This short story grew to a novella, then became Chapter 6 in the ninth title in my Nublis Chronicles series.
"All right, Micah. I have to run a couple of errands, but I'll be back in a little while. Are you sure you're going to be all right?"
“Of course. The call button's right here, and I'll just push it if I need you."
When he heard the whoosh of the door, he called out "Please don't close it! If I can hear the sounds in the hall, I won't feel quite so alone."
For a few minutes after she left, Micah was just fine. He listened happily to the voices going back and forth outside his room, fiddled with the remote control until he found a piece of music he liked, then changed his mind and decided to go on with the audio book he’d been reading instead.
Just as he found the place where he’d last stopped, the whole damned mess started up again. As he felt the familiar wrenching cramps in his stomach and the clammy sweat and rising tide of nausea, he reached for the bedside table and fumbled around for the bowl that was always kept there.
Grabbing at it, he missed, and his hand knocked it over the edge. The bowl hit the floor with a metallic clang. In a panic, he scrabbled for the call button. Then the remote control fell off the bed too.
"Oh, damn, damn, damn! Now what do I do?"
A man’s quiet voice came from the direction of the doorway. "Can I help? You look as if you're having a bit of a problem."
"I need that bowl," gasped Micah, "because I'm just about to throw up."
Footsteps approached the bed and the bowl’s coldness touched his cheek. As he took it, an arm went around his shoulders and the voice said "Here, I'll help you sit up."
While Micah vomited what felt like his entire lunch into the waiting basin, the stranger got him a damp washcloth and towel from the sink.
Then he bent to pick up the remote control. Straightening up again, he heard a sound behind him, and turned to see a pleasant- faced woman with soft brown eyes in the doorway.
Noting that her uniform and badges were different from those of the clinic's regular personnel, he wondered who she was.
"Oh Micah! Not again! And the doctors had such high hopes for this new medica- tion. Oh, sir, thank you so much for helping him. I shouldn't really have left, but he seemed to be doing so much better this time. Oh dear, oh dear!"
The child remained unruffled. "Well it stayed down longer than usual. And you, sir, must be my neighbor from down the hall. The one all the fuss has been about." He extended a small hand and the stranger took it.
The attendant looked curiously at the visitor. She guessed him to be somewhere in his early twenties, and even though he had the high cheekbones and distinctive features of a Siriun, the young man's skin was much paler than normal and his finely-shaped head was completely shaved. And rather than being the Siriuns’ characteristic brilliant purple, his slightly almond-shaped eyes were light green.
She noted the empty left sleeve of his gorgeously brocaded robe and remembered, with a slight sense of shock, where she'd seen him before. "Why you must be the famous Alar Zarkadon who rescued that little girl from under a truck! This young man is Micah Amrin and I'm his private nurse, Brunelle. Would you care to sit for a moment while I take care of this?"
As the attendant chatted, she disposed of the bowl’s contents and made a note in the computer at her belt.
"Just call me Alar," the stranger replied courteously, still holding on to Micah's hand, "What's the matter, little guy? Is the food here no good?"
Micah hesitated. "Er. No. It's not that. Actually the food here is just fine and my lunch was absolutely delicious. It's just that. . ."
"Micah was injured in a radiation blast," finished the attendant, "and nothing will stay down. Normally, he's on artificial feeding, but we were hoping this new medication would help. That's why we gave him a real lunch today. As a treat."
"Yeah," said Micah, with a deep sigh, "And it was absolutely yummy! For as long as it lasted, anyway."
Alar looked at the youngster's bald head and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. The attendant put her finger to her lips and beckoned him into the hall.
"I'm just leaving for a second," he told Micah, "and then I'll be back. Okay?"
"Okay," came the resigned answer, "and I'll be right here waiting for you. Well, let's face it, where am I gonna go? You'd better be back, because I want to hear all about you and that truck, and if it's really true they're giving you a bionic arm."
Out in the hall, the attendant gently closed the door. "It's a particularly virulent form of cancer, and he's dying. The poor kid's only eleven and his parents were just innocent civilians in one of those stupid never-ending wars on Betelgeuse. The last thing he ever saw was them being vaporized right before his eyes. The emperor's private foundation brought him here for treatment a couple of months ago, but there's nothing we can do for him except try to make his last few weeks of life easier."
"Why are you medicating him then?"
She sighed. "This was a new drug the doctors wanted to try. As of today, they've decided to stop all treatments and just let nature take its course. He'll only be getting painkillers and palliative care from now on, and we’ll keep him as comfortable as possible. But it's the cancer that's making him sick, not the drugs. So he still won't be able to eat."
Alar looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "Tell me what I can do."
"Micah's just a little boy and he's so lonely. If you'd just keep him company once in a while, Mr. Zarkadon, it would mean everything to him. He's been following the newscasts avidly ever since he found out you were just down the hall. You've become his hero and he's been asking me over and over again if there was any way he could get to meet you."
Alar smiled at her, a trifle sadly. "Well, they only just got me out of bed and walking a couple of days ago. Incidentally, please call me Alar. I'll be more than happy to spend time with Micah because, to tell you the truth, I’m somewhat lonely too. Like Micah, I’m a stranger on Nublis, and I'm stuck here while I wait for my new arm. The doctors tell me they’re using my own tissue in a cloning process, and that it'll be at least another couple of weeks before it's ready."
The attendant's broad face lit up. “Oh Mr -- er -- Alar! Micah will be so pleased!"
He pushed open the door. "Well, let's go tell him before he starts to think we ran off together."
She gave a delighted giggle. "Oh Alar! What a thing to say!"
Micah heard her, and asked suspiciously, "What are you two whispering about? Incidentally, Alar, we need to get something straight right now. Brunelle’s my girl and you're to keep hands off! Or your hand anyway. Is that clear?"
"Well, you certainly have good taste in women," replied Alar with an absolutely straight face, "Despite her considerable charms, I promise to be a perfect gentleman around Brunelle and simply yearn after her from afar."
"You're not making fun of me are you?" Micah's tone was a trifle waspish.
With a glance at Brunelle, Alar said hastily, "No. Of course not. Your attendant's a truly lovely woman and I can certainly understand your misgivings. But I think she only has eyes for you."
"That's true ,” agreed Brunelle, "And now, Micah, my lamb, I'm going to leave you again and finish up those errands. That's if Mr -- er -- Alar doesn't mind staying with you for a while."
After dropping a light kiss on her small patient's forehead, she swept out of the room.
"Do you play gin?" asked Micah, hopefully, "I have a special deck here with raised markings and I'm pretty good if I say so myself."
"Well, you're gonna have to shuffle and deal for both of us, because I haven't quite mastered the art of doing it one-handed. But outside of that, it should be no problem. What do you want to use for stakes?"
"I don't have any money, so that's out. How about probe tips? There should be a whole box by the sink."
Alar boosted Micah up on the pillows and swung the bedside table over his knees. Then he opened the probe tip box with the help of his teeth and spilled its contents onto the table.
Seeing Micah feel around with his hand, Alar gave him the well-worn deck of cards. Then he watched in admiration as the youngster shuffled and cut the deck.
An hour later, when Brunelle returned, they were still playing. As she took in the large pile of probe tips by Micah's elbow, Alar grinned. "Well, he's got me just about cleaned out. You know, this kid could make an absolute killing as a pro on one of the big intergalactic cruisers."
Micah looked pleased. "Do you really think so?"
"Oh, I know so! I've certainly seen enough of them in my travels."
"Well it's just about time for your next feeding." remarked Brunelle, bustling around the bed, "And Alar, since it's your dinnertime too, I suspect they'll be looking for you."
"I'll be back to tell you a story," promised Alar.
Micah smiled beatifically up at him. "You'd better be! Because I'm not going to sleep till you do, and I don’t want to hear any of that namby pamby kissing in the moonlight stuff either! That may be what Brunelle likes but, personally, I think it absolutely sucks!"
"I promise. And now I'm going to see what exciting fare the commissary has for me this time."
When Alar finally returned, the lights in Micah's room had been lowered and Brunelle was working on a piece of embroidery. An ancient slapstick comedy was running on the viewscreen while Micah listened to the descriptive narrative for the blind that went along with the show.
He cocked his head in the direction of the door and shut off the show. "Well, how was dinner?"
"Not very interesting. They've got me on some sort of light diet that's mostly fish and they certainly don't believe in spices in this place. What I wouldn't give for a nice big bowl of pepperpot stew!"
"Oh, I've heard about that stuff! It’s supposed to be so hot it'll blister the paint right off a battle cruiser?"
"Probably! But that's just exactly how I like it. The food on Sirius is every bit as hot as the climate. So are the girls for that matter."
"Would you tell me a story about your home planet?"
"Sure. Have you ever heard of the spirit dogs of Sirius?"
"No. I can't say that I have."
Pulling up a chair, Alar took Micah’s hand in his. Then he began.
"Eons and eons ago, there was a great people in another star system. Throughout the centuries, they'd built great pyramids, ziggurats and temples to their ancient gods and they'd become absolute masters of astronomy, medicine, and the occult arts."
"Something that’s magic or hidden from the normal gaze. This ancient people's chief deity was an immense plumed serpent. Their magnificent emperor was the plumed serpent's mortal personification and the great god's servants were legion.
"Among the most gifted of the serpent's attendants was a group of tiny red dogs called the Techichi. But unlike the rest of the canine kingdom, the Techichi had no voice because their mental powers were such that they didn't need one. The Techichi had many duties which they performed ably and well, but their most important task was to guide the souls of their charges to the heart of the serpent's inner temple at the end of their mortal lives.
"At birth, each person in the empire was assigned one of the Techichi as his or her supernatural guardian, and throughout their mortal lives, they'd look to their spirit dogs for guidance. But only the emperor was permitted a Techichi in its mortal form.
“At the end of his life, his Techichi would die with him and be burned on the same funeral pyre. During the coronation of his successor, a new Techichi would appear from no-one knew where; and throughout the rest of his days, His Imperial Majesty's tiny red dog would sit faithfully at his right hand and guide him in his councils just as its predeces- sor had done.
"Whenever the emperor walked abroad, his Techichi would ride in his pocket or perch on his shoulder, and when they saw them, the people would smile. Because as long as they were under the guidance and protection of the plumed serpent's spirit dogs, all would be well.
"One day, a group of ships appeared on the horizon just off the empire's eastern coast. To the people, they looked like great winged birds.
"These ships carried men who spoke in a harsh exotic tongue. They wore strange armor and carried weapons made from a white metal that was harder than diamonds. Some of their weapons spat fire and, wherever their sting was felt, people and animals fell.
"According to his custom, the emperor came to the beach with his councillors to greet the strange visitors. As always, his Techichi was with him, riding on his shoulder.
"The emperor was far, far taller than the men coming up the beach and, beside him, they looked like dwarves. But unlike his own people, the visitors flatly refused to prostrate themselves before the plumed serpent's mortal representative.
"The Techichi gasped in shock at such effrontery and he told the emperor, ‘These men mean you no good; and their only gifts are fire, disease, famine and death.’
"The emperor looked upon the men before him and he had to agree with the Techichi. Not only were they the most unprepossessing lot he'd ever seen, but their unwashed odor made his lip curl.
" ‘What can I do?" he asked helplessly, "Nothing in my empire will withstand those weapons with their fatal sting or the diamond-hard metal of their armor and swords.’
" ‘Too true ,’ agreed the Techichi, ‘And that's why you must guide your people out of here and find them a new home on a distant star.’
“ ‘You are wise,’ said the emperor, and he and the Techichi went immediately to the temple to commune with the serpent god.
"That same night, every Techichi in the empire came to his or her charge in their dreams. They told them to take only what they could carry, go immediately to the great square, and stand before the soaring ziggurat at the heart of their capital city. There, the plumed serpent would appear to them in his mortal form and tell them what to do. Then the Techichi cast the invaders on the beach into an enchanted sleep lasting fifteen days.
"By the eve of the fourteenth day, the last of the emperor's people had reached the great square and they patiently waited for the plumed serpent to appear and speak to them."
"They all came?" wondered Micah.
"Every last man, woman and child. And they brought their dogs, cats, household possessions and livestock.”
"Then what happened?" asked Brunelle.
"When the men on the beach awoke from their enchanted sleep on the fifteenth day, the people of the empire had vanished just as though they’d never been. Search as they might, the invaders could find no trace of them, and the great emperor, his people and the Techichi were never seen in that part of the universe again. On the night of the fourteenth day, the plumed serpent had taken them all to a different star where they would be safe until the end of time."
"Which star?" asked Micah softly, even though he already knew the answer.
"Why Sirius, of course, and that's where their descendants live to this very day."
"The Techichi too?"
"The Techichi too."
"Do you have a spirit dog?" Micah's voice was hopeful.
"Yes, I do, and, tonight, I'll send him to visit you in your dreams."
Micah’s voice was very small as Brunelle settled him for the night. "I think I'd like that. Does your Techichi have a name?"
Alar bent over the bed and gave him a kiss. "He’s called Min-Ha. He has eyes of gold, a coat that glistens like red silk, and a ruff of fur that stands out around his face. Sleep well, little one, and I'll see you in the morning."
As Micah dozed off, he found himself alone in the middle of a deserted square. A great stone structure soared upward above his head toward the stars. As he came closer, he saw thousands of steps carved into its sides and his heart quailed.
"Am I supposed to climb all of those?"
A gentle voice spoke in his mind. "Of course not. Only the high priest does that when he makes his sacrifice to the sun."
Startled, Micah looked around for the speaker.
Then he saw him.
He stood in the center of the moonwashed square with his red silk coat glistening. Just as Alar had described, his eyes glowed molten gold and a ruff of fur stood up around his tiny face.
Micah hardly dared to breathe. "Are -- are you Min-Ha?"
"Who else would I be? Didn't Alar tell you to expect me?"
"You're a Techichi!"
"Well, I was the last time I looked. You must be Micah."
Micah gazed at the soaring structures surrounding the immense square and he marveled. "Where am I?"
"In the Court of the Kings. It's where all souls come to be judged before they begin their final journey."
"Judged? But where are my judges?"
"Look around and you will see."
Micah felt a sudden sense of weight and silence.
Then he saw the eyes looking back at him from every direction. They were in the stars in the night-lit sky above, and every building block of every structure that loomed around the square. Eyes looked up from the very stones beneath his feet, and he could sense them in the tiny gusts of wind dancing around his bare ankles and tugging at his hair.
"Do you see them?"
"Oh yes. I see them everywhere! But how will I know when I've been judged?"
He felt Min-Ha come up beside him, and the cold touch of his small nose against his bare leg.
"Put your hand on my head and don't be afraid."
Min-Ha was so small, Micah had to crouch down to touch him. When he caressed the tiny dog's silken fur, he shivered with delight. "Oh, you're so beautiful!"
"Thank you. You're not so bad yourself. Now lift me up on your shoulder and I'll show you the way."
"You mean I've already been judged?"
"Oh indeed yes. And believe me, you did just fine. Now just start walking ahead till I tell you to stop."
"But that's solid stone!"
"Start walking anyway."
As Micah obeyed, the stones in front of him wavered and shifted.
He walked right through them as though they were nothing but mist, and when he reached the other side golden light shone everywhere. Strains of music filled the perfumed air and, all around him, people were talking and laughing.
"Welcome, Micah!" said the voices, "Go on now. They're waiting for you."
Right at the garden’s center, in the shade of a flowering tree, stood his parents.
When they saw him, their faces lit up with wide smiles. As his father swept him up into his arms, Micah leaned his head against his chest and listened to the beating of his heart. Then he turned to look down at his mother.
Laughing and crying at the same time, she embraced them both. "We've missed you so much, sweetheart! And now we're all together again."
Abruptly realizing that Min-Ha was gone from his shoulder, Micah looked around frantically.
The tiny red figure was retreating purposefully toward the other side of the sunlit garden and, as he watched, Min-Ha reached the wall of grey stones and vanished.
"Goodbye little Techichi," he told him softly, "and thank you for guiding me home."
Micah never heard Brunelle when she came to wake him on the following morning.
When she went to Alar's room to give him the sad news, the young Siriun already knew.
"Dry your tears, Brunelle. Micah's where he wants to be and he’s happy now. Incidentally, you're still his best girl and you always will be."
"How could you possibly know that?"
Alar cocked his head as if listening, then he smiled. "Let’s just say a little dog told me."
Reader Reviews for
"The Spirit Dogs of Sirius"
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|Reviewed by Ken Chartrand
|Hi Kate! I read the excerpt from your story," The Spirit Dogs of Sirius". I found it quite interesting. I am inspired to try and write a Sci-fi too. All the best. Please feel free to visit my sites at either, www.freewebs.com/kendoo or here in the "Den".|
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read, i am fond of fantasy