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Vortex on Vertu Prime
Andrew J Harvey
Book 3 of
Tania stared at her reflection in the mirror-smooth finish of the stasis field on display in front of her. Distorted by the spherical shape of the field, her nose seemed enormous. Bringing her face closer to the globe she opened her eyes as wide as they’d go and poked out her tongue.
There, just on the edge of the globe! She spun around, but whatever it was had already dodged out of sight. She’d caught sight of it out of the corner of her eye in the last room, but it had disappeared back into the shadows before she could see what it was. Whatever it was, though, it wasn’t very big.
“Tania!” It was her teacher, Ms. Denfry. “Please pay attention.”
Three of the other girls started giggling, but Tania ignored them. As Ms. Denfry turned her attention back to what the guide was saying, Tania rolled her eyes. The museum guide was sooo boring! Why didn’t he say anything about what the stasis bubble might have in it, or about the people who built it? Who cared that the bubble had been found in the Vertu system thirty-two years ago! Boringgg! She wasn’t the only one who thought so, and she smirked as she saw Susan and Helen giggling over something on Susan’s tablet. Charles Montgomery was the only one taking notes, which wasn’t surprising. Charles was so full of himself.
“And of course, this is the room the stasis bubble was stolen from two nights ago,” the guide said. “The stolen bubble was an exact twin of the one you see before you.”
Tania perked her ears up. This was more interesting.
“Are there any more questions before we go to the next room?” the guide asked.
Bored again, Tania’s attention had drifted back to what was following them, which seemed to have retreated into the shadow cast by a display case near the door.
With Ms. Denfry’s attention firmly fixed on the guide, Tania edged her way backward out of the group. She reached the back of the class just as the guide started to move the class on, and quickly dodged back behind a large stone column.
Once everyone else had left the room, she peered around the edge of the column. Whatever it was, it was still hiding in the shadows and hadn’t moved. Cautiously, she made her way along the case then stopped, puzzled. Nothing was there. Well, there was a chair in the corner with a teddy bear sitting propped up against one leg, but no sign of anything that might have been following them. It was quite a cool-looking bear, with short matt black fur and the most gorgeous looking golden-brown eyes.
Bending down, she examined the bear, which looked back at her stoically. “And who do you belong to?” she asked softly.
The bear seemed to consider the question for a moment, and then slowly blinked—twice!
Tania took a step backward, before looking around to see if anyone had noticed, but the room was still empty. She took another step backward; ready to run, then stopped. The teddy bear was trying to stand, but his legs seemed too weak to support him and he was using the chair to pull himself up.
He didn’t seem very dangerous. In fact, he looked as if he was on his last legs.
“Are you all right?” she asked, kneeling down.
The teddy bear shook his head.
“Can I help?”
The bear nodded once. It seemed to struggle to say something, but it was too quiet to make out, and Tania bent closer.
“I can’t understand,” she said.
The bear held out a paw to her, and tentatively Tania reached out and touched it. Its fur felt as soft as silk; in contrast, the inner pads of its paws were quite rough and cool to the touch. The bear’s paw closed gently on her hand, softly holding onto two of her fingers.
The voice was so clear that Tania jerked her hand back, looking around to see who had spoken. She was still alone, however, and when she looked back, the bear was looking at her pleadingly, his arm still stretched toward her.
Tentatively, Tania reached out to him again. Again the bear’s paw closed over her fingers, and again the voice urged, “Up!”
“Is that you?” she asked.
“Up,” the voice urged again. Tania had the impression of being loved and protected, and without thinking she gathered the bear into her arms. He was heavier than he looked, more like a large cat than a stuffed toy. For a moment, he lay stiff and lifeless in her arms. Then with a soft sigh he relaxed, molding himself to her body. Impulsively, she buried her face in his fur. He smelled of rosemary and oven-fresh bread.
“Out!” the voice demanded imperiously.
Tania pulled back and studied the bear, which returned her gaze impassively.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what all this is about, are you?”
“Out,” the voice simply repeated.
Tania frowned but the bear just closed its eyes. Despite that, she had the feeling it was still watching her.
Straightening carefully, Tania stood up and looked around. Her absence from the class hadn’t been noticed yet, but it probably wouldn’t be much longer. She looked down at the bear cradled in her arms.
“Yeah, yeah, I know—out,” she muttered. Talk about bossy. She had the feeling she was going to regret this but if she headed back to the entrance, she could probably put the bear into her school bag before anyone noticed. “Happy with that?” she asked.
There was silence, which Tania took as a “yes”.
The attendant at the cloak room gave her a strange look when she reclaimed her bag, perhaps wondering what a girl of her age was doing carrying a teddy bear, but Tania simply ignored her. Sitting down on the bench just inside the museum entrance, she opened her bag and looked inside. Luckily, she’d left her tablet at home today because of the field trip so the bear should fit in. She pulled her lunch box out, put the bear into the bag and replaced the box. There was a muffled ‘oomph’ as the box landed on the bear, but Tania purposely ignored it and zipped the bag closed before settling back to wait for her class to turn up.
She didn’t have long to wait. Nikita’s giggling could be heard at least two rooms away and soon the hall swirled with life. Somehow, her absence hadn’t been noticed and she didn’t have to explain what had happened, which was disappointing because Tania had worked out a perfectly good excuse she’d wanted to try.
She managed to keep her curiosity under control until she got home at four. Her mother wasn’t due home till six, so she had the house to herself for a couple of hours. After pulling the bear out of her school bag, she propped him up against the pillows on the bed and sat down on the floor to study him.
The bear returned the gaze without blinking and Tania wondered if she had imagined it. It took her a moment for her to remember it had been touch that allowed her to hear the voice. Hesitantly, she reached out and touched the bear. Its paw was even cooler than she had imagined it and she wondered if he was dying.
“Help me.” The voice was now the merest hint of a whisper.
“What do you want me to do?”
For a moment she was watching the bear, and then in a blink, the bear had disappeared, she was sitting on the bed, and someone was knocking on her bedroom door.
Shocked, she stared at the place on the bed where the bear had been.
“Tania, you in there?” It was her mother.
A glance at the clock showed her it was five o’clock. “Yeah, come in.” Somehow she’d lost an hour.
“You all right?” Mrs. Martin asked, looking at her with concern.
“I think so. I must have been daydreaming. What are you doing home so early?”
“I’ve got some packing to do.”
Tania raised an eyebrow. “You do?”
Her mother had the grace to look embarrassed. “The company’s picked up a new maintenance and security contract for Vertu Station and they need me to set it up for them. I’ve got to leave in the morning.”
“Mom!” Tania wailed. “What about Mark and Windracer? They’re due next week.”
“I know it’s bad timing, sweetheart, but I don’t have any choice. I thought you might bring them with you when they arrive.”
Tania was about to complain again when she suddenly realized what her mother had said. “Bring them?” she said.
Her mother sat down on the bed next to her. “Mr. Vincent agreed the company would put the three of you up at the Station and would pay for you to join me when school winds up. I know you were looking forward to showing Mark and Windracer around Sydney, but I thought you might be OK with this.”
“The company must really want you out there,” Tania said, trying to work out what she actually felt.
“Are Mark and Windracer going to be allowed to join us?”
“I’ve already spoken to Mark’s parents and his father is going to clear it for Windracer as well, but he doesn’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
“What am I doing till they get here?”
“Mr. Vincent’s offered to have you stay with his family. His daughter’s still at college so there’s a spare bedroom. And he’s agreed to have his chauffeur pick up and deliver you to school.”
“He has a chauffeur?”
“He lost his license about six months ago for speeding. The company is paying for the chauffeur.”
Her mother frowned. “Probably not. But it will only be for a week, until school’s finished, and then the three of you can come up and join me.”
“Why can’t I just go with you tomorrow?”
“It will take me a couple of days to sort out our accommodation at the Station. It sounds as if the previous contractors just pulled out and left a complete disaster behind them. Give me a week and you’ll have my undivided attention.”
Tania snorted at that idea. Mom was a workaholic. But she could put up with that if Mark and Windracer were with her.
“Is it OK?”
Tania nodded, not prepared to make it too easy for her mother.
“Thanks. So, what do you want for dinner? Pizza?”
“Pizza will be fine.”
“OK. I’ll pack three bags for you. One I’ll take with me, another for you to take to the Vincents’ place, and a smaller travel bag for you to bring with you.”
Her mother looked at her, obviously trying to work out how happy she actually was. Tania returned the stare levelly.
Reaching out, her mother ruffled her hair and stood up. “Put everything you want to take with you on the bed.”
Tania surveyed her room after her mother left her. What did she want to take? They’d been here in Sydney for almost a year and a half now, the longest they’d stayed anywhere since her father died, but the room still looked as though she was only visiting. She kept everything she really cared about in the locked case under her bed. It was pathetic, she thought with a sigh.
Bending, she peered under the bed for the case and caught sight of the teddy bear propped up in the farthest corner. He surveyed her without blinking. His paw rested on the tangle of power cables that powered her computer and stereo.
“I was wondering where you’d got to,” she said.
The bear blinked at her slowly, before indicating the two small cables protruding from the back of his paw and plugged into one of the empty sockets. “I am recharging,” he said quietly.
“You can speak!” she squeaked in surprise.
The bear nodded, once.
“How long will it take?”
“Five point six hours.”
“So what are you?” she asked, lying down to get a better look at him, thinking he did seem to have a little more energy.
“I am a bodyguard,” he said, importantly.
“Aren’t you a little small for that?” The picture of him wearing dark glasses and an earplug almost started her giggling.
The bear looked hurt.
“Sorry,” she said, trying to not to smile.
“I was designed as a bodyguard for children.”
“Who by?” At least that didn’t seem so ridiculous.
The bear shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It was a long time ago.”
“I don’t know.” His eyes were shadowed. “A very long time ago,” he offered finally.
“So what happened? Why were you at the museum?”
The bear looked at her for a moment. “I failed to protect the one I was guarding. When she died, her mother put her in a stasis bubble and placed me in its twin to guard her; a task she believed I had failed to achieve in life.”
“That seems a little unfair.”
The bear shrugged, and the silence stretched on uncomfortably.
“So what happened?” she said.
“My power cells must have fallen below the level required to maintain the field. Normally the field is set to allow just enough power through to trickle charge the power source, but something must have gone wrong.”
“So when your battery ran out the field collapsed.”
“When did that happen?”
“Two nights ago.”
Tania remembered what the guide at the museum had said about the theft of the twin to the globe still on display. That must have been the bear’s. So it hadn’t been stolen.
“Tania!” It was her mother.
“Coming, Mom!” she called over her shoulder. “I have to pack,” she said to the bear. “Will you be OK for tomorrow?”
The bear stretched out and touched her hand with his paw. There was a sense of warmth and belonging that left her feeling safe and secure.
“I will see you in the morning,” he said.
And if that wasn’t a dismissal, Tania didn’t know what was. Wriggling backward, she worked her way back from under the bed, pulling her suitcase after her, already thinking about what she needed to pack.
About The Author
ANDREW spent his high-school years in the school’s library lost in the worlds of Andre Norten, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov. Reading in turn led to writing, with the first draft of the Garden Adventures originally completed to read to his two sons at night. Now his children have left home he lives in Perth with his wife, one dog, and sixty four gold fish.
Andrew’s first published short story (A Messenger to the Dragon) appeared in Aurealis – Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1992. In 2016 he signed a three book deal with Canada’s Peasantry Press for a series of three young adult (middle grade), action Science Fiction adventures. The open ended series is a combination of Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries and Andre Norton’s juvenile speculative fiction.
VORTEX ON VERTU PRIME
Book 3 of the Portal Adventures
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