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Burdens, Chapter One

by Doc Sherwood 10 months ago in Series

By Doc Sherwood

The Martian winter had arrived. Freezing gales of wind-chill factors far below any known on Earth swept the red plains without relent, echoing and howling through the half-finished cities and battering against the sheer white walls of the Capital itself. Within these bounds though was shelter from the merciless climate for native and human alike, and in his laboratory close to the Royal Palace Doctor Mendelssohn was content as he settled down in an armchair by the fireside at the end of another day’s scientific work.

There was a great splintering crash as someone wrenched the door off its hinges by pulling it instead of pushing, and in strode Bendigo. His enormous frame was clad in black tie and tails, a white towel was draped over one arm, and in his other hand he carried a silver tray with a wine glass on it. This he set down on the table beside Mendelssohn, booming heartily: “Your evening aperitif, learned Doctor!”

“Bendigo, I do not require a butler,” Mendelssohn told him, for the second time that day and the sixth that week. “4-H-N has returned to her family, I am the only one here, and I am quite capable of handling my own domestic arrangements. That is the lot of the lifelong bachelor, as you yourself should be aware.”

“But learned one, never has it been so meet that I find my calling in life!” cried Bendigo. “I was humbled as a warrior, and then as your assistant. Yet mayhap in the modest life of a butler will I discover my true greatness, and learn at last where the path of destiny is leading me!”

Doctor Mendelssohn picked up the glass and inspected it. “This is hydrochloric acid from the lab, Bendigo,” he said.

“The colour is deceptively like finest mead, Doctor,” Bendigo explained, and continued grandly: “Ah, there is a drink fit for a master of the martial arts! With a firkin or two we could beguile in manly fashion the winter nights of this strange faraway kingdom, ere we discover the route by which to walk back to Nottingham and home!”

He paraded out. Doctor Mendelssohn gave a sigh and lay back in his chair, while beside him the wine glass steadily dissolved and ate a hole through the table-top.

Seconds later there was an almighty clangour from the vicinity of the front door, unmistakably the sound of a silver tray being dropped. This was a little soon even for Bendigo to run into another disaster. Rising from the armchair at once, Doctor Mendelssohn called out: “What is it, Bendigo? What’s ­­– ”

But his butler had already returned to the study, and he was wearing an expression of awe. At length he was able to gasp and stammer out: “L-Learned Doctor…a…a visitor!”

Through the doorway stepped Professor Iskira Neetkins. Her locks of purple hair were windswept from the storm and tumbled in disarray down her sliver cheek, but nevertheless her Martian beauty shone out in the stunned silence of the two men. She was wearing her overcoat, and carried a full travelling bag in either hand.

“Hello, Irwin,” said Iskira. “I’ve left James.”

Carmilla had decided to make her daily communication to her family on Mars just before leaving the house, and had dutifully asked Phoenix if she wished to join her, though her sister had declined as she had done every morning since the reappearance of Phoenix Prime. Now it was half an hour later and Carmilla was still at the interplanetary monitor, still reeling from the news that had shattered her world apart, still trying to muster some words to say, and still not succeeding.

On the image before her, the lounge of her parents’ Martian home lay in utter disarray and her father James was slumped on the couch, unshaven and with a near-empty glass of potent green wine in his hand. Beside him, looking as lost for words as Carmilla felt, sat Neetra’s clone 4-H-N with her arms around her creator. The elder girl, knowing she must speak, finally managed to murmur into the transmitter: “Dad…why? What did she tell you? What reason did she give?”

“It a’ started when Phoenix Prime returned,” James Neetkins replied, slurring his words somewhat. “A’ she did since then was blame herself, and me, fuir the transporter experiment and everything it caused. She put two and two together…kept talking o’ Clayton Hawkman and the original attack on Mars, and saying the destructive inventions she’d come up wi’ made her nae better than the ones wha nearly wiped oot her people. I told her tae snap oot o’ it, said we couldnae help Phoenix Prime that way, but it wasnae ony use. We didnae touch each other, barely talked, fuir weeks…and then…and then today…she was jist gone.”

“But she can’t be!” Carmilla cried. “She can’t do this! Has she even thought how much we’ll all be worrying about her? How selfish can Mum get, taking off without even leaving a message to let us know where she is?”

The ensuing silence told Carmilla at once that the situation was far worse than even she had imagined. For long seconds James did nothing but grip his wine glass with such force it might crack, while looking into its contents with the intensity of a man who yearned to lose himself in that tiny liquid world.

“She did leave a message,” 4-H-N said to Carmilla at last, in a quiet voice. “We know where she is.”

“She’s staying with Doctor Mendelssohn?” Dylan burst out.

Carmilla, after signing off the woeful transmission, had gone straight downstairs to break the news. Phoenix had remained in her swivel-chair throughout and was listening silently, her expression unfathomable, whereas Dylan had leapt to his feet at once.

“Doctor Mendelssohn,” he repeated, thunderstruck. “Carmilla, why him of all people? She could have gone to Crosius and Lirtis at the palace, or to the Skays, seeing as Felicity practically thinks of her as one of the family! Why Doctor Mendelssohn?”

“The one man, apart from Dad, who Mum ever loved,” Carmilla said miserably. “And she’s with him right now. What must Dad be thinking? What’s he supposed to make of that?”

“It is nothing he cannot figure out,” were Phoenix’s words. “He is a scientist, and it does not take one.”

With that she turned her chair to face the scanner again, and resumed her work. Carmilla and Dylan had thought nothing else could happen that morning to shock them beyond the power of speech, but now they saw they had been wrong.

“Phoenix! How can you say that?” exploded Carmilla. “This is Dad you’re talking about!”

“Your fathair, and Neetra’s, and Phoenix Prime’s,” Phoenix corrected her coolly, still attending the screen. “You would ’ave been correct ’ad you described ’im as one of ze two scientists who cloned me from ze last named. And what should a clone do, but feel no emotion ovair ze doings of zose who were born not made?”

“Phoenix, you know that’s not true, you feel just as much as any of us,” Dylan protested.

“And if you think…if you think you’re going to carry on with this now,” Carmilla went on in a passion, her words stumbling over each other, “this punishing Mum and Dad by not wanting anything to do with them…Phoenix, all that has to stop, Dad needs you now! I know you’re hurting over Phoenix Prime, I know you’re finding it hard to forgive our parents, but – ”

Suddenly the chair flew back around. Phoenix’s steely eyes pinned Carmilla, hushing her at once.

“You do not know,” said the younger girl, and now there was real anger in her voice. “You were not zere when Neetra linked our minds with Phoenix Prime’s, and we shared all zat she ’ad felt because of our mothair and fathair’s experiment! Do you want me to tell you ’ow Phoenix Prime felt at ze moment of my creation, Carmilla? ’Ow zey took ’er away from ze sisters she loved and shut ’er up in ze dark, zen wracked ’er body with pain, changing ’er forevair, and imprisoned ’er in a dungeon far from ze only ’appiness she ’ad evair known? You cannot imagine ’ow she felt, but I now feel all of it as agonizingly as she still does. So zere are some who would say zat Maman and Papa deserve every pain zey are feeling ovair what ’as come to pass between zem. Per’aps it is zeir turn to know heartbreak, and sorrow, and to be subjected to cruelty zey cannot understand.”

Carmilla was hanging her head by now, close to crying. Dylan put his arm around her and said gently to Phoenix: “I was there, honey. It didn’t make me hate your parents like this.”

“Who else am I to hate?” Phoenix flung at him, though tears were beginning to shimmer in her eyes too. “I cannot hate Phoenix Prime, for she is no more zan zeir victim. Ze blame lies wth ze ones who took away ’er future…’er future and mine! For just as surely as our parents deprived Phoenix Prime of ze life zat was rightfully ’ers, so too will she deprive me of mine. She returns, she announces ’er vow to destroy me…and not long aftair zat, thanks to our visitation from ze future, we learn she will be as good as ’er word. We ’ad no child, Dylan! We both know what zat means! Soon, per’aps some time very soon, Phoenix Prime will achieve ’er goal of bringing about my death!”

It was said at last. Phoenix whirled back to her computer, hammering the keys with the fury that still burned within her. Dylan and Carmilla, meanwhile, could only exchange a hopeless look, for they knew no words could heal this now. So they parted, she leaving in silence for her allocated region of the city, while he slipped quietly back into his chair and continued his surveillance. These two were among those who loved Phoenix more than any other in the world, but both could see only too well that the girl they so loved was set on shouldering her terrible burden alone.

END OF CHAPTER ONE

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