Introduction to D’nae
Other TTTV stories by LarryMH54
“Nanny, nanny, nann-ny, can’t catch me, in a well-of-gravity-ee!” That was enough to get all three of them chasing after her.
Jeffie, Petie, and Sara were all close to the entrance of the arboretum, so D’nae led them deeper into the intricate maze of trails and footpaths. She giggled, dodging past a pair of trees which had grown together over the years, their branches and roots permanently intertwined.
“Oof!” D’nae’s foot slipped and skidded out from under her into a colorful pile of fallen leaves while her friends skirted around a large boulder and back into view. She spun and disappeared behind a bush, leaving a riotous orange-and-yellow avalanche of autumn leaves, a sufficient trail for her pursuers to follow. She slid down a culvert and caught a low-hanging branch in her left hand, twisting herself around to slide feet-first down the chute. A moment later, she splashed into the refrigerated artificial stream that ran continuously around the recreational zone.
She spluttered in the freezing, knee-deep water, then stood and pushed soggy red curls out of her face. Her bright yellow dress was smeared with mud, and clung wetly to her legs when she moved. Just then, Jeffie came sliding headfirst, eyes agog, tumbling into the water beside her. She’d caught the older boy’s surprised expression when he saw the approaching water, and she burst into laughter, her own indignation immediately forgotten. Petie and Sara appeared next, scrambling down from the nearby path. Their look of concern evaporated after Jeffie came up on his knees, giggling and sopping, spraying water from his shaggy blonde hair almost like a wet puppy. Jeffie lurched forward and grabbed at D’nae’s skinny legs as she scrambled to get out of the water.
“Ha,” she yelled, jumping aside. Petie’s larger size and greater strength always seemed useless against D’nae’s exceptional physical and mental agility. She grinned triumphantly, watching him splash headlong once again into the stream before her. But her triumph was short-lived. She jumped at the sound of the warning klaxon and slipped on an algae-slick stone, tumbling backwards with yet another splash.
”Gotcha!” He called, grabbing her ankle and chortling at his luck.
“What? Why you–! D’nae whirled and rounded on him, and in a moment both six-year-olds were rolling in the water again. They were carried a just few feet by the current, sputtering and laughing and struggling for supremacy. The automated warning sounded again from the bridge as they drifted toward it:
“This watercourse is for irrigation and aquaculture purposes only. Please step out of the water!”
The warning repeated, sounding more urgent with every iteration. Finally, D’nae jumped up and stepped from Petie’s back onto the shore, a self-satisfied smirk on her face. As long as she’d known him, she’d always seemed just a beat ahead of him. He finally followed her to the bank, where they met Jeffie, Sara, and a uniformed adult who had hurried over from the main entrance.
“You kids okay?” the man growled, returning his comm unit to its holster.
“We’re fine, Ossifer, we just slipped on some leaves back there, that’s all. We were just getting out, honest!” D’nae pushed at Petie’s shoulder, giggling at his mispronunciation of ‘Officer’.
“I’m sure you were.” His eyes sparkled, knowing innocent mischief when he saw it. “You know there IS a playground just over there, don’t you?” the policeman asked, pointing in the appropriate direction with his power wand.
“Yes sir,” they all chimed solemnly, almost in unison.
“Well then, off with you. And don’t let me catch you over here again!” D’nae caught his grin just as he turned away from them.
“Yes sir!” they repeated, cheerful this time, and the six-and-seven-year-olds ran towards the playground, and escape.
“D’nae, that was dangerous!” Jeffie stage-whispered to her, taking on an older-and-wiser attitude. The children wandered on toward the playground.
“You and Petie could have been hurt! You know they don’t allow kids back there, and you deliberately led us into it!”
“Yeah, and besides, I heard that when you break the rules they can SPACE you!“ Petie chimed in. “I heard that there was a guy over in Purple Seven that was caught selling Narcobane over by the Center. They put him in an airlock and WHOOSH! He was gone! Mark said he saw him in a porthole, all puffed up and red-skinned, His EYES were gone and there were red icicles coming out of his…”
“EWWW! Shut UP Petie!” Sara interrupted, wrinkling her tiny round nose in disgust. “That is SO gross!” She stuck her tongue out at him.
“They can space ya for lotsa stuff now!” Petie said. He stuck his tongue back at her in reply.
“Oh, piffle!” D’nae interrupted, “If you thought it was so dangerous, you didn’t have to follow!” D’nae reached out and grabbed a couple of bottleberries from a nearby bush. “Are they gonna space me for this, too?” She threw the berries at Jeffie and ran a few steps ahead.
Sara interrupted. ”Oh, D’nae, stop it! What’s wrong with you today, anyway? It’s getting late. I’m going home!”
Sara turned away and began walking the way they had come, followed uncertainly by the two boys. In a few moments, D’nae was left pouting and alone in the park. She kicked at a pebble that caught her eye. “It WASN’T dangerous!” she said to the pebble. She began to shiver in her damp clothes. The lighting began to switch over to night mode, and she shrugged and turned toward her home in Yellow Five.
House watched her approach silently, its simple Artificial Intellect recognizing her as an authorized member of the K’tema family. The front door slid open as she approached. D’nae stepped inside “Mommy!” she yelled. The lights went on in the entry hall.
“House, where’s Mommy and Daddy?”
The query triggered the grade-three intelligence to search for her parents. It located them among the twenty-three victims of a Transport accident earlier that day. Chito Mosprend and Ghevnick K’tema of the orbital colony space station Lavlyn Urvca had not survived. The query alerted another computer that there was a surviving minor in the family. Another alert followed, asserting that the minor needed to be picked up and delivered to her nearest relative, on Blaiowyr Station, some twenty minutes away by Transport.
House took an unusually long time before responding to D’nae’s question. “There seems to have been a problem. Please stand by.” the AI finally answered.
“I’m hungry,” D’nae complained, only vaguely wondering what kind of problem could keep both Mommy and Daddy from being here this late. She walked into the kitchen to see what she could find to eat. House recognized a need it could fulfill.
“Would you like your dinner now?”
Knowing an opening when she saw it, D’nae decided to take full advantage. “Oh, yes, please. Could I have some bottleberry ice cream with wintril cookies and spice cake please?”
“I’m sorry, but that combination cannot fulfill the balance of your recommended nutritional needs for the day. I will begin preparation of default nutritional combination D47-1 per your parents’ previous command. Tallinn Soup with Crustal Crunchies, swimming with Lypean worms and spice nails.”
D’nae grimaced at that and decided she needed to find a way to convince the House computer there was nothing wrong with her “nutritional choices”. Taking the meal into the Media Room, she sat down in front of the NetMonitor and asked for her KidStuff programming. Pulling out her datapad, she began forming ideas for getting her wintril cookies. Maybe a datacoded request, she thought, as the Mr. Toby Show began.
An hour later, she transmitted her code patch, and again asked House about her parents. This time House accessed the daily news feed, showing footage of the accident.
D’nae watched in puzzled fascination.
“Ewww,” she said as the awful pictures came on.
House had never let her watch stuff like this before. This couldn’t be my coding, could it?
“That’s so gross.”
Then she heard familiar names read into the record.
“Wait, go back,” she said. Then in a small voice, “Restart.”
“A tragic accident took the lives of sixteen people today, injuring seven…”
The broadcast droned on for a little while, and her attention lapsed until the names were given again,
“…Mosprend and Ghvnick K’tema…”
She dropped her bowl, soup and Crunchies splashing across the floor, and asked again, her voice tinged with terror, “House, where are my parents? Why are you showing me this?” The intelligent house lapsed into silence.
“Houusssse!” She insisted.
The machine reached a decision. “D’nae, your parents won’t be returning. Don’t worry, I have alerted the authorities, and they will come for you soon. I can now authorize your ice cream, cookies, and cake.”
“What do you mean, they won’t return? They LOVE me! They would never leave me! You’re LYING! I don’t want your cookies and cake! I want my parents!” The room suddenly seemed very big and very empty, and D’nae felt very small and alone. She got up and ran to her bedroom. Falling heavily on the bed, she burst into tears.
“Where are my parents? I’ve got to have my parents!” She looked at the House vidcam across from her bed.
“I’m not big enough! I can’t live all by myself! Who will take care of me? What am I supposed to do?
She got up and ran to House’s interface on the bedroom wall. Beating her tiny fists on the screen, she started yelling at the machine in the walls.
“I want my parents! Find them! That report was a mistake!” It had to be!
From the Media Room, D’nae could still hear the KidStuff programming when a Morality Moment began to play. The announcer explained solemnly how stealing can cause all sorts of problems, and how important it was for small children to be truthful and honest before…
“All right! I’m sorry!” D’nae shouted at House, “So I messed with your programming! You still can’t lose my parents! I want them back NOW!”
The program continued, unperturbed by her ranting, “…ever since which they could be Spaced for such offenses.” The narrator had been speaking of habitual criminals, but D’nae, confused by her own monologue, misunderstood.
A sudden thought struck her. I can’t pay for stuff! Mommy and Daddy always talked about how they had to work together to pay for stuff. And I can’t work at all! They’re gonna want me to pay for House, and Air and Food. Everything. And when I can’t, they’re gonna Space me! Just like Jeffie said! That must be why they’re coming for me! I can’t stay here! I’ve gotta go away!”
D’nae jumped up and ran to her closet. She dragged her backpack out and began stuffing her favorite toys into it. It was hard to see through the tears in her eyes, but she still found Bokko right away. He went into her bag first, then Mr. Toby, Fluffy, and her two stuffed darsigs. What else? She had to take just the important stuff.
With her backpack full, she noticed some of her clothes still lying on the floor. She would need those, too, she realized. Turning the bag over, she dumped everything and began again, this time packing her favorite dress, a couple of shirts, and some pants and underwear. The bag filled too quickly. She hadn’t even started choosing her toys. She stopped to think.
“I’ll need food, too. And a place to go. But I just got everybody mad at me!”
She noticed the bottleberry stains on her hands. The park! She could hide in the park! People used to live in forests, it said so in all her favorite fairy tales. She would be a magical princess, hunted by the King’s soldiers and living off the land with her heroic rebel husband! With this thought in mind, she picked up her backpack, took one last look around, and grabbed Bokko. Hugging the stuffed toy tightly to her chest, she hurried out of her room, down the stairs, and out the door before House realized that she was running away. She ran through the darkened streets, half blinded by tears, back toward the arboretum.
Stumbling occasionally in the diminished lighting, she began attracting the attention of some of the darker, seedier, more peripheral inhabitants of the Station. Like every large community, Lavlyn Urvca contained a seamy underside, composed of such denizens as lived in the outskirts of Station life. By the time she reached her destination, she had already been targeted as a prospect for a new and very different lifestyle in the lower-levels.
D’nae wandered along the pathways, looking for a likely hideout for almost half an hour. Finally, she decided there was no real shelter to be had here. The best she could do for now was to just hide out behind one of the larger boulders which had been placed for its artistic merit. In a controlled climate like the Colony’s, it was not truly a matter of survival anyway. The Arboretum was as comfortable as the Learning Center, or for that matter any other open space within the Colony. D’nae settled down in her little nest and, hugging Bokko tightly, began sobbing quietly.
Presently, she heard a sound. Looking around the boulder, she saw Suzy, a girl she knew from the Center, who had something of a reputation as a ‘bad girl’, and was probably a Sub to boot. She stood there with her arms crossed, and a knowing smirk on her face.
“Ya think ya can live here okay? Ya know the place is bugged, don’t ya? No secrets in this forest!”
D’nae looked at Suzy for a moment, tried to dry her eyes, and stood up. “Suzy! What are you doing here?”
“Word’s out, you need a new digs. Hey, I know you. You’re D’nae, ain’t ya! Come on with me! You can stay at my digs for awhile!”
D’nae looked at her doubtfully, but decided she was probably right about the Arboretum. She still needed a place to live. She stepped gingerly out of the brush and back onto the pathway. Suzy took her by the hand, and led her back out to the main concourse. They took a number of twists and turns, finally ending up in front of an unkempt, dilapidated version of House.
“Come on, D’nae, ya gotta meet Cap’n Pavol. He runs the place.”
D’nae felt all shivery in the pit of her tummy, but didn’t see that she had a choice. If she couldn’t live in the Arboretum, and House was ready to turn her over to be Spaced, then these people were the only hope she had left. Calling on all of her courage, she drew herself up and marched behind Suzy right into the dark maw of this House’s entrance.
The door closed behind her, and the light fell to near Night levels. She could hardly breathe in the cloying darkness around her. The air was stale and musty, and much warmer than she was used to. She heard something moving a little way from her, a slithering, sliding sound that ratcheted her fear up several notches. Holding Bokko tightly, she wondered if she should bolt away and turn herself over to the Authorities, even if it did mean getting Spaced. Finally, a deep voice reached out to her from the dark.
“So you are D’nae. I understand you are in a little bit of trouble.”
D’nae’s eyes opened wide as a tall, thin man stepped out into the half-light where she could see him. He was ancient! He wore a faded and patched cloak that had probably once belonged to a Star Officer, threadbare pants covered with stains and grime, and a narrow fedora hat pulled down over his eyes, hooding them like a cobra’s. He gazed into her pretty green eyes, mesmerizing her as she stood rooted to the floor. Then it was over. The man smiled at her, revealing several missing teeth, and dropped down, sitting back on his heels to approximate her height.
“Hello there, I’m The Captain. I try to help young people like yourself. If you need a place to stay, I’ll be happy to help you out for as long as you need us.” A door opened, and light fell on The Captain’s face. D’nae could now see the kindness in his eyes, and hope kindled in her heart for the first time since hearing about her parents’ deaths.
The place still seemed a little strange, but now she thought it also seemed to be pretty safe. At least Suzy was okay with it. The man held out his arms to her, and she felt something shatter inside her. All of her fears came tumbling out. She babbled out all of the terrors she had guessed at and imagined, about the shuttle accident and her parents’ deaths, about the Authorities and how she’d be Spaced if she was caught breathing Station air and eating Station food without paying for them. Pavol smiled tightly to himself, listening to this terrified if slightly confused little girl. Here was a girl-child who was actually eager to make her own way. And there were many uses for someone like her in his line of work.
“Once in a while, you just get lucky”, he thought to himself.