Chaz couldn’t hear what was being said, but he had seen his brother’s indignation on many occasions. There seemed to be a problem. Chaz was more amused than concerned and couldn’t wait to hear how Rog had handled the apparent dispute.

“Everything okay Rog,” said Chaz, looking a little more worried now that he could take the measure of Rog’s demeanor.

“Seems they only have one of us listed on the flight manifest. You’ve got a ticket to ride brother,” lied Rog, trying to smile as if everything would be okay.

Chaz stood silent, a thousand thoughts running through his head, trying to comprehend what he had just heard. “Well, you are going to work that out aren’t you. I mean, we were promised we would be on the same vessel.”

Rog looked forlorn, a look Chaz had never seen before. “I’m afraid this is one fight I can’t win. But you’ve got a seat and that is one mighty fine ship. Now I don’t want to hear no back talk. You know I can take care of myself. I know where you are and once I find my passage I will track you down like a wayward pampus,” said Rog with a forced grin.

Rog reached out to tussle Chaz’s hair in part to break the mood and in part to hide the look of falsehood he was sure Chaz would pick up on. Once separated, the chances of a reunion were about nil and Rog knew it.

“Hey Rog,” teased Yul, “closing your eyes ain’t gonna make this ride any easier.”

“Yeah, um, about that . . .”

Before Rog could finish, their little vessel began to shake violently. No one was smiling or teasing now.

Categories: Story, Rog, Chaz, Yul.

Moonrise

The evening air refreshed body and soul. Each breath cleansed worry and doubt from weary and burdened travelers. Valla had that ability and perhaps why Papa spent so much time there. To their right, Hyneria’s three moons rose with dignity, casting a warm glow on sea and skin alike. Papa and Kyra walked in silence, if one did not count the symphony of waves bowing at their feet, nature’s red carpet.

“This way Kyra. We don’t want to miss the view from the bridge tonight, a rare three moonrise,” said Papa.

Kieran


Many years later Kyra claims to have no memory of the dash from her quarters to Trev’s lab. Everything Papa had ever taught her about here and now abandoned her in that short sprint. She remembers Goldie waking her and she remembers the look on Trev’s face before those first fateful words reluctantly flowed forth. The short period in-between is forever blank.

The Interview (from earth):

T: Kyra, what went through your mind when Goldie woke you?

K: Fear. Disorientation. Need for action, need for information, but mostly a sense that the worst had happened, that Kieran had passed away and I had been helpless to do anything about it.

T: What was the last thing you remember?

K: I remember seeing the monitors’ flat-lining, calling for help, realizing that the door was locked and only Trev had the ability to open it, throwing myself, repeatedly against it, blood everywhere. My last memory before Goldie woke me was that damn door that wouldn’t budge.

T: Any memory of seeing Trev?

K: None.

T: Let’s get back to the window. More emotion than we’ve seen from you before. Can you tell us what was going through your mind?

K: You have to remember, our homeworld was no more. What was left of our people were scattered to the winds of the universe and we, the eight of us on Bravo-Four-Zero, were heading into the uncharted territories. We had no contact with any other Hynerians and no expectation we would ever see any of our kind again. Now think about that for a minute.

T: Sobering. Please continue.

K: Well, I was a young female Hynerian. Had no desire to live my life alone and of the four males onboard Kieran was the only one I had feelings for. Rog was a great guy but not my type. Trev, heart of gold and sweet as could be, but again, not quite what I needed. But Kieran was different. Kieran was . . .

Editor: Kyra’s eyes started to water and she asked for a short break.

T: Kyra, are you ready to continue?

K: I’m sorry, even after all these years the emotions of that time still have the ability to overwhelm me.

T: I understand.

K: Kieran was special. Unlike any other Hynerian, well, except one [ed: we see the first smile from Kyra], that I had ever known. He could be so many things. Within his hands he could hold good and evil, strength and weakness, power and humility, all in equal measure and be neither deceived nor seduced by those concepts—almost as if he could stand outside the reality all the rest of lived in.

T: When did you learn he was a child of the shells?

K: I never knew till . . .

T: Do you need another break?

K: No, no, it’s ok. Just been awhile since I’ve recreated these memories. I had no idea until I walked, or was that stormed into Trev’s lab. Kieran had never spoken to anyone about it. Then again, that’s the way he was.

T: Let’s get back to the window. Tell us how you cut your hands. Trev said they were in pretty bad shape when he got to you.

K: Well, I was standing outside the iso room. There is a window to observe the patient. Kieran appeared to be resting peacefully, the incongruity of which only further fueled my emotional state. We had lost contact with Rog and Emy, the Tear had closed and there was every possibility they would not arrive back with the medicine in time. Remember, Kieran had reached stage two, which meant he had an estimated forty-eight hours and I have to emphasize estimated because no one really knew. I think the uncertainty combined with the sense of helplessness created a unique emotional situation.

Kieran was such a handsome young Hynerian. And he looked so peaceful standing bravely on the edge of death, and there was not a damn thing we could do but wait. Then it hit me. This could really be it. He might never come out of the peaceful drug-induced slumber. He might never see the sun again. Actually, I thought he might not ever see me again and, as a result, would have never heard the words I had so longed to whisper quietly in his ear. I felt a surge of regret I’d never felt before.

Then, almost as if my body acted on its own, I remember seeing my hands ball into fists and hurl themselves in frustration against the glass. The rings I wore just sliced through my flesh and blood went everywhere. Really was quite a mess I made.

T: Did Kieran have any idea how you felt about him?

K: None.

T: None?

K: Never said a word, never showed my hand in any way. I may have even subconsciously acted a little cold toward him to cover the approaches of my heart. Who knows in matters such as these? I may have been Zeke’s granddaughter, but I was no Papa at this stage of my life. You know, Goldie was so right. I did miss Papa.

T: What do you think Papa would have said to you if he had been there at the window?

K: Papa would have hugged me, told me not the resist the flow of energy but to embrace it. Then he would have told me how proud he was that there was so much love in my heart. Then he would have found a way to bust down that damn door. [much laughter]

T: So you “storm into” Trev’s lab. What’s the first thing he says to you?

K: Sit down.

T: Okay [interviewer smiles], so you are sitting down . . .

K: Oh no. I didn’t sit.

T: Oh.

K: I stood in front of his desk, put my bandaged hands down like a cat ready to pounce and said . . .

T: Yes?

K: I said Trev, no pampus-shiott. What happened.

T: And.

K: He said in a voice I had never heard before—SIT DOWN.

T: Sounds uncharacteristic of Trev.

K: It was.

T: So did you sit down?

K: Yep, although my eyes never left his. And then he started from the moment he got my distress message.

T: What did he say about his delay?

K: He said he never got my first messages.

T: Did you believe him?

K: Didn’t matter. Water under the bridge at that point.

T: But you don’t remember him arriving?

K: Nope, he says I was unconscious when he arrived. Apparently, on my last attempt to bust the door down I knocked myself out. He did say he was initially terrified when he saw me lying in a bloody mess unconscious.

T: And then?

K: And then as soon as he realized I was going to be okay he called Mel to come look after me.

T: So now he’s in the room with Kieran.

K: Yes.

T: You saw Kieran’s life support monitor’s flat-lining. Did Trev verify that fact?

K: Yes.

T: From the time you first saw them to the time he walked in the room—how much time had passed?

K: Trev estimated five to six minutes.

T: Could a Hynerian live that long? Do you know what I’m asking?

K: You’re asking if Kieran could live or survive for more than five minutes without blood flow.

T: Yes.

K: No.

T: Did you blame yourself for his death?

K: I think I would have had a great deal of guilt, if he had died at that point.

T: So he was still alive?

K: [smiling] Yes. I told you he was one of a kind.

T: Was he just that extraordinary, just that much stronger than the average Hynerian?

K: Stronger, no. Extraordinary, yes.

T: Please explain.

K: I didn’t know until Trev told me. Kieran was a child of the shells. Remember my shell story?

T: Yes, every school child had to build a shell collection of both regular and irregular shells. Hynerian culture valued those that were different.

K: True. Remember, Hyneria was on an elliptical orbit. Twice a year the planet approached the sun and the extreme radiation caused birth defects in all life forms. Most were rather cosmetic, not too severe. Just as shellfish were deformed so too Hynerian babies. One of every seven Hynerians were affected. Hence, we developed a deep sense of compassion for those that were different.

T: So the babies that were born with a defect . . .

K: Yes, they were called children of the shells.

T: What was Kieran’s birth defect?

K: He was born with two hearts.

T: No shiott?

K: [more laughter] No shiott, as you say.

T: Was this common?

K: Extremely rare. Kieran was the first double heart shell child I ever met.

T: So the life support monitors . . .

K: They were wrong. The equipment we had was not calibrated for a dual-heart Hynerian. When one of his hearts shut down the monitors malfunctioned, but the beauty of two hearts is the other can keep you alive. And so it did.

T: You must have been relieved.

K: Yes and no. Relieved he was alive, yes. But the basic situation had not changed. Kieran was down to one functioning heart, the virus was having an impact. The clock was ticking. We were down to perhaps hours and still we could not establish communication with Rog nor did we know if when we did whether it would be too late.

Lesson of the Shells

Fossil Valley

“Kyra, if you are real quiet, we might see a family of pufferbills come down the valley,” said Papa. “Have you ever seen a pufferbill before?”

“No Papa,” said Kyra, her deep blue eyes wide with anticipation and wonder.

Papa smiled. Was he teaching her, he wondered, or was she mentoring him in the ways of joy. With each advancing year he valued more the raw curiosity and innocence of youth.

“Kyra, look to your right. Here comes a family now. Mom is out front, dad is watching the rear and baby is tucked safely in between. Pufferbills live for more than a hundred years and are considered some of the most intelligent life forms on Hyneria.”

“What makes them so special Papa?”

“Well, Fossil Valley can be a very dangerous place and on more than one occasion a wayward Hynerian has gotten lost in the valley without food or water. Pufferbills have always come to their rescue. The mother stays with the stranded traveler, bringing food and water while the father floats back to base camp at the entrance to the valley. The only time the males come to base camp is to lead a search party back to the stranded traveler.”

“And Kyra.”

“Yes Papa?”

“There is one other thing that makes them very special creatures.”

Kyra’s coal black eyebrows rose ever so slightly.

“If the search party is delayed . . .”

“Yes Papa.”

“If the search party is delayed, pufferbills will sacrifice their own wellbeing, even their life, to protect the stranded party. There is not another creature as selfless as pufferbills.”

“Can you hear me Kyra? Kyra?

“What loving creatures Papa.”

“Kyra, wakeup sweetie. Kyra, I have an important message for you. Come drink your snizzle before it gets cold.”

“Goldie, what are you doing here?”

“Waking you up sweetie,” said Goldie. “Sounds like you had a wonderful dream. We do miss Papa don’t we?”

“Yes Goldie, I do miss Papa. I miss him very much,” said Kyra, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “How did I end up in my quarters?”

“I’ll let Trev fill you in. I’m afraid he needs to talk to you about Kieran.”

“Oh My Janus, Goldie.” What has happened?”

“I’d better let Trev tell you sweetie. He said to send you down to his lab as soon as you were awake. Should I . . .”

Before Goldie could finish, Kyra was out the door.