Category: Shells


On My Way

Mairi sat in her quarters staring at her shell collection. Outside of Von, she was the least known crew member. Not so much because she stayed to herself like Von, but more so because she seemed reluctant to reveal very much about herself. One always had the feeling there was more to Mairi than she was ever willing or perhaps able to admit.

Older than Emy but younger than Kyra and Yul, Mairi had striking red hair, cropped short, and deep blue eyes. She spoke in soft and inviting tones with perfectly nuanced articulation. Her bearing bespoke an upper class background and one assumed a private education. There was just something about her eyes; no one could quite say what, but something about her look that communicated a deeper intelligence than she appeared willing to reveal. Whether she was seen as humble or aloof depended on who you asked. Everyone, however, agreed she was likeable, a certain subtle edge notwithstanding.

She had been told she was a child of the shells, but not even the best doctors could deduce her unique defect or ability. Not knowing tormented her. She never felt completely at home with the “normal” kids nor did the other children of the shells completely welcome her since no one knew exactly what made her different. She lived in no-man’s land. Was she or wasn’t she? The question alone never strayed far from her mind. As she grew older, she avoided the subject and few knew why she seemed melancholy more times than not.

When the crew learned that Kieran was a child of the shells, that he had two hearts, Mairi had to conceal her excitement. Perhaps there was someone else on board she could confide in, could share with, someone who might understand with eye, ear and heart. Kieran, like her, came from an upper class background and private education. She felt a certain comfort, a kinship in his presence. Perhaps, she thought, he could be the missing piece, the piece that could end her doubt. Perhaps he could be the harbor she sought, the place where she felt safe and at home.

In a way, she shared Kyra’s sense of regret. Shy by nature, she had wanted to visit Kieran in the iso ward, but had been unable to summon the strength to approach Trev. She struggled to forgive herself after he died and the opportunity had forever slipped away.

Her melancholy had grown with the passing of Kieran but no one on board noticed. Between Kyra’s coma and the vortex taking them into uncharted territory, Mairi had simply faded into the background. The chapel had become a second home for her. If her red hair and blue eyes were not so striking, she could have easily been totally forgotten. All that was about to change.

“Mairi, your presence is requested in the Grand Conference room,” intoned the onboard computer.

“On my way.”

Categories: Story, Mairi, Shells

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Answer the Question

Kyra looked around the lab. Everyone accounted, standing shoulder to shoulder in tight quarters. Oddly enough, the room seemed empty without Kieran.

“I appreciate everyone coming down on such short notice,” said Kyra, her eyes moving slowly around the room. Trev stood to her left, everyone else directly in front.

“I want to start by congratulating Rog and Emy for a job well done. The mission to Neraj was a success. Risking life, they returned with the agent of retribution and Trev has administered the agent to Kieran.” Heads nodded in respect.

“Let me start with an update. I won’t beat around the bush. Kieran has fallen into a coma. The agent appears to be overwhelmed by the ferocity of the virus at this advanced stage. In short, it’s not working. Prognosis, it’s only a matter of hours, if that.”

Kyra paused to allow her comments to soak in. Surveying the room she noticed not a single pair of eyes had broken contact with hers nor was there a single tear, yet.

“At least that’s what science tells us.”

Kyra paused again. Her bearing, missing only the conductor’s baton, took command of the atmosphere. The room filled with the sound of breathing, the invisible umbilical cord to life.

“Well?” queried Rog, breaking the silence and birthing “well” with his eyes, cheeks and vocal cords as if it had three syllables and weighed ten pounds.

“I think you heard what she said,” snapped Trev before Kyra could respond, still smarting from his earlier encounter with her. “We’ve all done everything we could, no one is at fault. If he hadn’t been a child of the shells we wouldn’t even be having this conversation now.”

Rog rarely lost his temper but Trev had a way of getting under his skin and if he was insinuating or trying to absolve him of some non-existent guilt, well . . . the thought was cut off with a look from Kyra. Then she looked at Trev as if to say the floor is all yours but I think you’re going to need a shovel if you continue down that path.

“What I meant to say,” started Trev, until Kyra’s gaze told him it was time to shut up. “What I meant to say, is Kyra believes we still have a chance.”

“Is that true?” asked Em, her eyes as big as saucers reflecting a glint of fear. The lower lip of her eyes, with ever so slight a tremble, held back a flood of tears.

“I believe we still have a chance,” said Kyra.

“What’s the plan?” asked Rog.

Kyra sighed. Rog’s can-do attitude energized her resolve. “I’m afraid I need to go this one alone.”

“I’m not going to let–”

“I know you’re not Rog, which is why I love you to pieces. There is one thing you can do.”

“Consider it done.”

“Take the crew down to the chapel and pray like you’ve never prayed before.”

“Now you know,” Rog started to say.

“I know Rog. Recite the periodic table if you must; just recite like the words would unlock the map to our new homeworld. Can you do that?”

The outside corners of Rog’s eyes dipped to meet the upward curve of his closed lip smile. At times like this he wondered why not Kyra, until he felt Yul’s hand on his shoulder.

“I’m leaving my comm on. You call and I’m there. Are you sure–”

“I’m sure Rog. Now get going.”

As soon as the crew had left Kyra turned to Trev. “Get the scissors. I need you to cut these bandages off my hands.”

“May I ask why?”

“I can’t do what I need to do with them on,” said Kyra

“Would you mind telling me what you intend to do?”

“Trev, I don’t have time to explain. Would you please just get the scissors?”

“No.”

“What!?”

“Kieran’s as good as dead and if you walk into that room with these open cuts you are as good as dead too.” Kyra had never seen Trev quite like this before. Why he was digging his haunches into the ground like an angry bulldog defied her understanding.

“Kyra, I know you don’t blame me for Kieran’s,” Trev caught himself, “for what has happened to Kieran, but I will not be responsible for you foolishly throwing away your life in a, damn it, I need to say it and you need to hear it, in a lost cause.”

“Trev, listen to me.”

“I’m not letting you walk into that iso ward with open cuts. I’m just not going to do it.”

“Trev, what if I told you I would be in no danger?”

“Impossible.”

“Trev, will you at least admit if we stand here arguing, Kieran will die?”

“That’s a cheap shot and you know–”

“Damn you, answer the question!”

Kyra never saw it coming and apparently neither did Trev.

“I’m sorry sweetie, but that little snot-nosed dilettante had it coming,” said Rog.

“Rog, such big words, a girl might get the wrong impression if you keep that up.”

Rog thought for a sec, hesitated again, and decided he would let that one slide. “Give me those hands.”

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

Lesson of the Shells

In every group a leader eventually emerges. Aggressiveness, initiative and a bit of charisma often marked those who took control from those who followed. Often, however, did not mean always. Kyra possessed initiative in spades, but no one would have ever labeled her aggressive nor would the word charisma ever been mentioned with her name. Yet still, the other seven members of Bravo-Four-Zero had unanimously elected Kyra to lead them to a new world, a new life. In essence, they were placing their lives in her hands and doing so without hesitation.

The launch from Metaluna had gone without a hitch. Bravo-Four-Zero quietly proceeded on the coordinates suggested by their magnanimous guests, and for the first time since prior to the massive wolf-like hurricanes devoured their homeworld, everyone onboard appeared somewhat relaxed if not eternally grateful for their good fortune.

Kyra, not one to socialize, spent a lot of time in her cabin. Her mind unable to rest with the burden of seven other souls entrusted to her care, she paced back and forth. She tried to convince herself that what she was doing was walking meditation, but she had long since learned the folly of fooling oneself. Gazing for a book to occupy her mind, her eyes instead came to rest on the one indulgence she allowed herself to bring—her childhood shell collection from the secluded beaches off Valla cove where an old family retreat had stood just off the beach for ages. Generation after generation enjoyed the solitude Valla cove offered. Valla was perhaps Kyra’s favorite place, a place of reflection, a place of peace, a place of and for renewal.

Part of every Hynerian’s childhood involved building a shell collection. In part, because nearly everyone lived near the beach and partly because all primary schooling taught the lesson of the shells. Hynerians prided themselves on cultivating a culture of acceptance based on love from within. Because of the planet’s elliptical orbit, twice a year the sun’s radiation became intense to the point of causing birth defects. One of every seven Hynerian children suffered from some sort of physical deformity. Most were very minor, yet still there.

The sun also caused the same ratio of deformities in shells. Walk any beach and one was sure to find the most beautiful shells and also some quite deformed. In school, each child had to build a shell collection that included some of these deformed shells. Shells were used since even the ones that were deformed were still stunningly gorgeous and in most cases considered more valuable than the perfectly formed one. The lesson was clear. Difference was not to be shunned, but to be embraced. The sight of hundreds of young school children running around with their shell collections, proudly showing off one against the other, remains in every Hynerian’s memory like it was yesterday. Nor was the lesson lost. To be different was to be embraced, cherished and loved.

Kyra stood still, her shell collection in her hands, staring intently, absorbing the peace of the beach while letting the lesson of the shells wash over and cleanse her doubts.

Categories: Kyra, Shells, Hyneria