‘Let’s celebrate the arrival at the planet!’ Smith raised his glass of whisky. ‘Liesel, music!’
Liesel rose and waved at Clarke the computer. ‘Music maestro!’
Nathan poked his head through the door. ‘Holly, you’re to report for duty, we need to navigate through the rings of the third planet to establish orbit.’
The whisky had made me slightly light-headed, plus the Australians’ joking had unsettled me, and so, not quite myself, I swaggered to the door.
‘Good luck!’ Smith bid.
I glanced at the doctor as I side-stepped around the bench and out of the Mess.
As I shut the door behind me I heard Nathan whisper to the others, ‘Now, what’s this plan of yours, Liesel?’
By the time I reached the Bridge, Fahrer was in a foul mood. He presided over the controls and computer (my task) while swearing in ancient German. Perhaps I didn’t understand the actual taboo words, but his tone was enough to suggest he was swearing.
Fahrer glared at me and gestured towards the computer. I sat down and stared at the screen filled with crazy symbols, numbers and codes. What was I meant to do? Any illumination of my mind had stayed behind in the Mess hall. The Captain’s scowling expression did not help. He was definitely not going to be receptive to my advice to pull himself together, get a life, cheer up and besides I’m your counsellor. I thought I could throw in the last suggestion to open up conversation and a can of worms.
‘Come on, Fraulein Mueller! Get to work! Mach Schnell!’ Fahrer snapped.
The sound of hurry up in German triggered memories. My mother used it continuously when I was a child as I was always running late. My teachers used it on me for the same reason. I was notorious for peddling furiously down the road to school when school had already started five minutes prior. I still have nightmares about running late for class or an exam and not being able to find the classroom. I could not understand why the school seemed so foreign to me lately and why I found it difficult to understand anybody as they all spoke English in broad Australian accents. And why, oh, why was I learning Japanese all of a sudden? But at this present time, with Fahrer snarling at me, I knew I wasn’t dreaming.
In silence, I sped into my own world of fantasy. Had Fahrer been like this with Minna, in private, in their own home down there on the Pilgrim Planet? She never mentioned it. Had she been ashamed? If I had been Minna, I would not have put up with his ranting and ravings. Didn’t put up with Johann, did I. But I would not have put the whole mission to avenge her brother’s murder in jeopardy by going off with some other guy.
What really happened to Minna? Her journal only detailed events up to when she went undercover with Fahrer on the Pilgrim Planet, no further…What happened then? Was there another journal somewhere? Missing? Hidden in a cave?
They were coming for me. The whole village. I’m the “witch” pursued by the mob, to be thrown in the lake and drowned. The mob. Angry. Advancing. I retreated. Running fast. Hiding in the forest. Lying on prickly pine cones. Heart racing, beating in time to the thunder of boots hitting the ground. The angry mob raced past.
I hide in the hollow of a log. It is damp and mossy and smells funky. Night falls. The crickets chirp, owls hoot, the other animals growl, squeak and squawk. I am cold, hungry, and all alone in the dark.
‘Schnell!’ Fahrer barked.
I pulled my head back and blinked. Thank God that wasn’t real. There goes my imaginary world again! However, this one was not a pleasant experience.
I concentrated on the computer screen. Navigation, navigate, navigate. The symbols were making sense now and I plotted the course required.
‘Just in time, Holly,’ Fahrer snarled as I put the finishing touches on the programme.
I uttered no words in any language. I was still recovering from the terror of the waking dream.
‘Now, the pods need to be prepared and attended to. You should know what to do. Now go!’ Fahrer commanded.
‘Yes, sir!’ I shuffled out of the room. I checked the map of the Little Sister Ship to make sure I headed in the right direction.
Once at the pod, I fiddled with the frustratingly fiddly bits to open the pod. Didn’t remember that I had trouble with pod doors before.
I forced the doors apart and then sat in the seat. Then panicked. ‘Now what am I here after? What am I meant to be doing? Should I remember? I should, I think.’ Speaking aloud, I shook my head. ‘What am I doing here?’
A photo lay on the bench in front of me. ‘Is that me? What am I doing there?’ I examined the photo and then placed it on the dashboard.
Not averse to preening, especially after a hard day’s work with a very unappreciative boss, I pulled out a mirror from my kit to comb my hair and add some lipstick. ‘Who’s that in the mirror?’ My mouth went dry.
The girl staring back at me with a shocked expression was not me. ‘I don’t look like that!’ I touched my hair and cheek. Revisited the photo, studied it, and then peered at the mirror. The mirror image was definitely preferable. The eyes were bigger and more blue, the nose cuter, the face rounder and more childlike. I put the photo away in the glove box, applied the lipstick, and flippantly commented, ‘What am I thinking? That’s Minna.’ Minna, my cousin, as I remembered her. Some similarities, I guess.
I checked the innards of the pod. Everything was accounted for and in working order. ‘That’s what I was meant to do, check the pod. I’ve checked the pod.’
In the back of my head, Minna, in the photo haunted me. Her eyes hollow, framed by dark panda rings.
‘I’ll just have another look—poor Minna.’
I groped in the glove box. Another slip of photo paper flutter to the floor. Two little boys smiled out from the paper.
A shock of pain and loss vaulted through me. ‘Oh, God! Those poor boys!’
I imagined the tragic finding of the two little bodies dredged up from the dam. ‘How could anyone—?’ The image blurred. ‘That’s not the Minna I knew. They—Liesel must be wrong. What happened to them? Was it Boris…?’
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scene; what it was like on the Pilgrim Planet with the Wends.
The boys, one a toddler and the other merely a baby, crying pleading screaming reaching out, calling out “Maa! Maa! Mama! Mama!” Two little boys being dragged away. A tiny fat fist pulling a stranger’s red hair. The pain of my babies taken from me. I was torn, helpless.
Freckly hands pushed the boys into an army truck. Little faces, tear strained and flushed with anguish pressed against a grimy window pane. They vanished into the distance.
I became woozy. A deep sense of sadness lingered.
‘Look at me! Look at me! What is wrong with you?’ I could hear Fahrer’s voice in the background.
I was still holding the photo, tears trickled unchecked down my cheeks. Fahrer brushed my face gently with his hand, ‘What’s going on?’
I woke up. ‘Er—um—yes, everything is fine, all in order.’
Fahrer snatched the photograph, glanced at it and then tucked the paper in his pocket. ‘Don’t tell…’
I pulled out the other photo and passed it to him. The image of Minna with her panda-eyes joined her babes in the Captain’s breast-pocket of his boiler-suit.
Then, with lips stretched thin, he stalked from the pod.
I watched him pace the launching pad, his hand fixed to his forehead.
‘Are we’re ready for take-off!’ Fritz asked over the com.
‘Yes, apart from a very upset Captain,’ I said. ‘I’ve upset him again. Make your way to the pod.’
Taking a deep breath, I prepared the pod for launch.
The Captain climbed in.
Without looking at me, he clicked the controls to stand-by. His eyes appeared swollen, the whites pink. ‘Don’t ask…Don’t say a word, Miss Mueller.’ He opened the airlock for the others.
Smith, Fritz, and Liesel stepped into the pod. We suited up in our special all-in-one skin hugging protective radiation suits, and then strapped ourselves in, ready to descend to the planet.
‘Ready for take-off?’ Nathan asked. He had opted to man the Little Sister Ship while we explored the planet surface.. ‘Radiation levels, hmm, down—safe, near the lake, four kilometres west of the village. You can land there. Atmosphere, gravity, and ambient conditions of an “M-Class” planet. Daytime temperature a beautiful 25-degrees Celsius, night-time a cool eleven. Humidity at thirty-eight percent. You’ll need those suits if you go up the mountain, and if you venture onto ground-zero, the village…Take-off in ten…nine…eight…’
‘Captain,’ Fritz rubbed his hands, ‘I hope your little detour up that infernal mountain won’t take too long.’
Without replying, Captain Fahrer launched the pod and then guided it to the planet’s surface.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Kuitpo Forest Log © L.M. Kling 2017