Thirteen-year-old Takara Takahashi had an unusual but rewarding life living with her father, a prominent researcher in virtual reality and automation, on a stable and prosperous space colony known as 29. But then disaster struck in the form of a car accident. Takara’s father was killed, and Takara fell into a coma. When Takara finally awakes months later it is to a life she can’t recognize. Suddenly, she is under the control of one of her father’s business partners — a strange man who takes on a hostile attitude toward Takara. But what could be the reason for his hostility? As Takara struggles to understand her new position in this strange new world, the question becomes will she be able to escape from the man’s twisted web of lies with her life?
Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo
Many decades earlier, technology had advanced far enough to make space colonization a possibility. Of course, not everything could be anticipated. Most of these unexpected issues were able to be worked around without incident. There were, however, some major issues that weren’t able to be gotten around. Those “issues” were the nebula reapers: entities of strength, speed, and ferociousness. The nebula reapers attacked ships and their passengers and consumed them regularly. Fortunately, the creatures would hibernate periodically in clusters, and the first attempts at containing them in energy force fields seemed to work. There were many roving groups of these creatures, and one such group was spotted and contained close to the doomed planet of Colony 52.
Colony 52 hadn’t planned on using its force fields to contain the nebula reapers; it was just a fluke that seemed to work. At first, it was actually a source of pride for Colony 52 that they had stumbled upon a solution to the nebula-reaper problem that other colonies would later emulate. The colonists believed the containment field would be a solution – that the nebula reapers were merely a temporary inconvenience. After all, how long could they live in there? Only they didn’t die — at least not enough of them — and their presence started to scare off supply traffic to Colony 52. As the years passed, the resources of Colony 52 began to dwindle, and the fear of the nebula reaper’s looming threat increased. The colonists of 52 were no longer the vanquishers of the reapers. The reapers were winning — patiently waiting out their captors.
Then one day, disaster struck and an explosion from a then unknown source ripped through space. The cluster of nebula reapers on Colony 52 was freed. Tragically, it wasn’t long afterwards that most of the inhabitants of the tiny planet were gone — more than likely consumed by the nebula reapers.
What was more, this group of nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their captivity. This development made the nebula reapers particularly difficult to contain, and, therefore, a larger threat to the other colonies and their citizenry. Their increased level of aggressiveness, cunning, and even speed was unexpected and alarming. Each reaper also seemed to no longer have a problem attacking its own. Oftentimes, they no longer felt the need to travel as a group. However, when they did move as a unit, they found they had an ample supply of things to feed off of when contained.
Far away from the remains of Colony 52, there was a tiny planet known as Colony 29. It was a planet rich in resources. Because of this plentitude, the colony developed a large scientific community. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the news of the outcome of Colony 52 came to the attention of the Security Force that help from Colony 29 was sought. In particular, there was one man named Dr. Hayato Takahashi [Ha-ya-to Ta-ka-ha-shee], a leading researcher and the founder of the renowned Virtual Reality and Robotics Institute, who was approached for assistance.
Since the nebula reapers were no longer able to be consistently contained as a group, the Security Force was open to new ideas. And Dr. Hayato Takahashi had the most innovative concept of all the scientists on Colony 29 — arming the individual for ground combat. At least this way a person would stand a fighting chance against a rogue reaper. Dr. Takahashi had actually been working on the concept for years despite other people’s insistence that the nebula-reaper threat had been resolved. But Dr. Takahashi persisted. And, though he had yet to complete his work, there were rumors all over Colony 29 that a breakthrough was imminent — that was until Dr. Takahashi’s untimely demise.
Takara Takahashi [Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee] had been in a hospital bed for months. She had been in a coma that entire time. No one knew exactly why she was unconscious for so long. True, the concussion she had sustained was severe, but all of the tests showed that her brain activity was normal. It was particularly difficult to be a doctor on such a scientifically advanced colony and not be able to help a patient. Everything Dr. Thatcher had tried seemed to do nothing. Takara just continued to lie there day after day – so still … so very still. One of the nurses suggested Takara seemed as though she was waiting for something. But what? Another offered that Takara looked like Snow White with her long, straight black hair and wan complexion. The only part of that observation that had been helpful to Dr. Thatcher was the comment about Takara’s complexion. The severe paleness was a sign that Takara’s health was poor. Dr. Thatcher just couldn’t figure out the reason Takara’s health was no longer improving. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until the hospital ran out of room and had to move Mrs. Taylor, a rather talkative patient, in with Takara that a breakthrough occurred.
Mrs. Taylor was waiting to have surgery several days after her admittance. Given that Mrs. Taylor was something of a social butterfly, after visiting hours she would talk to Takara about a television program she was watching or about what the weather was like outside of their shared window. Then one day, as Mrs. Taylor was recovering from her surgery, Takara finally opened her eyes. Mrs. Taylor quickly pressed the nurse’s call button repeatedly.
“Hurry! It’s a miracle! She’s awake!”
The nurses arrived soon after; still, Mrs. Taylor felt as though it had been a long time. Mrs. Taylor had been afraid the girl’s eyes would drift shut again, and that the hospital staff would think Mrs. Taylor was just loopy from her pain medication. Fortunately, the girl’s eyes were still open when the nurses got to her. Oddly enough, as they looked upon Takara they noted that Takara’s eyes seemed to be fixated on the ceiling. Mrs. Taylor was rather insulted when one of the two nurses then pulled the curtain closed between Mrs. Taylor and Takara thereby blocking Mrs. Taylor’s view.
“There’s gratitude for you!” Mrs. Taylor exclaimed.
Not long after that, Dr. Thatcher arrived and went beyond the curtain. As he emerged moments later and seemed to be leaving the room again, Mrs. Taylor spoke, “See it’s all the talking I did. The girl just needed to hear a human voice.”
Dr. Thatcher wasn’t sure what to make of Takara’s stare. Her eyes were responsive to light, but she just stared unseeingly forward. Eventually, he snapped his fingers next to the side of her face; however, instead of her eyes moving to the side, they just started to water. Then, about a minute later, her eyes shifted over, and she looked squarely at the doctor. Next, her eyes slid from person to person until she had looked at every one of the medical staff who was staring down at her.
“Let’s remove the feeding tube.” the doctor mentioned.
Takara coughed violently as the tube was removed. Then suddenly, Takara sat straight up in bed.
“Father!” she screamed. “Father!!”
Takara then pulled her knees up to her chest and wept.
“Honey!” a nurse called out. The nurse placed her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.
Takara’s lip quivered as she looked back at the nurse.
“Where — where’s my father?” Takara finally got up the nerve to ask.
The medical professionals looked amongst one another.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Takara’s voice cracked. Her voice didn’t sound right to her; it sounded hollow. “Where is he?”
“Should I get her a sedative?” one nurse whispered.
“No. We can’t risk that.” The doctor leaned down beside Takara’s bed.
“I’m very sorry, Takara. There was an accident. Your father died.”
Takara’s brows furrowed in disbelief. Then, she buried her face in her hands and began quietly sobbing.
“She’ll be all right.” the doctor concluded. He looked at the nurses, who looked helplessly back at him. Dr. Thatcher hadn’t considered what would happen when Takara woke up. Dr. Thatcher had been so preoccupied by whether she would wake up at all that he hadn’t considered what would become of her if she did. When she came into the ER, Dr. Thatcher had seen her with her father — wheeled in on gurneys side by side. He had handled thirteen-year-old Takara’s case. Later, when he heard her father hadn’t made it, he somehow still viewed them as a unit. Now it occurred to him that the young girl was alone. There hadn’t been a single visitor. How could that be, and what would become of Takara now?
“Who’s been paying the bills?” the doctor whispered to one of the nurses.
He received an odd look from the nurse.
“I’m trying to figure out whom we should contact.”
“Oh.” the nurse looked at the girl. “I’ll go find out.”
The first nurse left the room.
“Would you like something to eat or drink?” the other nurse asked Takara. Then, she paused abruptly. She turned toward the doctor. “Is that okay? You haven’t updated her chart.”
“Yes. Only start her on a clear liquid diet.”
“Yes, Doctor.” the second nurse stated before she also left.
Doctor Thatcher waited anxiously for the first nurse to return. Eventually, Takara looked up at him through her tears. The doctor looked at her.
“I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way.” he awkwardly put forth.
Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back halfway. The first nurse had returned, and she was carrying in her arms a small brown bear with a purple ribbon tied around its neck.
“I wasn’t sure what you would like. I’ve always liked teddy bears, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
She offered the toy to Takara. Takara looked at it quizzically for a moment then reached out and took it.
The doctor looked at the nurse expectantly. She gestured with her head that they should talk off to the side.
“The bill’s been paid by her father’s institution. There is no other contact information. I’m afraid there might not be anyone who can take responsibility for her. After all, she’s had no visitors.” the nurse informed the doctor.
“Oh yes, she has.” Mrs. Taylor spoke up.
Mrs. Taylor was a bit surprised by the look on the medical professionals’ faces. But then she realized they must have thought she was asleep. She hadn’t really done anything to make them think otherwise. After all, they were used to her speaking nonstop when she was awake.
“At least I believe so.” Mrs. Taylor corrected. When the look on their faces suggested they were going to dismiss her account, she added that the man only came once — the first night Mrs. Taylor was in the room. “I never saw him after that. The strange thing was he left right away when he saw me. At the time I thought he had the wrong room, but then he had burst in here as though he knew for sure where he was going. Still, as I said, he never did come back.”
The doctor and the nurse looked at one another unsure of what to make of Mrs. Taylor’s story. If someone had come looking for Takara, then that could be a good thing. But then why would he come at night? And why would he leave and not return?
“Well, go ahead and call the phone number of the Institute. Maybe they can locate some sort of will or something. If we can’t find a suitable guardian for this girl … Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with before we go there.”
The nurse filed out. The doctor left as well. He figured there was no point in being around until things were settled. Still, Mrs. Taylor was surprised the staff would leave that young girl alone again.
Mrs. Taylor reached out to the curtain. It took some effort and some stretching to get a handle on the fabric; finally, she grasped the divider with two fingers. It took a couple of attempts before she was able to open the curtain wide enough to see the girl.
The girl was looking straight ahead. At first, Mrs. Taylor wasn’t sure the girl was aware that the curtain had been moved. But then suddenly, she looked over at the woman with curiosity.
“Hey, I’m going to be your roommate for a while. It must be very hard for you that you’ve lost so much time.”
Takara’s forehead crinkled.
“How long has it been?”
“Well, I’m not sure. It’s just that the doctors and nurses acted as though it’s been awhile.”
“Well, what day is it?” Takara asked.
“I’m not sure exactly.” Mrs. Taylor reached over and grabbed a newspaper from off her nightstand.
“March 29th.” Mrs. Taylor read.
“The last thing I remember was going to a New Year’s Eve party with my father …” Takara began blankly. “We went into a limousine afterward. I think there was ice on the road that night. Could that have been it … what caused this to happen to us?”
Takara touched her head with her hand suddenly. There was pain there. It started when she saw a flash of something in her mind she didn’t want to think about. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.
Takara instead decided to focus on the memories she had from the time right before the accident. Then again, in a way it was more painful thinking of those last moments with her father. They had been attending a New Year’s Eve gala. They had been introduced to the large gathering below while standing at the top of a very large staircase. Takara had worn a long red velvet dress; her hair was pulled back in a braided updo. Takara usually wore her hair in a loose braid, but this was a special occasion. She had even accentuated her hair with red jeweled barrettes. Over her hands, Takara carried a white muff.
Takara’s father, a man of medium height, escorted Takara down the staircase. Her father was always a distinguished man with a kind smile and a pair of small spectacles on his face. This night he replaced his white lab coat for a dark gray suit. He usually worked so hard that Takara wasn’t able to have her father’s full attention very often. But this night her father had made time for her, and Takara couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Takara guessed that the dress she had worn that night must have been ruined in the crash. But that locket her father had given her for her birthday, was that also gone? She needed something to hold on to. Takara looked at the bear. She grasped it to her chest and lay back down on the bed. Takara felt exhausted. She had been unconscious for over three months; maybe she’d slip back under once more. Takara’s eyes watered and tears slipped down her face. Did she really want to stay awake? But then the question of what might happen to her if she did fall away again came to Takara’s mind. She wiped her eyes.
Takara realized that she didn’t have any real control over her future. Yet, if there was something she could do to improve her chances, she decided she would try. The first thing she wanted to do was to get out of this bed and eventually out of this hospital. Takara wanted to sleep in her own bed again.
“Teddy bear,” she whispered. “You’ll like my room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals there you can be friends with.”
Takara curled up in a ball on her side with Teddy wrapped in her arms.
“It will be nice to sleep …”
It was dark when Takara woke up again. Her first thought was one of wondering how long she’d been asleep. Her second thought was one of wondering what that form was that was looming by her side.
“Doctor?” Takara whispered.
Takara could see the man’s eyes glisten from the dim light streaming in from the outdoor street lamps. When there was no reply — only breathing — Takara began to freak out.
“Who are you?” she gasped as she lurched backward on her bed.
Takara turned away and began to scream as the man seemed to reach for her. Suddenly, the light by Mrs. Taylor’s bed came on.
“What’s going on? Are you all right, girl? I’m calling for a nurse!”
Takara could see the man retract from her bed. Takara squinted at him.
“Mr. Tyler?” Takara murmured.
Suddenly, the nurse entered the room and was redirected by Mrs. Taylor to Takara’s bedside. The doctor came in soon after, seemingly fearing the worst; instead, they found a strange, thin man of medium height with slightly disheveled, stringy, pale blond hair standing by Takara’s bedside. Despite the girl’s frantic look, the man appeared as though nothing was unusual. His striking business attire made him appear to be less than threatening. Still …
“Hello, you must be Takara’s doctor.” The man offered the hesitant doctor his hand. “I’m Mr. Tyler. I was a colleague of Dr. Takahashi at the Institute … I just received your phone call.”
“Oh, yes.” the doctor said, taking in the scene. “I just wasn’t informed by the nurse’s station that you had checked in.”
“Oh, I didn’t.”
The doctor had taken up Mr. Tyler’s hand; now, he released it.
“You wouldn’t happen to be the one who Mrs. Taylor saw in this room the other day – the one who came to see Takara.”
“Yes, that was me.” the man said, situating the vase on a nearby bedside table to his liking. “I lost my nerve I’m afraid to say. I didn’t know what to say to the child … assuming she could even hear me.” Mr. Tyler looked up. “So, is she ready to be released?”
“I’m afraid not.” the doctor said. “I’ve set up some tests tomorrow to make sure she is all right. I wouldn’t feel right about releasing her until I was sure she was ready.”
Mr. Tyler looked over at Takara.
“Yes, of course. Well, call the Institute again, and I’ll send someone to pick her up.”
“I’m sorry but do you have the authority to take her?”
“Oh, yes.” Takara was surprised when Mr. Tyler pulled something out of his breast pocket. “Here. I am the executor of the estate. I also went to the trouble of becoming Takara’s guardian.”
The doctor took the form and looked it over just to be sure. This whole situation left Dr. Thatcher with an uneasy feeling, but he couldn’t pinpoint a valid objection. He handed back the document. Takara watched the document as it was passed back and forth.
“Do I get to go home?” she asked.
“As soon as you’re released.” Mr. Tyler said without looking at her. He put the form back into his pocket. “As I’ve said, contact the Institute again, and we’ll pick her up.”
Mr. Tyler headed for the door.
Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019