Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Healer.

(Dakota L, Wiki Commons 3.0.)

Kyle Mootrey was a cute guy. He had those big, puppy-dog hazel eyes, and lanky, straight auburn hair. He was impossibly tall, skinny and fifteen years old, or just about right. He was quiet, and polite, and studious, although his sense of fun was displayed at school from time to time. But Rebecca didn’t know very much about him or his family. When he asked for some help after class, she had agreed without quite knowing why. She really didn’t know what to expect, but she felt a pleasurable sense of anticipation upon their arrival at his family’s suite.
It’s not that she didn’t like him, but it was a little out of his known character. Once or twice Rebecca had thought he liked her. It’s just that he was too shy to ask. You never knew what he was thinking, until he spoke, and then it was often with surprising results. Kyle was a little deeper than the other boys.
Kyle’s house was just a short walk home after school.
Just as in every other home on this bleak and dismal little planet, it was located in a four-unit prefab hut, unceremoniously dumped out in a row of identical huts, along the planet’s one and only street.
Towering over her by a full head-height; Kyle smacked the entry-pad and the door slid open, revealing a snug, homey living room with warm, feminine touches that revealed foresight when the family was planning and packing for this mission. Kyle’s father had died a year out from home, she recalled. Pretty much everyone aboard Ark Two had attended the funeral. Then Kyle’s dad, or at least his body, had been ejected out into space, the girl thought. Was that what made Kyle more considerate, more mature than some of the other boys?
“Give me your book-bag.” He hung it up beside his own, on a stout wooden dowel sticking out of the wall behind the door.
It occurred to her that Kyle must have made that peg-rack.
“I’ll just be a minute. I need to get a few things, and then we’ll be off.” 
Mystified by all the secrecy, she wondered what it was all about. Normally one would do homework at the kitchen table, or perhaps in a bedroom, although she hadn’t really been thinking in those terms when he asked her over. She always did homework with a girlfriend, or at least she had up until now. The walk home hadn’t been too awkward, but the usually extroverted Kyle had been noticeably reticent about what she was expected to be helping him with. At first she had simply assumed, ‘math,’ and she had been satisfied with that answer. But apparently it wasn’t math.
Were they going somewhere?
She could hear him in the kitchen, and then Kyle was moving through the hallway to the back of the unit. Based on the identical nature of all the housing here, she presumed he was in the bathroom.
The room she was in certainly gave a good impression, without being outstanding or peculiar.
It was completely conventional, and supremely comfortable to one such a long ways from Earth, and the place showed no unusual idiosyncrasies.
The home-made couch and chairs were built out of rough-hewn lumber like everything else in this town, but someone had taken the time to properly design them with some esthetic appeal in the lines and proportions.
The colours of the fabrics and textiles, the curtains, pillows and throw-rugs; all oranges, greens, yellows and blues; were chosen for cheerfulness and practical utility. There was no discernable theme in the room except the best one-word theme of all, and that word was, ‘home.’
“Oh!” she gasped.
“Sorry,” he muttered, slinging along a bigger pack which almost dragged on the floor.
He handed her a smaller camera bag with a long shoulder strap.
Rebecca was startled at the way he appeared right there at her elbow, but then in her own house her mother had put up a little room divider, a hand-whittled screen. Her attention was elsewhere; and she had sort of taken the layout for granted. All of these places were just so small.
“Where are we going?” she asked, with a note of rising, curious glee. “What’s all this for? Why all the secrecy?”
“You have to promise that you’ll never tell,” he demanded. “Swear it. ‘I swear to God and hope to die.’”
“Okay, okay. I swear to God and hope to die.” She giggled. “But this had better be good, or you’ll be doing my math homework for a month!”
“Worse fates could happen to a man.” It was unusually pompous-sounding for him and yet also quite obscure.
She resisted the urge to giggle again, as she stood there regarding him thoughtfully.
Kyle seemed unable to meet her eyes, but then his face swung up.
“Thank you,” he said in a firm and businesslike tone.
Even more mystified, she had nothing to say to that, as he defiantly held her gaze for a long moment.
Then he opened up the door and she followed him out. They walked side-by-side up to the end of the street, and along the footpath, and up into the hills above their little community on  the planet known only as R-144-a. The planet at least had a number. The village was simply known as, ‘town.’ One was either ‘in town, or ‘out of town.’
As if sensing her thoughts, Kyle turned to her.
“If we ever get another settlement around here, we’ll have to find a name for this place.” He gave a wry grin. “Otherwise it would be confusing.”
“Hah!” was her first reaction, then; “Yes, we can be ‘A-village,’ and they can be ‘B-village.’”
“That’s not very imaginative,” he said. “But you’re right. It’s better than ‘New Earth.’”
“New New York?” she joked. “New New Delhi?”
“That’s about the size of it,” he admitted. “We’re not the most creative types, are we?”
As they crested the final rise, neither of them even looked back, and they were both too out of breath for further comment. The brilliant blue-white ball that was the sun stood high in the heavens. The air was still and clear. All in all, it was a fine day for an adventure. She didn’t even really need her jacket, and thought that bringing a half-empty packsack had been a pretty good idea. Kyle had certainly thought things out in advance. He would let her in on the secret when it was the proper time. With that, she had to be content for the moment.
Kyle and Rebecca watched in morbid fascination as the brilliant dot that was Ark Two transited overhead in the latest of a thousand orbits. It glowed red for a moment, and then slowly faded into the gloomy eastern haze.
The pair of new friends sat on a big, flat red rock overlooking a wide, barren desert valley as Kyle opened up his pack. He indicated the camera bag.
“I’ve got a little video camera in there,” he informed Rebecca. “I want you to film everything, so maybe you should get it out and familiarize yourself with it.”
“What? What am I recording?” she questioned him, opening up the bag.
She was pretty certain that Kyle had no nefarious intentions, notwithstanding a belated realization that it could happen. This was a thought which caused a strange warm quivering in her belly; but he seemed intent; in a businesslike and professional way; on some bottle. If he tried to kiss her, what should she do? She decided to wait and see; and tore herself away from that thought. It might never happen, she realized, and they could cross that bridge if and when they came to it. It was perhaps best not to obsess about it!
Rebecca looked at the camera, noting that the batteries seemed fresh, and that it turned on in the usual way.
“Okay, it looks good,” she told him firmly. “Kyle, if you don’t mind my asking?”
She sat there looking into his eyes, with her own quizzical grin taking away any suggestion of real criticism.
“Just watch—and promise to God you’ll never tell,” he vowed. “Please?”
There was a strange, serious, begging tone in his voice.
“Okay…?” she said, feeling the need for one big long breath, yet also some desire to hide any trepidation she might feel at this exact second in time. “But why?”
“Objectivity,” he muttered, looking embarrassed for some unknown reason.
She trusted Kyle, and liked the feeling very much.
“All right,” she said. “We’ll do it your way.”
“Watch this.” He stood up on the rock and began whistling out into the desert.
Kyle had laid a few leftover strips of reel-meet out on the rock in front of his feet.
She stood up rather abruptly and turned on the camera. Pulling it back to make sure, she saw the lens was set at, ‘normal,’ and the little light was on. One more push of the button. She heard a, ‘beep,’ and Kyle glanced over in quick approval. Then he gave a trio of short, sharp blasts of a high pitch, and waited for a moment.
 “We’re rolling.” She was determined to play along with whatever game he was up to.
Rebecca carefully shot Kyle in profile, standing tall and intent on the rock, whistling at intervals. Putting the camera on, ‘pause,’ she considered the situation more fully, and considered it just a little ludicrous. She clambered down onto the desert sand.
“Kyle! What are we supposed to be filming?” but just then he hissed and pointed dramatically off into the darkening easterly skyline.
“There!” he gasped, causing her a moment of near-hysteria.
He was so dramatic! So caught up in the moment.
“There! Do you see it?”
“What?” she grumped, bringing up the camera, peering through the tiny view-finder, and activating it again.
She put it on full zoom, and began to search the rock outcroppings, weeds and dunes that were the only things visible.
“What, Kyle? What am I supposed to be looking at?” She stared in futility into the small view-screen of the camera’s eye, partially obscured by the sun’s glare as it was.
There...something moved in the picture.
“Oh,” she said. “What was that?”
“He’s never seen two people together before…it’ll take him some time to decide,” breathed Kyle in suspense.
It had been a kind of gamble bringing another person with him, but he simply had to have help, for what came next.
Bemused by her odd circumstances and the unique task set before her, Rebecca shut the camera down for a moment and pulled out the collapsible lightweight tripod. Think ahead.
“Where’s the best place?” She regarded the strips of meet laid out as bait, and momentarily considered the sun’s angle.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” whispered Kyle and so she opened up the legs and set it down.
He must think she knew what she was doing, as he peered under a hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s fire. Whatever that creature was, it seemed to be lost to sight for the moment.
“Kyle?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, that’s good,” he nodded, so she screwed the camera down on top of the little rubber pad, remembering to make sure it could swivel and depress enough to take in the bait; or perhaps snack was the better word, on their former perch.
She felt decidedly foolish, but perhaps it was for the science fair or something, and in any case, her curiousity was well and truly piqued about Kyle. What sort of a mad project was she getting herself involved in?
Rebecca peered off in the general direction where the scuttling creature had been. There was nothing to be seen. How long could she allow this to drag on? Surely she had some rights, surely Kyle had some sense.
 **  *
“Patience,” whispered Kyle, but at this point she needed no prodding.
This was fascinating enough in its own way, as she stared, transfixed by the sight of a dark, lizard-like creature, easily two metres in length. Her heart in her mouth, she kept tracking it with the lens set at full telephoto-zoom. It was still pretty far away. If she lost sight of it, then she would begin to worry, she assured herself.
But Kyle knew what to expect, he’d obviously been here before and everything.
“He’s tasting the wind,” he told her.
She watched in fascination as the creature did just that, with its long, flicking tongue darting in and out, in and out…its chin was up and its eyes were rolled back. It was always looking over its shoulder.
Her skin suddenly crawled with goose bumps and a distinctly chilly feeling swept over her.
Involuntarily, her eyes swept the sky and the surrounding area.
“Oh, my,” she murmured almost inaudibly, conscious that everything she said, likely even her very breathing, would be there on the video file’s soundtrack.
Slowly, ever so smoothly, she panned the camera, as the creature moved forward in fits and starts, always with caution, and a kind of stealthy boldness discernable in its sudden and no-doubt well-thought-out movements. The thing had a way of studying everything around it, before moving on to another pose, another vantage point.
“There must be some other kind of predators.” Kyle just nodded abruptly, with a quick little jerk of the chin.
His short, cheeping little whistles were a lot more subdued now, but then of course the creature was much closer to them. She wondered if there were more of them about. Surely there must be, right? But one was more than enough for the time being, Rebecca thought to herself!
“Is it dangerous?” she hissed at Kyle while there was still time.
“He’s my buddy,” Kyle informed her in a clearly-enunciated, yet quiet tone. “Just hold still. It’s the bacon he’s after.”
Rebecca cringed inwardly and calmly kept filming outwardly, resolving to kill Kyle later when she got the chance or as opportunity arose…
The big lizard disappeared behind some scrubby little bushes and tall straggling floral growths. She was sure it would appear again at the other end of a long, low ridge. Tearing her eyes away for a moment, she looked at the stuff Kyle had laid out neatly upon their former perch. The big stone slab was like a table, waist-high.
“Want a picture of all this stuff?” she asked, but he just shook his head, peering around to locate his reptilian, ‘friend.’
“Come on, boy,” he crooned, leaning over at the waist, as Rebecca stared in amusement and a kind of wonderful half-terror.
Resisting the urge to put her hand over her mouth, or scream, or jump and stomp her feet, she doggedly kept the video record flowing smoothly. In sickening dread, she saw the lizard come around a corner of the rocks. It came slithering up to Kyle, and then stuck out its tongue, and gave his outstretched hand a lick…she uttered an involuntary, mostly subconscious, high-pitched little moan at that point.
It sat there for a moment, panting and looking at them, one at a time, with a crazy, insane grin on its otherwise emotionless features.
Then the thing made an incredible leap up onto the rock, and eyeing her out of one side of its reptilian, pebbly-beaded face, all multi-coloured stripes and hues of the rainbow, the thing began stalking Kyle’s offering as if it were a living dinner on the hoof, as if fearful that maybe the meet-strips might try to run away.
‘Siegfried,’ Kyle’s name for the creature, sat there belly-down on the warmth of the rock, regarding Rebecca out of one baleful, golden-yellow eye. The thing had gobbled up five strips of reel-meet in a heartbeat, and now it rested content, glad to be among friends, and exhibiting a degree of sociability Rebecca considered a tad unusual in a cold-blooded organism.
“That’s amazing,” she assured Kyle, as he scratched the thing on the back of the skull, and along where the ears would normally be on any other animal, and up under the milky-white jaws.
Siegfried closed his eyes and lifted his chin, reveling in the attention and enjoying the sheer, sensual bliss of a good scratch where he himself could not properly reach without uncomfortable contortions. Rebecca noted in some kind of numb objectivity that it had very small forearms, and a huge, bony head with toothless jaws. The edges were serrated like a saw-blade…she shuddered at the sight, up just a little too close and personal.
“There we go,” noted Kyle. “Okay, now this is where we come to the fun part.”
And she wondered what he meant by that.
She was about to find out.
“Can you centre us up, and then lock the shot?” he requested, still petting his pet lizard-creature.
That’s when Kyle dropped the bombshell.
“I’m going to need you to help me hold him,” he advised.
Too many thoughts went through her head all at once to comprehend them, exactly, but the basic premise she eventually arrived at was, ‘no!’ and in no uncertain terms.
And yet she bit her lip and nodded brightly at Kyle, for he seemed like such a nice guy…and the poor little lizard had a wound in its side, a bright red gash that had clearly been there for some time. Rebecca suddenly realized that she was supposed to act as a nurse while Kyle did primitive first-aid on an oversized chameleon. With a small giggle, and a gasp at her own presumption, she nodded at him to proceed.
* **
At first, it wasn’t so bad. The thing didn’t stink, it wasn’t slimy, and to her surprise it wasn’t cold. It had a surprisingly heavy, warm, fleshy feel, like a baby or a child. It hung there limp, as she supported its tail and hind legs. She could feel Siegfried’s pulse beating and small twitches of muscle as it became comfortable with the unusual circumstances. The creature’s surprise soon wore off, and it began to kick a little, but gently.
“Okay,” said Kyle, awkwardly trying to reach for the pad of gauze he’d soaked with liquid.
He was trying to support the front of the animal, and it wasn’t being too cooperative, squirming and writhing as if frightened by the temporary confinement of their attentions.
“Let me do it,” she offered. “You just keep him from biting me!”
“Okay,” he said, as she managed to hold the thing with her left arm, and grabbed the pad with her right hand.
She watched and waited until Kyle took a better grip on the animal.
“It shouldn’t sting, it’s just hydrogen peroxide, three percent USP,” he assured her. “He probably wouldn’t stand for iodine, or anything like that.”
 “Yes, he’d turn on us for sure,” she agreed, and without further ado, applied the pad to the wound.
She saw traces of white foam around the wetter parts of the wound when she took the pad away. There were small black specks around the edges, but it seemed like a clean gash, perhaps a bite-mark from some territorial dispute with a bigger rival. From her own past experience, after many a youthful scrape and adventure, she figured it was probably dried and blackened blood, as opposed to actual dirt.
“Dab some water on there, and wipe it off,” instructed Kyle. “Then we’ll put the Neo-sporin in there to promote healing.”
“All right, all right,” she said, in a tone meant to reassure herself just as much as the lizard, and Kyle for that matter, who couldn’t really see what she was doing.
“There,” she reported. “There’s no way he’s going to keep a bandage on.”
“I know,” agreed Kyle. “Um; let’s just stand back a bit and let go carefully…watch your fingers and toes!”
But the lizard just sat there calmly on the rock, regarding Kyle first, and then Rebecca with one curious and mischievous eye, goggling at them rather humourously, and then he turned his head and did it with the other.
 “Good boy,” Kyle told it, and reached into his pack and pulled up a plastic snap-lid container.
At this, the animal sat up on its hind legs just like a prairie dog, or a squirrel accepting peanuts in the park back home on Earth. She recorded everything with the camera, keeping the tripod between it and her as much as possible.
“He’s really smart. He knows I always have a special treat tucked away.”
Kyle pulled out more meet-strips and fed the lizard, one by one, as she watched through the camera’s view-screen in morbid fascination.
“He loves the cheese-strings.” 
“He’s careful to avoid your fingers,” she marveled. “You really have made a friend!”
Kyle grinned at that.
“If that injury would just dry up and maybe form a scab, I’d be a lot less worried about him,” he said with an air of conclusion. “At first I thought he might get diarrhea from the strange and unusual food-items, but he’s just fine. In fact, he’s been putting on a little weight.”
As if insulted by that, the lizard suddenly moved off the rock, and she saw it drop to the sand, and then the thin, dusty, rattling bushes parted, and then it was gone. Just gone, leaving nothing but an odd sort of stitch-marks in the sand, and with a long, trailing, clear impression of its pointed tail dragging in the dust.
“So what are you saying, Doctor Mootrey?”
It was the deep, mellow, cultured voice of Doctor Dimarlo Krantz, project director and her immediate superior.
“Well, as you are no doubt aware, lutetium occurs in various rare earth minerals, usually associated with yttrium. In the crust of the Earth, it ranks fifty-fifth in order of abundance, here on R-144-a, it ranks fifty-seventh as far as we can determine,” she explained. “The metal has never been prepared in a pure state. Several trivalent salts are known. The only known uses are in the laboratory. A natural isotope of lutetium with a half-life of twenty-two million years is used in determining the ages of meteorites in relation to the age of the Earth, and R-144-a as well.”
She took a deep breath and went on, choosing her words cautiously.
“It’s just that the numbers don’t jive. Either the meteors came from another system, or our planetary age estimates are way off for some reason we can’t determine,” she added. “This planet simply cannot be any older than about a billion years. The meteorites are a minimum of five to six billion years old.”
“Yes, and?” he queried further.
“Well, doctor…it’s just that we have plenty of meteorites to play with. They’re quite easy to find; and so far nothing we have found indicates a reason for the last mass-extinction of life on this planet. There were no atmospheric or climactic changes, no really, really huge meteors, no sudden mutations of a virulent microbial life-form. So why the extremely small number of species?” she inquired in a note of wonder.
He gazed at her in inquiry.
“Why did such a limited number of species radiate into all available niches, with little or no competition? Why, the very, I don’t know; the narrowness of the codes in the DNA-like strands of genetic material? The questions go on and on and on. Look, on Earth, in the jungle, parrots, monkeys, rats, bats, and a host of other animals compete for the fruit. I’m not seeing anything like that here.”
“You have to admit it is a barren place,” admonished Doctor Krantz. “With the scarcity of water, and vegetation, all the life here is extremely specialized, and perfectly adapted.”
“Where there should be fifty species of lizard, there is one,” put in Doctor Mootrey. “Where there should be five hundred species of plant, we find ten or twenty. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I’m afraid all of this has become rather academic.” 
“So it’s true, then?” gasped Anne Mootrey.
“We’ve located another prospect, just fifteen light years away—BX-74521. As you may recall, we discussed it at a meeting last month,” he told her. “Lots more water, slightly higher average mean temperature, less solar radiation, several other favourable indicators. There’ll have to be a vote, of course. We have evidence of extensive forestation and very fertile topsoil development. There is an extensive temperate zone.”
They both knew how a vote would go.
“So we’re leaving then?” asked Anne Mootrey.
“I’m afraid so,” nodded Krantz. “Still, it will be better for the young people. It means uprooting everything, of course, but the next generation is still young. They’ll adapt to the new planet, I’m sure of that—”
 Anne sighed deeply.
“You may be right,” she allowed. “But my research?”
“Your research has been very valuable,” Doctor Krantz told her. “The data that we have beamed home will be a great contribution towards saving our species.”
Something about the tone of his voice told Anne Mootrey that the informal little meeting was over. She reached over and snapped off the screen without even saying, goodbye, which would probably go unnoticed or might even be appreciated by the other; who wasn’t so much rude, as busy.
And maybe he was right. Maybe it would be better for the young people. The planet which had shown so much promise had turned out to be much younger than originally believed, mostly rock and sand, and without much promise. Things might be better somewhere else.
They were three months out on their journey to BX-74521. One day Kyle and his girlfriend Rebecca were waiting for Doctor Mootrey when she got home from work.
“Mother, there’s something we have to tell you,” said Kyle in a solemn tone, while Rebecca sat there silently on the couch, nodding affirmatively.
“What? Oh, honey, are you in trouble?” she gasped, with her heart in her mouth and her mother’s imagination flipping into hyper-drive.
A funny little half-grin crossing his face, Kyle just shook his head, and picking up the remote control unit, activated their largest wall-sized tri-dee screen.
Forgetting about dinner for a moment, she sat down heavily in the armchair and looked at the picture.
She was looking into a desert. There was a ring of stones; with a central pillar, and lines of pebbles like spokes radiating out like a wheel. All of her fears were forgotten…mostly.
“What…what is it?” Her eyes goggled in near-comprehension.
“Is that on RX-144-a?” she bellowed, half-rising from her chair.
“It’s their calendar,” Rebecca said. “So they know when to plant their crops and stuff.”
Doctor Mootrey leapt to her feet.
“One! You are grounded, young man, and two! What the heck is going on around here?” she demanded in no uncertain terms.
Looking very sheepish indeed, Kyle stood there to await his fate. She stared commandingly at him, and he flushed a deep crimson. There was nothing for it, he had to speak. Anyway, it was what they had planned; difficult as they both knew it might be.
“We had to wait!” he told his mother. “It’s the best thing we could do! We had to make sure we were really leaving! It’s their planet…it was the best thing for them…we all knew we were leaving anyway!”
“What? What? When did you have the right to keep secrets from me?” she asked in pure, cold, focused, but tightly-controlled fury.
She stood there glaring at the two of them, and Rebecca for one felt like melting into the floor panels. They both knew what they had done was right. They would have to live with the results. Their eyes met briefly, and then they pulled away reluctantly.
Kyle took a deep breath as Rebecca gazed at the floor between her feet.
She and Kyle had a whole lot of explaining to do.


This was written three or four years ago now, and while I probably submitted it ten or twelve places, at some point I think I just wrote it off. If you liked this story, please feel free to have a look at my books and short stories listed here on Smashwords.  
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