“It’s time to go down to the surface.”
Mayli turned her face against the cabin wall. “I’m too tired.”
Tama took a breath. “I know you are. But you’ll like the surface, and it’s an easy transport.”
Mayli swiveled her head back to reveal a pale face, too thin, too creased for such a young age. “Easy?”
Of course nothing was easy for Mayli. The encroaching paralysis brought pain with every movement. But that was the point, wasn’t it?
“Just bear with this move, and you won’t have to put up with any disruptions for as long as you want.”
“I had no ‘disruptions’ back in the hospital.”
Where she lay alone and abandoned. Hopeless. But this was no time to talk of hope.
“Mayli, I need you to do this. Can you trust me a little?”
The girl let out her breath slowly, then gave the faintest of nods.
Tama immediately turned to Sho, her trusted assistant. She didn’t need to tell him to be gentle.
The transport was smooth, with Mayli only shutting her eyes against the changes in light from her cabin to the transport chamber. Within moments the beams placed them gently in the corresponding room on the planet surface.
Well, not quite corresponding.
For once, Mayli livened to show a reaction. “This place…this place is a…”
“I know it’s not elegant.” Tama quickly touched her arm at the shoulder, where the girl could still fully feel the contact. “But wait. It does get better.”
Nodding to Sho, Tama led them through the doors that squealed just slightly as they slid open and closed.
Yes, the facility on Carnassa lacked amenities. The utilitarian construction betrayed the intentions of the original settlers: mining and industry. The plain housing only needed to meet minimal needs of the few laborers destined to process the expected ores. But destiny had played the investors false. No ores, no elements even minimally useful for production.
A most fortunate disappointment. If the planet had offered anything of “use,” Tama could never have purchased it.
“You said I would like this place.” Mayli’s voice already held a bit more strength, even if it came from outrage.
“One more hall.”
Sho led the way into the latest finished room. Bright and spacious with artfully designed lighting, it somehow conveyed security and warmth, while expansive paintings curving with the round walls gave a sense of openness to a world of beauty. Rich golds and greens.
A soft sigh escaped Mayli’s thin lips. “This is for me?”
“A little better than the hospital, don’t you think?”
Mayli nodded, turning her head. Sho slowly swiveled the bed to let her see round the room.
“But couldn’t we have made a place like this on our planet?”
Tama quieted the pounding in her chest. “Not quite. There is something here I couldn’t give you at home.”
Mayli turned her head, eyes brighter now. “Something more?”
Tama nodded. “I want you to try something. Just a little. And then you can tell me what you think.”
She went to a table set against the wall and took the carafe in her hand. Just a swallow of the golden liquid, to see how Mayli’s body would tolerate it.
“It doesn’t taste like much.” She held the glass to the girl’s mouth; Mayli’s hands could no longer move to take it.
Mayli swallowed obediently. “It’s…” and then her eyes widened before the lids fell closed. A faint smile lifted her lips.
Tama sat on the bed beside her, feeling as the withered body seemed to move to life ever so slightly. A twitch here, a loosening there.
The water was taking effect. Just as it had for her. First the sense of plunging into something warm and welcoming, and then the movement. Easy, flowing, at one with the water and the waves. Green and gold streaking past as her body rejoiced in its sleek fluidity. Clear vision of colored grasses, intricate formations. And all the other creatures, benign, companionable, who darted and swayed with the pleasure of existence. Down to the bronze depths, then up toward the surface, breaking into the sky for an instant, drops falling around her head before turning on her back, floating, letting waves rock her, till she plunged again.
Memories and sensations from the minds of the Carnassa sea creatures. Caught in the very essence of their water.
A water that, collected and filtered, offered nothing of value to the exploratory companies who wrote off the planet as useless. A water that she had secretly tasted. Pure, liberating, a simple gift.
So far it had helped two miners crippled by a cave-in and a factory worker crushed under equipment. She would visit them later, as they gathered, slow but mobile, for their shared dinner. Maybe one of the miners would walk with her out onto the planet, so apparently bare but beautiful to her in its copper rocks shaped by ancient seas. Each time she saw him he looked younger, as pain left his body. For the water gave, it never took, and she saw no signs of addiction in her patients. She herself had only taken the one taste.
Mayli would have to decide if she wished to stay or to go. The water only functioned in its own atmosphere, and home planets exert an amazing emotional pull.
But perhaps Mayli would stay to let her body heal and to live within the touch of those gentle, agile creatures.
Tama could feel them still, nameless and benevolent, circling her in a welcoming community, inviting her to play and rest, supported by the generous, the “useless” golden Carnassa sea.
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