I Wander the Stars: Part 4

 

     David held the doors open for me—like a gentleman, I noticed, pleased. Not many men had ever done that for me. It made me feel a bit special, even though I supposed he did it for everyone.

     As I stepped through the doorway, I took in the sights around me, turning slowly on the spot. I was in the center of the ship, looking up into the gallery. It was twelve stories high, and each story had a balcony ringing the central column that shot up from the floor in front of me. The design gave the impression of height and openness—a welcome feeling on sealed ships like this one. On each level, I could see various shops and work stations: tailors, tea shops (even the aliens like it, I thought with amusement), computer stores, laboratories filled with chemicals and plants, daycare centers for children of varying ages, libraries, law enforcement, office supplies, and many more. I turned to David, in disbelief.

     “How big is this place?”

     “Big,”he laughed. “You’ll get to see it when we land on the next planet.”

     “It’s like an entire society!”

     “It is an entire society,” he said, leading me up a flight of glass stairs. They were lit from within in all the colors of the rainbow, plus extra. “Of course, it didn’t start out like this. At first we were just a bunch of researchers in a dinky little second-hand vessel. But then some of us got married, had some kids. We made some pretty big discoveries, earned some money. Decided to upgrade, and eventually it turned into this,” David explained, gesturing around us. “This way.”

     We left the stairs and walked along one of the balconies until we reached an office space filled with official looking desks. It looked extremely out of place sandwiched between a music shop and a little café. David pulled me over to one of the desks.

     “Leyla,”he said, causing the young woman to look up, “I have someone I want you to meet. This is Minnie.” He stealthily maneuvered me forward from my hiding spot behind him. I never had been one for meeting people, even the nice ones. I was too much of an introvert. But there was no getting out of it this time, and so I gave Leyla a little wave and an inaudible “hi” before trying to edge away again. It was a futile attempt, however—David had an iron grip on my hand. Leyla noticed, but didn’t seem to hold it against me. She gave me an enormous smile.

     “So you’re the famous Minnie!” Leyla said. “David has told me so much about you. We were all worried about you, of course, finding you like that. I’m glad you’re doing so well!” Leyla was a naturally exuberant person, genuinely friendly. I felt more at ease.

     “Thank you,” I said. Then I gestured between her and David. “Are you two…?” I didn’t know how to end the sentence.

     “What?”She glanced at David, then back at me. “Oh! Oh. No, I’m his cousin. We’re only a few months apart, so we’ve always been very close.” She turned to David. “Now, thanks for introducing us. But what is it that you need?”

     “Minnie is going to need papers if she’s staying on with us.”

     “She is? I mean, you are?” Leyla practically squealed. “Of course, it was possible, but I figured that you would want to go home to your family—wherever that is, but this is just wonderful—“

     Apparently the secrets of my past were still safe with David. Leyla may not have noticed the way my expression had suddenly darkened, but David certainly had. He quickly intervened.

     “Yes, she’s staying. She’s going to need documents and some money to get her started, the standard citizenship package.”

     “Of course. Hold on just a moment while I run and get everything.” She was off like a rocket, vanishing into a back room before I could say“firecracker.” I looked at David.

     “Sorry about that,” he said. “She doesn’t know.”

     “It’s all right,” I said, trying to push all the old memories and feelings into the back of my mind. “Not her fault. So what am I supposed to do next?”

     “Leyla will give you a packet filled with everything you’ll need to get started here. We’ll go to the café next door, and you can sit and fill out the documents we need to get you registered in the system. Once we get that all sorted out, you get to go shopping and then we’ll figure out where you’ll live.”

     “Okay.”

     A minute or so later, Leyla handed me the packet, wished me luck, and sent us on our way. I picked a quiet corner table in the back of the café and set to work filling out the paperwork. No matter where you were in the universe, official documents were still just as annoying as the ones back home. I couldn’t help sighing and rolling my eyes. Planets can die, wars can rage, lives can be turned upside down, but it’s comforting to know that some things will never change.

     Name? Easy. Wilhelmina Enton Marshall.

     Age? Wait, what was I now? Oh yeah. Fifteen.

     The list went on. And as the list went on, I got more and more bored and frustrated. Blank after blank, I filled in various answers, from the routine—Do you have any allergies?—to the ridiculous—Are you in possession of any pairs of striped socks?—while David solemnly sipped his coffee across from me. Finally, when I had finished the last page, I threw down the pen with a frustrated growl.

     I looked up to see the corner of David’s mouth twitch.

     Then it curved upward slightly.

     The other followed, and a grin broke out.

     Then he was roaring with laughter.

     “What?”I snapped.

     “Oh, hahaha! You didn’t really think—“ (Here he had to pause because he was laughing too hard to speak) “that with all the advanced technology and what-not we have here, you’d actually still need to fill out forms, did you? We did away with that centuriesago! Even you humans would have gotten past all that beaurocratic nonsense, I should have thought!”

     “Despite what you might think,we didn’t!” I was extremely not amused. “So you think it’s funny to play tricks on people from lesser species, do you? Well, laugh at this, mate!” I was so angry that I promptly hurled my still-almost-full cup at him and stormed off, not caring that I had no clue where I was going. I left in my wake a very damp, disheveled, and disbelieving David, blinking caffeinated liquid out of his eyes as it dripped down him.

     Some time later, I ended up in some sort of class room, where I locked myself in to let off some steam. The walls had writing screens on them—like futuristic white boards, in tablet computer form. I snatched up a pen and started to draw. At first my drawings were just angry scribbles, but then they morphed into diagrams for things I didn’t recognize. These turned into complex formulas that spanned the entire width of the walls plus extra, and I found that I couldn’t stop. My hand danced frantically across the surfaces, words, numbers, facts, drawings, pouring out that I did not understand in the least. I flew wildly around the room, filling up every single available space that I could find. I was panting and sweating and my head had begun to hurt so badly I could no longer think clearly. I thought I was losing my mind.

     Just when I began to write out another impossibly long formula to go along with the spiral-like diagram I had just drawn, the door flew open and David ran into the room with a couple of other people.

     “Minnie, what are you doing?” he asked.

     I couldn’t respond. I continued writing.

     “Minnie?” Nothing. “Minnie! Minnie, turn around and answer me!” I was shaking visibly now as I tried to fight against whatever was making me do this. David noticed suddenly and ran over, wresting the pen from my grasp. I fought wildly for it for a few moments, and David had to hold me back. Suddenly, all the fight went out of me and I slumped against him.

     “Minnie,” he said, giving me a concerned look as he helped me sit in a desk chair, “what happened?”

     I burst into tears.

     It took no less than three hours for me to calm down enough to explain. All I knew was that I had been very angry at him—much angrier than was logical—and then I was compulsively writing all over the boards.

     “Do you know what all that was?”

     “I don’t have a single clue. I didn’t recognize any of it.”

     “Hmm.” I could tell David had an idea, but he wasn’t sharing.

     “Why did I do that?” I asked. “I neverget upset like that, especially not over something so trivial. And I don’t know what that crying fit was. I rarely cry in the first place.”

     “I wonder…”

     “What?”

      David flicked a screen on and showed me a video. It was a baby laughing at something, and that baby had the most contagious laughter I have ever heard in my life. David chuckled every time the baby laughed.

     Me?

     I was howling with laugher. I laughed so hard my sides cramped. I laughed so hard I cried. I was having trouble breathing, I was laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop. David was so concerned that he ended up giving me a mild sedative just so I could get proper lungfuls of air again.

     When I was calmed down again, I found myself even more confused than before, if that was possible.

     “What,” I wheezed hoarsely, “is wrong with me?!”

     “You’re trying to cope.”

     “With what,exactly?”

     “All that information in your head. It wants to come out, it wants to be used. Your brain is just bursting with knowledge and memories and emotions right now, and they don’t want to just sit there doing nothing! That’s not what they’re for. Give them the slightest opportunity, and they’ll jump on it.”

   “So you’re saying that if I get a bit annoyed…all those instances of annoyance that were in the databases will rise up along with my own and make it worse? And the crying and laughing were the same thing?”

     “Exactly. And all those things you were writing on the boards. I think that over the next several days—maybe even weeks or months, who knows?—your new knowledge and abilities are going to be slowly rising up to the surface, and once they have you’ll be able to control them with practice.”

     “Is there any way to stop it? Get rid of them?”

     “No. What they did to you on your ship was insanely dangerous. It would be even more difficult and risky to try to remove the information now that you have it.”

     “But I don’t want it!” I exclaimed. “I don’t want any of this! I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for everyone to die, I didn’t ask for the war, I didn’t ask to be used as a data storage chip! Why did this have to happen? What did I ever do to deserve all this?”

     David sighed and put his arm around my shoulders.

     “Minnie, sometimes bad things happen to good people. You know that. It’s pretty evident in your own life. We don’t understand it. But you know what? You have to just trust that everything that happens is for a reason. You were given this life because you’re the only one in all of time and space that can live it the way it’s meant to be lived. Everything you’ve gone through already, and everything you will go through, has a point. You have an amazing purpose, and your job is to figure out your destiny and then accomplish it. All of this is preparing you for that, and will help you in your journey. You have to take it on faith.”

     “But it’s so hard. Why do we have to believe that?”

     “We don’t have to believe anything. We can choose not to if we want. But if you don’t believe in a higher purpose, then what’s the point of living at all? Why would you keep fighting if you didn’t think there was anything worth fighting for in the end? For instance, when you got all those children out of your compound when it was invaded, you didn’t know anyone was coming to rescue them, did you?”

     “No.”

     “But you hoped, didn’t you? You did everything you could to make sure they had the best chance possible of getting rescued, and then you left the rest up to fate. You had done all you could and you trusted that it would all work out in the end, even if you didn’t know what that end would be.”

     “I get it.” I nodded. “Thanks. I’ll try, at least. To take it on faith. Besides, if I didn’t I think I’d go crazy pretty soon. This is going to be rough, isn’t it?”

     “Yeah. Sorry, but there’s no easy way to get through it.”

     “It’s okay. Just…you’ll stick around, right? You’ll help me?”

     “Of course. We all will. Speaking of all of us, let me introduce you to these two hooligans over here that I happen to call friends,” David said, pulling me to my feet. “This,” he said, pointing to a young man probably around his own age, “is Talon. Kitchen staff, track him down if you ever need something to eat in the wee hours of the morning. And this,” he pointed to the woman, “is Betha. Head tailor. She’s going to find some clothes for you.” Betha was somewhere in between youth and middle age, mature but still quite energetic. She had a mischievous twinkle in her eye that made me immediately warm to her.

     “I’m sure I can find something suitably sweet to eat for such a pretty little thing as you.” Talon grinned.

     I raised an eyebrow, and David turned on his friend. “NO FLIRTING. She’s fifteen and quite off limits.”

     “Sorry.”

     David shook his head and turned to me.

     “I’m sorry about Talon. I should have warned you, his way of greeting people is by flirting with them.”

     “It’s okay.”

     Betha came over and looped her arm with mine, while giving me a handkerchief. She winked conspiratorially at me and led me past the two men, saying, “Come with me, love. Let’s go have a fun girls’day out, what do you say? Get you settled in here and figure out what you want to do.”

     I smiled.

     “I’d love that.” I threw one last look over my shoulder at David and Talon. “Bye!”

     “I’ll find you at dinner! Just head to the dining hall with Betha.” He waved as we walked out.

     Betha led me first to her shop, into the back area which was closed off to the general public. It was her private studio. She pointed to a stool.

     “Just hop up there, dear, and let me measure you. Won’t take a minute.”She typed the measurements into a small device, then flicked on a 3D hologram. “Now, take this—“ she handed me a remote control with one green button and one red button, “and whenever a new item of clothing comes up, press the green if you like it and the red if you don’t. Then whatever you’ve approved will be made in your size within a couple of days.”

     I grinned. “Awesome!”

     Almost two hours later, we left her shop and headed off to a pastry shop. I ordered a muffin and she had an apple turnover. We chatted for a bit about nothing in particular, and it was nice to be able to relax with someone for once. We visited a mini spa, a stationary/novelty store (where I was in heaven and promptly bought myself three journals, countless pens, and a fez with my newfound ship credit), a beautiful fountain, and several other places before it was finally time to go to dinner. On our way there, she led my by my new room, which was nothing special as far as ship’s quarters go. But it was all mine, and that made it precious. I put away my new things, and after being told that the clothes would be delivered directly to my wardrobe when they were ready, followed Betha to the dining hall for dinner, where I met some more people thanks to David.

     When we were all fed, full, and out of conversation topics, I asked David if he could show me back to my new room, because I had forgotten where it was and I wanted to go to sleep. He graciously agreed, and after making sure I could now remember where things were, told me goodnight. I slipped off the dress and put on soft cotton pajamas before curling up on the bed. I had high hopes for the next day.

     Over the course of the next week, I went about learning about my new home and life. I had a few more episodes, but David always stuck close by and was able to help me out. I discovered I had no talent for categorizing plants, but I wasn’t half-bad at crocheting. I could raise tomatoes, but ended up killing everything else I touched—which resulted in me being graciously but rapidly removed from gardening duties. I spent the days moving from task to task, attempting to find my niche. On the fourth day, David pulled me aside. (He was at that point still acting as mediator between the others on the ship and me.)

     “Minnie,” he began. “We’re a bit short of staff in a certain area today—one of the regulars just broke her ankle—and I was wondering if you’d be willing to fill in, at least temporarily.”

     “Sure,” I replied. “What job?”

     David stopped walking and gave me a cautious look.

     “You don’t have to do it if you don’t feel like it,” he said. “It’s not required or anything.”

     “David. Job?”

      “The…childcare center.” He said it softly, as if lowering the volume of his words would soften the blow that now struck me hard in the chest. I took an involuntary step backwards, leaning against the wall as I was hurled into a sea of memories. Some happy ones, yes, but also many filled with tragedy, loss, and sorrow. Children who died, children who I couldn’t save, children who I couldn’t shield from seeing their home destroyed, from the pain of losing their mothers and fathers and siblings and friends. I squeezed my eyes shut against the swarming images.

     “Minnie, I’m sorry!” David cried in dismay. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. You don’t have to do it.”

     “No.” I regained control, grounded by his voice. “No, I’m glad you did. I think it would be a good idea, actually. I love being with them, and they always make me…better. It was just—that day—and watching them cry, and I couldn’t—“ I took a breath, pushing that train of thought away. “I want to.”

     “Are you sure?”

     “Positive. Please. I’ve…missed them. A lot.”

     “Very well. But if you need to leave, then leave. Don’t force yourself to do something you’re not ready for.”

     “I won’t.”

     So I soon found myself in a large play room with an rather impressively large group of toddlers. It was bittersweet, because some of them reminded me of my family or other children from home, before the war destroyed everything. But children are children, and their innocence was good for me. Soon I was smiling and singing and laughing with them, and they were no longer wary of me. I had gone from stranger to friend.

Like always happens, I found myself sitting on the floor with some books, little kids piled around and on top of me, a rapt audience while I read them their favorite stories. Some were like the ones we had back home, but others I couldn’t help laughing at. Honestly,I thought. The Great Ravaging Cabbage of Zorticon 5?Only in space would you EVER see that.

     I went to bed that night exhausted but happier than I had felt in a long time. I had spent the last year avoiding being near children because I didn’t think I could take the guilt—not just from all the children I had seen die, the children I’d known, but also all the children I hadn’tknown, who had died by my orders, in the attacks that I’d planned. They were innocent.

     But the children today had reminded me that all of them are innocent. And while people may do horrible things, life goes on. See, children live in the moment. If you take away a toy, they may feel it’s the end of the world. But come back in just a few minutes and you’ll find they’ve moved on to the modeling clay and are content again, the trauma of the previous toy completely behind them. They are the experts of letting go, and I was learning from them. Besides, they are so full of life, you can’t help picking up a little bit of their zest if you’re around them for long.

     So I fell asleep and dreamed of happy things for once. I told David the next morning that I wanted to keep working with the children, and though surprised, he agreed. I was soon a regular in the childcare center, which the kids loved because I was an ever-willing reading-and-pretending volunteer.

     I also spent time studying literature, art, science, and mathematics. Some of them I found I already understood—thanks to the data I’d had shoved into my brain. But I threw myself into all my studies with a voracious passion; I’d had no ability to learn back on Earth, with the life I led, and I worked full time on the Wallaby. There weren’t many books there anyway. But here, I had an enormous library and many willing teachers. It was incredible.

     David insisted that I learn survival skills, which he defined as “the ability to cook a decent meal, live off plants, perform basic first-aid, and defend yourself against attackers.” I agreed to all of them save the last, but he was firm.

     “You have to be able to defend yourself against a variety of dangers,”he’d said seriously. “We go to many planets, some friendly, some not—and some unknown. Would you like to be gutted by a blue, four-foot-tall alien with razor-sharp claws, or sliced to pieces by a carnivorous plant bigger than you are?”

   I said no, I really would not.

     That’s how I found myself in a training gym with a young woman named Marguerite, practicing basic escapes and blocks. I was doing decently, until suddenly in the middle of a headlock escape I found myself flat on the ground, clutching my temples as a splitting headache descended on me.

     “Minnie?”Marguerite asked, worried. “Are you all right?” She knelt next to me. “What’s wrong? What hurts?”

     “My head!” I practically shrieked.

     “Okay, just hang on. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine, I promise.” She was obviously lying through her teeth. Through a bright haze, I heard her page David. He arrived a few minutes later with another scientist, this one a biologist, not a doctor. They must have been working on something together when David was paged. Marguerite was rhythmically stroking my hair, trying to help somehow. David dropped down right next to me and was instantly taking my pulse.

     “What happened?” He asked Marguerite.

     “I don’t know! We were just practicing the usual, and then she collapsed.”

     “Minnie?”I looked at him, silent tears dripping out of the corners of my eyes.“How bad is it?” I couldn’t answer for a moment. Then I managed to choke out a response, barely audible.

     “Worse.”I paused. “I can’t—I—can’t—think!” The pain was all-consuming. It felt like I was on fire.

     “Okay, just…” David’s voice trailed off. His eyes widened. He slowly reached a hand out to Margu.

Stormy Nights is a rather eccentric high schooler with a wide range of interests. On an average day she can be found buried in a book, writing various stories and poems, or (by far the most likely) drowning in schoolwork —which inevitably leads to her daydreaming in a fantasy world while procrastinating. Books are her favorite companions, and she positively adores the library. Public speaking is her greatest enemy, she owns an unhealthy amount of half-used notebooks, and she is petrified by large cities. Her idea of a perfect evening involves curling up in a cozy recliner in a room full of bookshelves, a kitten and fuzzy blanket on her lap, The Lord of the Rings in her hand, a mug of hot chocolate by her elbow, and a thunderstorm raging outside her window.

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