Read Paw-Prints Of The Gods Online

Authors: Steph Bennion

Tags: #young adult, #space opera, #science fiction, #sci fi, #sci fi adventure, #science fantasy, #humour and adventure, #science fantasy adventure, #science and technology, #sci fi action adventure, #humorous science fiction, #humour adventure, #sci fi action adventure mystery, #female antagonist, #young adult fantasy and science fiction, #sci fi action adventure thrillers, #humor scifi, #female action adventure, #young adult adventure fiction, #hollow moon, #young girl adventure

Paw-Prints Of The Gods (3 page)

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
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“My memory is no
better,” Ravana replied, but even as she spoke she realised there
were bits and pieces lurking in her mind that were no longer
forgotten. “I think...?”

The monk leaned
forward. “zz-whaat-doo-yyoouu-thiink-zz?”

“Last night I had a
dream,” she said carefully. “I was in a grand palace, trying to
rescue my father. There was smoke everywhere, Que Qiao agents
firing guns, but we escaped and flew off in the
Platypus
, my
father’s ship.” A face popped into her mind of the chirpy young
Chinese women who had become a good friend and confident on the
Dandridge Cole
and Ravana smiled. “Ostara helped me rescue
him. She’s head of security at the hollow moon and the Raja’s
kidnap was her first real case.”

She paused and bit her
lip, deep in thought. It had been the kidnap of Raja Surya, the
heir to the Yuanshi throne who had been living in exile on the
Dandridge Cole
, that had set off the chain of events that
had taken the
Platypus
to Epsilon Eridani. Bits of
disjointed memories were falling together, yet she still could not
see the connection between the Raja’s kidnap and her dream. Simha
leaned forward and she could almost feel the grey monk’s hidden
gaze boring into her skull like a dentist’s drill.

“zz-yyoouu-diid-noot-reescuuee-yyoouur-faatheer-zz!” he told her.
His cold tones did little to take away her thoughts of whirring
machinery. “zz-iit-waas-juust-aa-dreeaam-zz. zz-aa-faantaasyy-zz!”
He paused. “zz-yyoouur-miind-iis-veeryy-troouubleed-zz.”

Doubts crept once more
into Ravana’s mind. Her dream had seemed so vivid, yet also
featured a superhero emerging from the smoke to lead the escape,
which on reflection did suggest it was more wishful thinking than
anything real. As she stared at the hooded figure, a new fear took
hold of her; the dreadful dawning realisation that maybe she was
losing her mind and that the real reason she was here was to
recover from a mental breakdown. It would explain why she had been
packed off to a hospice on a tranquil stretch of Pampa Bay, if only
to divorce her from whatever it was that had ruptured her mind. Now
trembling, she looked into the monk’s dark hood and asked the one
question she did not want answered.

“I don’t know what’s
real anymore,” she whispered. “Am I going mad?”

 

* * *

 

In bed that night,
Ravana’s dreams came back with a vengeance. This time there was a
jumble of images to contend with; one moment she was on the flight
deck of the
Platypus
seeing a spinning asteroid loom ever
closer on a collision course, then suddenly she was tearing through
the darkness in an open-roofed hovertruck, furiously trying to make
her way to somewhere always just out of reach. A frightening
recurring picture was of twelve shadowy figures reaching out to
grab her with the same spindly fingers of the grey monks, at which
she would jerk awake and stifle a scream.

She had once again
feigned taking the offered pills upon her return to her room, but
in the hours of wakefulness between uneasy slumbers there were
moments when she wondered if this had been wise. Brother Simha had
filled her mind with a bundle of fresh doubts, her grip on reality
was slipping and she could not decide whether the tablets were
helping or hindering, her belief switching between the two extremes
in the blink of an eye. She had not waited until morning to move
the latest discarded tablets from their hiding place under her
pillow to an unmarked grave in the plant pot. She figured the tooth
fairy would not take kindly to finding medication instead of molars
two nights running.

Her aches and pains
had not improved, but she no longer felt chronically tired and
spent much of the night pacing restlessly around her darkened room.
In a moment of bravado, she tried the door but as expected found it
locked. Her ongoing headache was not helping, nor were the
indistinct shapes that popped into her thoughts every time she
closed her eyes; different to those of her dreams in that she felt
as if she could almost reach out with a mental finger and give them
a prod. During her nocturnal pacing she noticed the blurriness of
these mental images varied according to how far she was from her
bed and at their most indistinct when she lay upon the mattress.
After a while it occurred to her to look under the bed, whereupon
she found a large metal box linked via wires to a wall outlet,
bolted beneath the headboard. Her suspicions grew after giving the
box an experimental thump with her fist, for this had the
unexpected effect of making the shapes in her mind quiver in
unison.

It was during a period
when Ravana lay awake upon her bed, gazing into the dark, that she
heard a noise from the room next door. The sound was muffled, but
unmistakeable as the sobs of a crying child and she suddenly
remembered the blond-haired boy she had seen yesterday in the
corridor. With a mixture of curiosity and concern, she quietly
slipped off the bed, crouched next to the table and put an ear to
the wall. What she heard was not tears of pain, but the muted
whimpering of loneliness and despair. The boy sounded like he
needed a friend. It occurred to Ravana they at least had that much
in common.

“Hello?” she
whispered. “Can you hear me?”

The crying abruptly
stopped and she heard a squelching sniff as an unseen hand wiped
snot from a nose. Moments later there was a soft thud against the
wall on the other side.

“Who’s there?” The
boy’s voice trembled on the edge of tears.

“A friend,” Ravana
replied, then realised the boy probably needed a little more to go
on. “The girl from the hollow moon. My name is Ravana.”

“I saw you yesterday.
You walk funny.”

“I can’t help it. My
legs ache.”

“You have scary black
hair and a yucky scar on your face.”

“Now you’re getting
personal!”

“You smiled,” the boy
said, sounding sad. “No one smiles anymore.”

Ravana let his words
drift into a poignant silence, wondering whether she should laugh
or cry at the pitiful situation they were both in. She resisted the
urge to do either.

“What’s your name?”
she asked.

“Artorius,” the voice
replied. “The fat nurse calls me Arty-Farty.”

“That’s very grown-up
of her.”

She paused to listen
for any sound from the nurses, for something told her that they
would not be pleased to find their patients out of bed and chatting
at this time of night. Hearing nothing, she wondered what a young
child might know about the place they were in. She decided Artorius
had probably seen a lot more than anyone suspected.

“Why are you here?”
she asked. “Are you poorly?”

“I help look after the
aliens. They make me talk to them.”

“You talk to... what?”
murmured Ravana. She lowered her voice. “Greys?”

“They have scaly skin
and big eyes and funny hands and feet. I like them but the nurses
keep them in cages and do nasty things to them and hurt them.”

Ravana did not like
the sound of that. “Do the nurses hurt you?” she asked.

“No,” Artorius
replied, after an endless pause. Ravana smiled at the thought of
him shaking his head at her from the other side of the wall. “They
get angry and shout a lot.”

“That’s good,” she
replied. “I mean, it’s good they don’t hurt you. Shouting and being
angry isn’t good at all. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“My head hurts
sometimes when they make me use my implant.”

“Implant?”

Ravana muttered a
curse. On cue, a twinge of pain shot through her skull. Incredibly,
she had somehow managed to forget that she herself had a cranium
implant, a tiny chip in her brain. She’d had it from an early age,
but her father in his infinite wisdom decided not to tell her until
it caused her virtual-reality nightmare at the Pampa Palace hotel.
This was the revelation hidden at the edge of the black hole in her
mind, the dreadful secret her father had confessed whilst she lay
traumatised in her hotel room. Yet there was more, for in her mind
it led to another memory, one of a dreadful encounter in a hidden
corner of the
Dandridge Cole
. With a shudder, she decided
that was something she was not yet ready to face.

“My implant,” she
murmured grimly. “They must have really screwed with my mind to
make me to forget a thing like that.”

There was silence from
beyond the wall. Listening closely, Ravana heard the faint rustling
of sheets as a tired young boy climbed back into bed. He had the
right idea.

“Good night Artorius,”
she whispered.

The sound of footsteps
in the corridor outside sent her scurrying back to her own bed. Her
mind was in no mood for sleep and there she lay, frantically
contemplating the myriad of thoughts buzzing around her head in the
darkness of her room.

 

* * *

 

Ravana was out of bed
and standing by the mirror when the nurses came to wake her. She
still felt very tired, but this time it was a weariness through
being awake all night, her head full of unquiet thoughts, rather
than the dull drowsiness of what she now accepted were tranquiliser
tablets. In a way she was more alert than ever and this morning had
noticed for the first time just how grubby her white room actually
was, with peeling paint and mouldy cracks wherever she looked. Her
headache remained, but the brief conversation with Artorius last
night left her strangely elated, for now she knew she was not
alone.

The nurses were both
visibly disconcerted by their patient’s apparent cheerfulness.
Ravana’s first words that morning threw them completely.

“Who was the little
boy I saw a couple of days ago?”

Her question
distracted the nurses long enough for her to slip the latest dose
of pills out of harm’s way and bury them in the plant pot with all
the others. The tablets had reacted badly with the soil and the
potted blooms were shedding petals fast.

“What boy?” the portly
Jizo said automatically. “There’s no boy here.”

“He is no concern of
yours!” Lilith snapped. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,”
replied Ravana, noting their wary reaction.

Her own suspicions
were aroused when in a break from the usual routine, both nurses
decided to accompany her to the bathroom and on to the waiting grey
monks in the interview room. More unusual still, today they were
greeted by the distant sound of singing relayed through crackling
loudspeakers. A small choir were putting their heart and soul into
what sounded like a church hymn, though the words were strange:

 


Show me the way,
lord alien grey,

To the skies I look
for a sign!

And wait to be taught,
the one last true thought,

Your wisdom like
starlight shall shine!

Show me the way, lord
alien grey,

Light-years of rapture
divine!

To you we all bind, to
wipe clear the mind,

In your head be it and
mine!”

 

“In your head be it,”
murmured Ravana. She had heard the hymn before.

“We are a little
early,” Lilith told her, seeing her raise a quizzical eyebrow. “The
monks wanted to see you straight after the service broadcast.”

“Service?” asked
Ravana. After what the nurses had told her, it should not have been
a surprise to learn that hospice life included religious services,
but this was the first real confirmation that the medical centre
was a church-run affair. “Can anyone join in?”

“Only the devout,”
Jizo replied. Her triumphant sideways glance at her colleague
suggested that while she herself qualified for such worthy status,
Lilith did not.

The singing continued
unabated. They arrived at the interview room, to find the two
chairs on the far side of the desk unexpectedly vacant. Lilith
invited Ravana to take her usual seat and then waited with Jizo at
the door, presumably for the arrival of one or both of the monks.
For a while Ravana was content to sit gazing longingly through the
window at the distant sandy beach. After several minutes passed and
neither nurse spoke, she could take the silence no more and decided
to pose the question that had been on her mind since yesterday.

“Why does Brother
Simha have twelve fingers?”

Jizo looked up from
pulling the legs off a spider, scooped from its web near the door.
Her leer had become an apprehensive stare. Ravana shivered at the
sight of something alive squirming in the pocket of the nurse’s
grey habit.

“Does he?” remarked
Jizo, looking uncomfortable. “Can’t say I noticed.”

“Polydactyly,” Lilith
replied smugly.

“Yes!” Jizo cried.
“Poly-what-she-said. Some sort of dinosaur.”

“A rare congenital
medical condition,” Lilith corrected, regarding Jizo with disdain.
“Some people are born with extra fingers or toes.”

“Like the dinosaur,”
her colleague persisted, unwilling to let go of an idea. “With big
claws dripping blood and guts from all the tiny animals they’ve
ripped apart and...”

“You’re thinking of a
Pterodactyl,” Ravana hastily interrupted. Jizo’s wild macabre
imagination made her feel sick. “I think they had wings.”

“Exactly! The extra
fingers and floppy skin enabled them to fly.”

Lilith gave the weary
sigh of someone who wished they were anywhere else but here. Ravana
opened her mouth to ask something else, then realised the singing
had stopped. A tramp of footsteps in the corridor outside sent the
nervous nurses back to their positions by the door. Moments later,
the monks arrived.

The two grey figures
swept into the room in a blur of cloaks and scarlet sashes. They
slipped silently into the waiting chairs, leaving Lilith and Jizo
to disappear through the door and close it behind them. Ravana’s
headache flared as the usual wave of panic crashed over her, a fear
which like yesterday remained as she stared into the dark recesses
of their hoods. This time she faced them with a clear mind. It
dawned on her that the random emotional shapes their presence
brought to mind were being generated by her implant, yet the images
were quite unlike the shadowy pictures glimpsed whilst in her room.
Her mind went back to the nightmare vision of twelve grey figures
reaching towards her with their outstretched hands. Ravana turned
her gaze from the seated figures and shuddered.

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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