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Chapter 3: Teo: Small Planet


Teo took a deep breath of sea air and let all the tension leave his body with it. He had not thought that the day would come when he was relieved to be leaving home.  He loved his sister Serena, and was happy she was in love and going to be married, but he did wish that she had fallen in love with someone he actually liked.

Lately Rogan had been casually asking questions about whether Teo planned to go to college, and exactly when, or whether he had been looking for a part-time job yet, and even about which of the siblings actually owned the house their parents had left them.  Even Serena seemed to be impatient with him lately.  He knew he was not precisely unwanted, but his presence was clearly tolerated rather than welcomed.

His life at school was much the same.  He got along most of his classmates, but couldn't say anyone was particularly his friend. A strange sense of non-belonging had caused him to hold back from getting close to anyone.  

Even now, only he stood alone on the boat.  From the bow, he could hear the boy captain chattering ceaselessly to someone unseen. Over on one bench, Ian and Flo talked together like old friends reunited, Ian's sister hovering near them and looking slightly peeved. Even Kalie, sitting immersed in a mecha manga, was not alone.  An old dog sat leaning against his leg and snoring.

And yet Teo felt strangely connected to all of them, perhaps because they were all here for the same purpose.  Usually reluctant to talk to strangers, he sat next to Kalie and patted the snoozing dog.  "They allow dogs at the Rugen institute?"

"They said that accommodations would be provided for family members," Kalie said. "Wonder is a member of the family.  If they don't like it, they can give my scholarship to Captain Enthusiasm, there."  At the front of the boat, Thoma was shouting something about dolphins.

"Dolphins, Ian!" Belle said ecstatically, grabbing her brother by the arm.  "Let's go see!"

"I've seen dolphins before," said Ian, but he good-naturedly let his sister drag him to the rail.

"What a brat," Kalie muttered.

"I get the feeling she's used to having her brother to herself," said Teo. "Want to go see the dolphins?"

Kalie shrugged.  "Why not?" He put down his book and they joined the cluster at the bow of the ferry.  Although Kalie acted tough and disinterested, Teo saw that he leaned over the rail just as eagerly as Belle did.

Just before the bow, the sleek black finned backs of a pod of dolphins leaped and played.  When he looked straight down, Teo could see them under the water, keeping pace with the boat.

"They're good omens," Captain Thoma called down from the wheelhouse.  "Don't fall in, now, it's a long swim to Kuril Island."

Kalie stepped back from the rail, and as he did, a memory was triggered in Teo's mind.

"You!" he said excitedly.  "I know why you look so familiar! I saw your picture in the news. You won that big Robot Wars thing a couple of months ago."

"Fourth year running," Kalie said proudly.  "I've already started building next year's robot. Are you into robotics engineering, too?"

"I'm more interested in nanotechnology," Teo said.  "I don't know how the Rugen Institute heard of me, unless my science teacher volunteered me. What are you into?" he asked, turning to the others.

"Biochemistry, but I've certainly never been in the news for it," Flo said.

"Astrophysics," said Ian.  "How about you?" He turned to a girl Teo hadn't seen before, who was sitting quietly and sketching in a notebook. She was quite beautiful, but her brown hair was rapidly escaping her ponytail and whipping in the wind.

She shook her head and laughed.  "I have no idea.  I'm not particularly good at anything."

"Don't talk that way, Helga!" Captain Thoma said.  "She's an amazing artist!  You should see her stuff!"

"I'm not that good," Helga said.

"What are you talking about?  It's incredible!" Thoma yelped.  Helga turned pink as everyone leaned over to stare at the sketchpad.

"It's just a doodle," she said, holding it out so they could see. The sketch was very rough.  She had captured the leaping forms of the dolphins in a few clean, curved lines. In a corner of the page was a more detailed drawing of a seagull perched on the rail.

"My letter said that they were offering scholarships in science and other fields," Ian said. "Maybe you're up for an art scholarship."

"I'm not that good," Helga repeated.

"You're right. You're not," said Kalie bluntly.

"Hey!" Thoma shouted, outraged.

"Well, it's certainly better than I could do," Flo said, giving Kalie a look.

"Just being honest," Kalie muttered.

"Helga and I are old friends," Thoma said, still glaring a bit.  "I was sure surprised when she was on the passenger list!  You know, once we ran away together when we were kids!"

"Really?" Flo laughed. "What happened?"

"Oh, she was living in this terrible orphanage, and got away with a friend.  We hid out on Kokkuri Island for a while, until my mother caught me stealing food and made them come home with us," Thoma said.  "I don't remember much about it.  She stayed with us for a few days, until the orphanage people picked her up again."

"How awful! You had to go back?"

"It was all right," Helga said.  "There was a new director, and it was much better afterward."

"Yeah, the bad guy got canned," said Thoma.  "And her friend got adopted a little later, too.  How is Chitto, have you heard from him lately?"

"Not lately.  His family travels around a lot. The last time I heard from him--"

"Sorry, I think I'd better go to the back of the boat," Teo said abruptly, pushing his way through the others.

"Is something wrong?" Ian asked.

"I just don't want to be seasick over the dolphins," Teo gulped.  

"Pah!  Mainlanders!" said Thoma.  "I'll try not to hit too many bumps!"

The queasy sensation that had been building since the boat started moving had taken a sudden turn for the worse.  Teo spent the rest of the trip hunched over the rail.  The others occasionally approached to ask if he was feeling any better, or helpfully called out comments like "Only one more hour more to go, Teo!" for the rest of the trip.

By the time they arrived on the island, his knees were so wobbly he had to be supported by Thoma and Ian as he descended from the ferry.  

It felt good to be on solid ground again. Lying on the clipped grass, he closed his eyes so as not to see the clouds blowing by.  They made him feel like he was moving again.

"Are you all right?" Teo opened his eyes. A dark-haired woman was looking down at him with concern.

"He's just been a little seasick," Flo said.  "He needs some time."

"No, I'm all right," Teo said hastily. He swayed a little when he got to his feet, and Ian and Thoma stood by to steady him.  "I said I'm all right," Teo protested.  He looked around.

"Wow," he said.  Behind a stone wall and at the end of a winding garden path stood a beautiful, enormous building, the main part of it round with a domed roof.  It was made of white marble, accented with carvings and pillars.  A billboard on the stone wall proclaimed it to be The Rugen Institute, the sign's background a pale image of the odd logo from his envelope.

"If you're feeling better, I'll go get your suitcase, "Captain Thoma said.  Teo watched the boy go back to the ferry, and his eye was caught by something in the harbor.

It was a large, white machine, floating above the waves somehow.  Teo realized he was not the only one looking at it.  The others stared, eyes wide and mouths hanging open.  Helga seemed particularly entranced.  Thoma seemed unaffected, though, and Belle was looking baffled.

"I see you've noticed our water purification tower," the woman said. "That tower provides for all the Institute's water needs by purifying sea water.  It also recycles waste water and filters pollutants from the ocean.  Our water purifiers are in use in seventeen countries, and it's likely that before long they will be common worldwide.  Our institute's logo features an image of the prototype tower."

By the time she had finished speaking, everyone had torn their eyes from the tower.  What is it, Teo wondered. Why did he want to keep staring at the water tower, as if it was the answer to a lost dream?

"I'm Gherta Hawksbee, the director of the Institute," the woman continued, "and it's a pleasure to welcome you all today. I'm sure you're all tired and hungry after your trip, so without more ado, please join us for dinner."

They followed Gherta through the main hall of the building, where many other members of the Institute were waiting to call out greetings.  In the institute's cafeteria, a long table was laden, and servers began to dish out food as soon as they sat down. Teo thought it a little odd that Thoma joined them, but then a bowl was provided for Wonder, and Teo decided the people at the Institute must just like any guest, without concern whether they were a scientist or hireling, or even an animal. If not many people visited here, the island must be lonely.

Teo had no desire to eat anything yet.  He sipped at a glass of cold water, trying hard not to even look at the food.  His stomach continued to feel queasy, but he was not certain whether it was seasickness any longer.  

There was something odd about Doctor Hawksbee, Teo thought.  As enthusiastically as she had greeted them, as happily as she was chatting with Flo, there was something in her eyes that made Teo nervous. Behind the smile was a look of sadness, desperation, possibly even terror.

It was probably just a delusion brought on by motion sickness and too much sun, Teo decided.  He tried to make small talk with the scientist who sat beside him, but the conversation was forced. He just didn't feel the instant camaraderie he had experienced with Kalie, Ian, Gherta and the rest.

Gherta?  When had he started thinking of Doctor Hawksbee as one of the group?

"Doctor Hawksbee," Kalie called.  "You say that the water tower filters sea water and waste water?  How does it work? How is it all kept separate?"

"Industrial secret," said Gherta, winking.

Teo stopped sipping the water.  He was glad when the meal ended, and Doctor Hawksbee asked them to join her in the amphitheater for an orientation.

"Only those who have been specifically invited," she said apologetically to Belle.  "If you'd like, I can have someone give you a tour of the research facilities."

"That's all right," Belle said hastily.  "I'll just take a walk around the island."

"Could you take Wonder with you?" Kalie asked.  "She probably needs a walk."

"Sure," Belle said. "Come on, Wonder, good doggie!"

"Don't wear her out!" Kalie warned as he went through the door into the amphitheater.  "She's old!"

"Thoma, don't go," Professor Hawksbee said.  "Could you please join us?"

"If you say so," Captain Thoma said, obviously surprised.

The room was darkened.  Tiers of seats faced a stage on which stood a podium, a microphone, and an odd, spherical machine.  They all made their way down the aisle and sat in the front row.

"What is that thing?" Flo asked as Doctor Hawksbee made her way to the podium.

"It looks a little like the projectors they use in planetariums," Ian said. "Do you think we'll get an astronomy lesson?"

"It's going to project a laser light show," Thoma predicted.  "Professor Hawksbee has lured us here to carry out her secret ambition of giving a rock concert!  Hey, my mom's a fortune teller, I know these things."

There were muffled giggles all down the row.  When Teo turned back to the stage, though, his smile evaporated.

It had not been his imagination.  Professor Hawksbee stood by the strange machine, all pretence gone.  Her face was a mask of sorrow, despair and guilt.

"The first thing I want you to remember," she said, "is how very, very sorry I am to do this."

She turned on the machine.

Teo's brain went numb.

Then things began to flicker and come alive, as if a million tiny switches were turning on in his head.

He remembered the desperate race to stop Georca's scheme.  He remembered Thoma collapsing and screaming in horror at recalled memories.  He remembered the long search for Helga.

He remembered the postcard and slipping out of the house in the dark of night.

He remembered being born.

He remembered dying.

He remembered Serafine lying dead among her paintings.

He remembered being Henri.

He remembered…and remembered…and remembered.

As the recollections of Greecia came to him, the illuminations firing off in his memory slowed and eventually stopped. He staggered to his feet, lost in a fog of confusion.

Someone seized his arm.  He had been sitting next to Flo.

"Hasmodai," she said.

"Soreto," he replied. He had not spoken that name in over five years.  But he knew her longer and better than he had known Teo.

"Tarlant?" he said to Kalie.

"Hasmodai," Tarlant confirmed.  Yes, he was Hasmodai again. He looked at the others.  Tina looked stricken. Thoma's face was buried in his hands with the horror of Sess's past memories, new and fresh once more. Tarlant and Soreto looked as baffled and befogged as Hasmodai felt himself. Reawakening had never been this disorienting or upsetting before.  He turned to Ian—Agi, the one who always seemed to know what to do, who always led the way.

Agi stood, pale and shaking, and took a step toward Doctor Hawksbee. "Mel," Hasmodai whispered softly.

But Agi did not speak her name.  The word that came from his lips was, "Why?"

Mel stood silent, tears running down her face.  Agi took another step.  "WHY?" he demanded again, fury in his voice.

"Because I told her to."

They all turned to stare at the new arrival.  A young man with tousled white hair, a cape draped over one shoulder and an expression of cold arrogance stood in the doorway.

This time, Agi spoke the name with the same blank confusion as the rest of them. "Dumas?"  Hasmodai echoed the name in a whisper as his addled brain tried to make sense of this new development.

"Hello, dear sister.  And the rest of you. I apologize for any discomfort you may be in," Dumas said.  "As none of you happened to bring your memory records with you, we were forced to activate them remotely.  It is a much less effective and more extended process. You may suffer some disorientation."

"Dumas," Agi said again.  Then, after a struggle for words, blurted out once more, "Why?"

"It's been five years in Earth time, hasn't it?  It seems to me that you've had time to reconsider your position, Tina, and return home to Greecia with me.  We can take your baggage, if you insist," he added, nodding toward the others.

"Dumas!" Agi snarled.

"One would think you would all have at least welcomed the chance for a little reunion after being confined to mundane lives on this small planet," Dumas said. "Don't all line up to thank me at once."

Dumas was effectively the ruler of the planet Greecia while King Titus was 'indisposed' with his madness, but Agi looked as if he would gladly strangle the king's nephew.  

"Dumas—" he said again, forcing out every syllable.

"Yeeees?" Duman interrupted.

"I have a life.  We have lives here.  We are trying to live them." Agi took a deep breath and clutched at his head as if it ached. "You'd better have a good reason for this. A very good reason."

"Do you think I would set foot on this planet again without a reason?  I have a very good reason," Dumas said.  "Greecia is dying."
Chapter 3
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