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No, Don’t Touch That…

Oh wow, you shouldn't have touched that...

 

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Has someone ever said to you, “Don’t touch that, it’s [fill in the blank]” and you touched it anyway? We live in a world of warning signs. They are everywhere, but stuff still happens. We touch, we drive, we go where we probably shouldn’t.

My favorite warning sign might be the one on my blowdryer: don’t use in the shower. Whatever prompted that warning was some multitasking gone wrong. 

My whole Project Enterprise series is based on going where no one has gone—and getting smacked for doing it. Because what fun would it be to go somewhere exotic and not have an adventure—if you’re a space traveler. I don’t want adventures when I travel (which is rare—Hermit 101— haha). 

But the “don’t touch” problems are worse in Lost Valyr. Dr. Rachel Grant keeps touching things and pushing buttons and walking down dark hallways—and normally she’d be tagged “too stupid to live” but she’s not stupid. She’s super smart. Her problem is twofold. It’s her job to touch things in the Garradian Outpost of Kikk to find out how it works and—she’s curious. In the same way we’re curious when we touch something we shouldn’t. (I keep wondering why I don’t learn.)

I felt a lot of empathy with Rachel because I sometimes (most of the time) read things (instructions) too fast and then mess up. I just wish I had her sidekick to help me out. Sir Rupert first showed up in “Time Trap,” one of my Pets in Space® stories. 

Here’s an excerpt where Rachel and Sir Rupert are pushing some buttons without knowing exactly what will happen:

It took a little longer than she’d expected before the hatch slid back with a hiss and a burst of old, stale air. 

“I should have brought air freshener with me,” she muttered. 

If the smell bothered the parrot, he didn’t say so.

When the air outside and in had equalized a bit, Rachel stepped inside. 

“This is definitely a transport module.” It was about the size of an elevator, a trait shared by most of the modules she’d used. Like elevators, they went up and down. And sideways. And sometimes it felt like they moved at angles. Someone else was researching the modules, but so far, they hadn’t cracked the secret of how they moved around. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the modules must have stabilizers and dampeners of some kind because they were fast. 

The hatch slid closed, and the interior lit up, as did a transport pad. A pad unlike any she’d seen so far. 

“Well, that’s…interesting.” 

It was a rectangle in overall shape, but on this one, the buttons were also various shapes. Two right triangles, a medium triangle, a square, a parallelogram, and two small triangles. Something about it made her brain twitch. 

“I’ve seen this before,” she murmured.

“It is a tangram,” Sir Rupert said.

“Of course. I got a set as a birthday gift when I was three or four. Kept me busy for a couple of hours.” She’d formed shapes to match the sheet that had accompanied the pieces. When she’d done all the variations, she’d tossed them aside. That had been a tough year for her parents until a neighbor had put them in touch with a support group for parents with annoyingly bright children. She gave a frustrated twitch of her shoulders. She tried not to think about the past. In addition to deflection, she was also good at denial. This most unusual panel was a good distraction. 

She traced the outer edges. No place for her screwdriver to get purchase. As she tried to find an edge, one of the pieces moved, shifting all of them. She took a half step back.

“They move.” Movement did not seem like a good omen. It might have only taken her a couple of hours all those years ago, but back then, she’d had patterns to follow. 

“Yes, they do.” Sir Rupert’s wings moved gently, the touch of his feathers on her neck vaguely comforting. 

She wanted to ask how he knew this because it was obvious that door had not opened for a long time. She put a finger on one of the shapes and pushed until it moved up. All the shapes shifted again. A moving lock with thousands of variations. Crap. “I’m going to guess that only a very specific pattern unlocks this module.”  

Sir Rupert tipped his head to the side, his gaze intent on the tangram. “You are moving that piece the wrong direction.” 

This time she had to look at him. He bobbed his head as if urging her to try it. So she did. She moved the piece as directed. “This way?”

“A little more to the right.” His wings began to flutter faster, moving the air as she moved the triangle. “Slower, move it up—stop!”

She yanked her hand off the tangram and studied it. A half a name for it floated up. Dice something? Cup? 

“That’s a Dice cup, baby.” Her mother’s voice, patient but with an undercurrent of frustration. No wonder—

Rachel uncurled her fingers and flexed them. “Now what?” The tension in her voice bothered her, and she took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. If Sir Rupert noticed—which he must have—he didn’t comment on it. She looked at him in what she hoped was polite inquiry. 

“I must explain—” he stopped.

It was the first time, Rachel had ever thought he might not be majestically calm. 

“If this works, it will become apparent to you that I know things not possible for me to know.” 

Rachel tried to think of a comment. Couldn’t. So she nodded like she understood even though she didn’t. 

“My species has an unusual skill, one that caused us to be hunted to near extinction.”

“Near extinction?” 

“As far as I know, I am the last of my kind.”

“I’m…so sorry.” It seemed massively inadequate. No, it was. She stiffened. “You’re hoping for a lead—” She researched cryogenics and he’d attached himself to her. She needed to think about that, but not right now.  

“Yes. The Garradians were scientists, researchers. Anything and everything interested them.” 

There was another long pause as if he was ordering his thoughts. Or editing them. And she still didn’t understand exactly what he was confessing. The special skill? 

As if he followed her thought process, he broke the silence. “My species can see echoes, ghosts if you will, of living species. We see layers of time, dimensions. When the skill is honed, we can sort through the images and piece them together in their own time and space.”

A bunch of questions wanted to crowd out her mouth, so she kept it closed and just nodded as she tried to process this. 

“So…you can see, say people—” Garradians? “—who used this module? You can see them working that?” She nodded at the tangram. 

“That is a simplified version of what I see.” He ruffled his feathers. “For me, this module is very full. The patterns overlaid with each other. I have to…drill down through the layers to find the one I need. This time, many of the images did the same thing. That was helpful.” 

Rachel made a sound she hoped was also helpful. One thing he’d done is clear everything but this moment from her head. She tried to think what it would be like to be here and seeing the past— “So you see the past?” 

He hesitated his beak angling away from her. “I do.” 

What else did he see? Did she want to know? Not while wearing a red shirt, she decided. 

* * * * * 

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and maybe felt some sympathy for poor Rachel who is just trying to do her job. You can find out more about Lost Valyr here.

Have you ever pushed or touched something you shouldn’t? Did you learn not to do that (and if you did, could you tell me how?)

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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