Read Chapters 1 - 9 at: Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 10 (Part 1) - What The Biosphere Revealed
The steel door was thick and heavy and opened very slowly. The soft blue light that Alex had seen in the tunnel on the way down seeped through the opening and illuminated the chamber they were in. Walking was an awkward exercise not only because of the bulky spacesuit he now wore but also because the boots were thick and heavy. Alex walked with care toward the opening. Once over the threshold though, there was another heavy door blocking the way.
The inner light shone invitingly through a round, thick window set in the second door. Seeing Alex's puzzled expression, Rainah held up her hand, telling him to wait. She then closed and locked the first door and approached a control console in a wall. With practiced movements of her hands, she reset a few switches and carefully turned a large dial in the console. Immediately Alex heard a loud hissing as the air began flowing out of the new chamber they were in. Of course, he thought to himself, it's an airlock!
If what was behind the final door was a different environment than that on earth, then the differing air pressures between each environment had to be equalized gradually by an airlock chamber. Looking over at Rainah, Alex noticed a transformation coming over her as the air pressure became less and less inside the small chamber. The turban she had worn up until then was removed to reveal the shock of snow-white, stiff quills of hair that she usually kept hidden.
Now, however, Rainah was rubbing her quill-like hairs and shaking her head vigorously, with the result that something bizarre began to happen. The hairs started to move, slowly at first, like some lazily waving undersea coral creatures. Soon though, they were vibrating faster and faster, like nothing Alex had ever seen before! Watching, stunned and wide-eyed, he noticed that Rainah's face, which in Alex's world above-ground was thinner and had a dark brown shade, became slightly puffed out and changed shade to a lighter tan complexion.
The bleached-white quills were, by this time a blur of motion, so much so that they were nearly invisible. Finally, the rest of Rainah's body adjusted to the thinner atmosphere with surprising flexibility by expanding outward, especially around her chest so that her lungs could capture and breathe as much of the rarefied air as possible. But, was it air that she was now breathing? Alex decided against testing that question himself for the moment.
At last, the hissing stopped in the airlock and the beautiful alien being standing before him little resembled the Rainah that Alex had befriended at school only a few hours before. Her arms and legs and fingers had a more puffed-out appearance as well and Alex guessed that Rainah now breathed with her hair and skin, as well as with her lungs. Her beautiful quills continued to magically thrash and vibrate with a life of their own, capturing the thinner gases and transferring them into her body through her scalp. Everything about her now suggested an ability to survive in a more hostile world, yet the beauty of her adaptation also spoke of harmony with that other world. Rainah smiled at Alex to reassure him and reached out to take his gloved hand and lead him toward the door which was at last opening to reveal the strange world within.
No Tears Wasted...
The cavern opened up before Alex immediately upon stepping inside it. It wasn't a naturally made cavern or cave though, rather a huge, domed structure overhead with deep blue gemstone lights which shone sharply down over everything. Although they were underground and still on Earth, the effect of being on another world was complete and quite striking to behold.
The most obvious difference was the deeper blue "sky" that the glittering dome simulated. The plain white of Alex's spacesuit stood out in sharp contrast to the reddish-colored dry sand and pebbles he quietly walked upon.
The next thing that became very noticeable was that the thinner atmosphere brought a sharper clarity to everything around him, such as the keen, black shadows they cast as they proceeded farther inside. All was silent, save for the sound of his own footfalls coming up through the spacesuit and his breathing inside the helmet. The quiet rhythm of atmospheric controls within the suit reassured Alex that all was well. The artificial biosphere he found himself in was really quite a beautiful place though a desolate and other-worldly one under the cold, clear sky.
Looking over at Rainah, Alex smiled through his bubble and playfully reached over to brush his hand through her softly thrashing hair-quills. But the hairs parted before his hand as if they were sensitive undersea coral creatures. Rainah shied away and sent a teasing laugh into his puzzled mind.
After they had walked a little further inside, Alex paused to look down at the pebbly soil at his feet. To his surprise, he began to notice small patches here and there of greenish brown moss-like vegetation, clinging to the rocks and peeking out of the arid soil. So, this place wasn't all just dry, empty sand after all. They did look like rather scruffy and pathetic little things though. Rainah came silently up by his side and looked down at the small, sand-dusted plants.
((They are beautiful in their humbleness)), she said quietly in Alex's mind. ((They ask for so very little yet give us their nourishment and entire existence in return. I will help them grow some more, I think.)) Without further ceremony, Rainah sat down, cross-legged in the dusty soil and gazed intently down at one of the wrinkled, mossy little plants.
A few long moments passed quietly before Alex began to notice a subtle change coming over Rainah. She became relaxed and calm, with an air of what could only be described as utter peacefulness. Then, unexpectedly, the thin air all about her began to shimmer and dance faintly with little firefly lights. Rainah began to sway gently where she sat and her softly thrashing hair-quills slowly waved in time with her. One hand rose slowly with palm reaching skyward while the other hand was held delicately, reverently over the little plant before her. The tiny sprites of dancing light seemed to take notice of her up-stretched hand and, like bubbles under water, rolled upward along her arm until they all met at the top of her small palm.
There the fireflies met and coalesced one into the other until they were a single shimmering ball of quicksilver. The almost solid ball of light then began to make sharp crackling sounds and for one brief instant, Alex thought he saw a little beautiful living thing inside it. Without warning and so fast that Alex let out a yell of shock, the dense, ball of dancing sprites shot straight down through Rainah’s body and out through the tips of her delicately hovering fingers! But what actually came down to drip coolly onto the little shriveled plant was a single, glistening drop of pure, silvery water.
A faint golden light gleamed from it for only the blink of an eye, then was gone. A fresh glow of renewed vitality seemed to emanate from the plant and - what was that? For an instant Alex thought he saw a soft, barely visible wave of something energetic ripple and flow outward in all directions from Rainah, as though from a drop of rain on a pond.
Without understanding why, Alex knew that Rainah had given something back to the little humble plants growing quietly all around her. She had given them encouragement and renewed hope for life. All the while, she hummed a simple child-like song to herself, but Alex believed that perhaps, it also was to the little scruffy plants that clung to life in the cold, rocky soil.
After she finished, a contented smile played across her face and Rainah looked up over her shoulder at Alex in exactly the same way as she had in his dream the night before. But this time, there was happiness and a new gleam of hope in her eyes. Taking a handful of the cool, dry soil, she said, ((This is the soil from my Homeworld that Miss Vasquez brought back so that these little ones could begin to grow again.))
Pointing down at the soil and little plants, as in the dream, she said, ((and to these I give my special tears so that the smallest of them may grow well and catch up with the others.)) ((They are all growing well, don’t you think?)) Alex couldn’t be sure. He didn’t want to be rude but he couldn’t see much except a very thin scattering of a handful of the plants. But whether it was just that the little drop had washed off some of the dust or, perhaps because of something else, the little plant did appear to be growing quite well.
((But Rainah)), he said after puzzling over what had happened, ((why did you call that one of your tears? I mean, you’re not sad, are you?))
((No, why should I be)), she asked with a quizzical expression on her face.
((Well, it’s just that...well...people usually just shed tears when they cry.)) This was all very odd indeed. Rainah let out a quiet, puzzled laugh.
((Why should I waste the water from my body on a passing emotion like sadness when these little ones need it so much more? These are tears of life and happiness, not sadness, Alex.)) ((There can be no effort wasted on sadness when all these struggle each day to survive)), she said with an expansive wave of her hand toward the dusty land under the Biosphere Dome.
Alex pondered over what she had just said but could think of no argument otherwise. Nevertheless, it still all seemed rather strange to him that Rainah thought so little of sadness. Something else occurred to him then: why was it that when he had been speaking with Rainah for those last few minutes, it had been with his thoughts, not with words? “I have got to get some fresh air really soon”, he said to himself.
"Hello, Alex", a familiar voice said through his helmet intercom. Alex jumped in his suit and spun round, looking for Miss Vee. There she stood, tall and straight for such an old woman, walking toward them from about one hundred yards away. Miss Vee wearing her own spacesuit and smiled at them through the bubble of her helmet.
Something darted along the ground close beside him and Alex jumped again, but it was only Jade the green Dragonfly, scuttling ahead of them to meet Miss Vee. Dart followed on her heals and Rainah waved then pulled Alex along with her. Alex noticed something that could only have been an elevator tube rising from just behind where Miss Vasquez had so suddenly appeared. A sliding door remained open and waiting to receive them. The round elevator shaft stood on a raised platform in the center of the huge domed greenhouse they were in and a circle of metal steps lead up to the platform.
From there, the shaft extended upward as a tall, white pillar as far as the apex of the deep blue artificial sky. Except for that one slender support pillar extending up to touch it, the huge dome was entirely self-supporting; a geodesic dome with a strong grid of interlocking hexagons that fanned outward from the center of it in all directions.
A surrounding ten foot high wall, which fanned out in both directions from Rainah and Alex, finished its curve three hundred yards away like the horizon of a miniature world. This strong and expansive horizon-ring also supported the dome and acted as a solid base for it all. Alex realized that he was standing inside an artificial ecosystem; a dazzling biosphere of the most exotic kind.
Miss Vee stopped and stood waiting in the midst of the strange, miniature desert as the children walked forward. As they drew nearer to her, Alex noticed that she looked very relieved to see Rainah though a bit cross as well. Rainah sensed this too and sent a thought to Alex.
((I think I'm in trouble)), she said in his head. Poor Alex was again startled because he still wasn't used to her telepathic talking.
"What?" he said back, now even more confused.
((I'm not really supposed to leave the greenhouse without Jade to guard me, so I kind of broke the rules today when I went to your school alone)), she answered with a sheepish kind of grin. Miss Vee, for her part, stood waiting for them with arms folded like a parent would for one her kids who had just crossed the line and did something she shouldn't have.
"And just where have you been all day, young lady? Do you have any idea how worried we both were about you?"
"Sorry", Rainah said, looking more guilty the closer she came to Miss Vee.
"Do you have any idea of the danger that is walking around up there, especially at this time of night? Do you!"
"I said I was sorry", Rainah retorted, "but do you have any idea how bored and alone I feel down here in this place", she said, spreading her arms out to the expanse of the huge dome surrounding her. "I wanted just once to meet other beings who were my age and play with them; to just have fun!" Rainah's face was contorted now with anguish and rebellion which spoke of a wish to be free to live and roam wherever she wished, just like Alex could. He caught a flash of envy in her eyes as she looked his way, and her hair-quills trembled expressively.
Rainah was terribly lonesome; had probably been so all her life. She desperately wanted what Alex and the other children took for granted every day, but was unable to because she was trapped in her alien-ness and on a world that wasn't her own. Alex gazed around again at the artificial little world under the dome they were in and tried to imagine growing up in this place.
It wouldn't be so bad at first, he supposed. When she was smaller, Rainah probably ran and played in here with Dart and Jade and Miss Vee to look after her. But now that she was older like Alex, she was aching to stretch and grow and explore other places; to meet others her own age. So, why couldn't she, was the obvious question that came to Alex‘s mind. After all, she was at school with him during the day and seemed to cope with being there just fine. Upon seeing her distress, Teresa Vasquez backed off with her lecturing and instead walked over to Rainah and gave her a comforting hug.
“There, there, my dear, you should get some rest now, you look tired”, she said warmly. Indeed, looking at her now, Alex noticed that Rainah did appear in need of a good rest. After all that they had just been through up above and then to give away more of her energy as she'd just done must have been exhausting.
Jade, ever protective of Rainah, nudged up against her and, seeing a meaningful look from Miss Vee, guided her quietly toward the elevator door. As Rainah walked away, Alex thought he caught a glimpse of something thin and silvery that she held firmly in her hand. It was a softly glimmering Luss not unlike his own, and its glow was only just beginning to fade.
Next: Many Questions To Answer...
As of 2017-04-10 Chapter 10 - (Part 1) is at: DeepSkyStories.com