by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 6 appeared in issue 180.
In the somewhat distant future, Japanese and Arab emigrants share a small planet where they live in separate colonies. They name the planet Hon’ya, ‘world of books’ because the Arabs are a ‘people of the Book’. The Japanese colony into which Skoshi is born has reverted to ancient social norms whereby women are severely repressed and treated as chattel.
Nonetheless, Skoshi acquires an education by stealthily reading books from her father’s large library. While she contemplates with dread an arranged marriage, the premature death of her beloved younger brother frees her to flee with grandmother. A brilliant student, Skoshi integrates very successfully among foreigners in the Space Corps. But she and her grandmother are being pursued...
And so the days went on. Cynthia followed Skoshi around, constantly. Finally, though, the Donvals’ stop came. The Donvals’ shook hands with everyone and Cynthia tried to give Skoshi a kiss. Fortunately Skoshi was able to duck in time.
As they went down the platform Cynthia turned and called, “Takshi, you’ll write, won’t you?” But before Skoshi could answer Cynthia spied the new diplomat’s assistant. She was down the ramp in a second, and Skoshi could hear her saying, “Oh, hello, it’s nice to meet you. I really admire men in the diplomatic corps, such a noble choice. I wonder... can I call you...” Skoshi shook her head, poor boy.
Skoshi turned to go back into the ship. “Wait, Mr. Hara,” the captain said. “We have more passengers.”
Coming up the ramp was a family of four. A man, a woman and two little kids. “Welcome aboard, Jeremy,” said the captain. “Silvia, ah, and little Hannah. You too, Daniel. I’m glad to have you aboard.”
“Thank you, James. It’s good to be aboard.”
* * *
The guest where astrophysicists, Jeremy and Silvia Miguel. Their children, Hannah and Daniel, were twins. Cute kids, they seemed very well behaved. All through dinner they were quiet as mice. Their parents, however, were talking the whole time. The captain knew Jeremy and Silvia from when they were kids. The couple had come on board to go to the colony that was a couple of stops down the line. Instead of paying for tickets they were going to work on the bridge.
They began discussing shifts and off times to make sure they could still have time for themselves and the kids. They both would have eight hours on and eight hours off. The only problem was that they had a four-hour overlap from before dinner and bedtime four days a week. The other days the overlap was in the morning.
The captain, however, came up with the brilliant idea of a babysitter. “Mr. Hara,” he said, turning to Skoshi, “would be a wonderful babysitter. And I’m sure your children would be no trouble. He would be delighted. Wouldn’t you, Mr. Hara?”
“Uh... of... course, sir?” Skoshi replied, surprised. Babysitting duty? Joy.
“Good, good, capital, capital. Now that’s settled let me show you the ship. Oh, and Mr. Hara. Please make sure that both the water heaters are working in the passenger cabins this time.”
All around the officers’ table there were grins and slight coughs. “Yes, sir,” Skoshi answered, smiling.
* * *
And so Skoshi’s new career began: ensign and babysitter extraordinaire. She did go to the captain and ask why she had been... uh... privileged with this assignment. The captain’s reply had been that he believed she was more “equipped for childcare than Mr. Donavan.”
And so she babysat. It wasn’t all that hard. On the days when her shift was in the morning, the children would just follow her around asking questions; fairly intelligent ones, too, even if they were only seven. “Taki,” they would say. They had a hard time pronouncing oriental names, so, she was Taki. “Taki, what are you doing with that relay?”
“Taki, why did you go in that tube? What does it do?”
All that didn’t bother Skoshi too much. What was nasty was when she had to feed them dinner and put them to bed. First of all, they had to sit with her, one on each side. And then they only liked certain things on certain nights. On Monday they had to have Brussels sprouts, but if they were served on Wednesday they refused to touch them.
Then there was bedtime. Skoshi had to kiss Hannah’s dolly, and Daniel’s truck. Then she had to tuck them in and sing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” about five million times. And even that wouldn’t be so bad if only Donny didn’t tease her about it constantly.
“Taki, will you kiss my dolly? Taki, sing again Taki!!!” He would say. Finally, though, ‘Taki’ had quite enough so a little plan was formed, with the twins’ full knowledge and support.
One night ‘Taki’ fed the kids their dinner, and put them to bed. Then she went back to the officers’ mess to talk some. A little while later, Hannah came in with her dolly. Of course Donny took the opportunity to tease about it. That is until Hannah came up to him. “Uncle Donny,” she said, “kiss my dolly goodnight.”
“Uncle Donny” went bright red, “Uh... don’t you want ‘Taki’ to do that?”
“Nope, he already did. I want you to, Uncle Donny. I won’t be able to sleep if you don’t.”
“Uh... um... are you sure you don’t want ‘Taki’ to do that?”
“NO! I want you to do it. An’ you have to. The captain says you have to be nice. And it isn’t nice not to kiss my dolly when I ask you to. So there! Now kiss her!”
“Ok, okay. Uhh...” Then... grimacing, he bent down and kissed her dolly.
“Thank you, Uncle Donny.” Hannah said sweetly, and then she reached up and kissed him. Then she skipped back to bed. Donny had been red before, but now he looked like a lobster. As soon as she left the room the rest of the officers burst out laughing.
“Thank you, Uncle Donny!!!” They said in unison. Then they dissolved into laughter again.
* * *
Having the twins around wasn’t too much trouble. Unless they wanted to be, that is. People don’t give kids the credit they deserve. Some people say, “Oh, they’re only seven, they don’t know any better, they don’t mean any harm.” Well, that may be the case with normal kids, but not with these kids. Life was never dull... at least for Skoshi.
Take for example the first day of babysitting. The twins wanted a tour of the ship, so Skoshi took them. They were fairly well behaved, until they got to engineering.
When they got to engineering Mr. Cartwright hurried over to say hello to the kids, and Hannah wanted to see the computer display. So off they all went. Suddenly a loud wailing filled the air. On looking around, the first thing Skoshi noticed was that Daniel was gone, and the second was that he was very close to where the wailing was coming from. Mr. Cartwright hurried over and deactivated the alarm. Daniel came over. “Daniel, did you push any buttons?” Skoshi asked.
“Yeah, I did. It made a great sound, didn’t it?” Daniel replied, grinning ear to ear.
Mr. Cartwright looked solemnly down at Daniel. “Young man, you should never push buttons in engineering unless the chief engineer says you can. You could have caused a lot of trouble. Understand?”
“Roger,” was Daniels reply.
Skoshi had the worrisome thought that he had only said “Roger.” Roger only meant ‘I hear’; it had nothing to do with ‘I will.’
Then there was the time they snuck down to hydroponics and decided to change all the plants around. It had taken a quarter of the crew two hours just to start putting it back into order again.
Oh, it went on and on. They were great kids, smart, funny, entertaining. They just seemed to have a knack for... well... blowing things up so to speak, and as “babysitter” Skoshi was often held responsible.
Hannah and Daniel were bored. ‘Taki’ had left them with their mom and had gone off to do something with the tubes in the middle of the ship. There really was nothing much to do. There was no video panel, they had already read all the books they had brought with them, and after that incident with the jam the captain wouldn’t let them read any more of the ship’s books. It’s not like it was their fault. How were they supposed to know that books, the zero gravity training room, and jam don’t mix?
Then their mom came in. “Kids, I’m really tired from work, will you two be good if I go shut my eyes for fifteen minutes?”
“Of course Mom. Don’t you trust us?” was Hannah’s reply.
“Dear, I’m you’re mother, and I love you. But trust you? No, actually I don’t. You’re both too much like your parents.” Then she gave them a kiss and retreated to her room.
“Well, That’s that. Now there’s really nothing to do. Unless... Come on Hannah!” Daniel bolted out of the room, dragging Hannah behind him.
The twins’ snuck through the ship, ducking whenever they saw a crewman. “Where are we going?” Hannah whispered.
“Shhhhhh! We’re going to find Taki. He has to be around somewhere!” Daniel replied.
“Don’t you remember anything? He told Mama that he had to go check something in the hydraulics system. And you get to the hydraulics system by going through the aft tubes, by the waste disposal.”
“How do you know?”
“It was on a map in Mama and Dads room.”
“Well, where are we now?”
“We’re right underneath the tube. Hurry, I’ll give you a boost.” They stood and Daniel helped Hannah into the tube. “Are you in?”
“Good, hurry, pull me in. Mama will wake up pretty soon.” Hannah pulled him into the tube.
“Now which way?”
“Uh... right.” They began crawling to the right. “Left here.” “Down.” And so on. Finally they came to the hydraulics room. Sure enough, there was ‘Taki’.
“Taki!” Hannah began to say, when Daniel hand went across her mouth.
“Sshhh!! Be quiet! We don’t want to disturb him! We’re just watching him! Boy, even if you are my twin, you can be awful dumb sometimes.”
“What? Who’s dumb? I’m the one who covered for you the time the captain almost found you in his room!”
“Yeah, I guess so. Okay, I’m sorry I said you were dumb.”
“You better be.”
“Hey! Look, he’s gone”
“Where did he go?”
“You weren’t watching?”
Hannah gave Daniel a withering look. “Of course not, Dodo! I was arguing with you!”
“Sorry! Hey, look, he left some Hydraulic fluid there. Hannah, remember how in the last room there was a bottle of bleach?”
“Go get it.”
“You know how Mama told Dad that hydraulic fluid and bleach made smoke? Lots of smoke? I want to see if it really works.”
A smile spread across Hannah’s face, a smile that would strike fear into any babysitter’s heart. “Okay! I’ll be back in a minute.”
And, true to her word, Hannah came back in a few minutes lugging a bottle of bleach. “Here you go!” she said. Slowly, they snuck into the hydraulics room. They found an empty container and poured the translucent purple liquid into the container. Then, holding their noses, they opened the bleach. Slowly at first, they began to pour the bleach into the fluid. A thin tendril of smoke, purple smoke began spiraling into the air. Soon the air was full of purple smoke. Within seconds the smoke alarms began going crazy.
Meanwhile, in engineering there was widespread havoc. Mrs. Miguel was here wondering if her kids had turned up to try to find their ‘Taki’. The smoke alarms for the hydraulics room were deafening. Skoshi came in and was greeted by an enraged Mr. Cartwright demanding to know what was going on in the hydraulics room, and a worried Mrs. Miguel wondering where her children where.
As soon as Skoshi heard that the twins were missing, a bright light came on in her mind. “Sir,” she said, “I have a good idea what happened in the hydraulics room. Begging your pardon, Mrs. Miguel, but I think the mice got into it.”
“Mice?” Mrs. Miguel was clearly mystified. Then, “Oh! You mean my children. I assure you, ‘mice’ is quite polite in comparison to some names they have been given.”
“Okay. Now, I need three smoke masks, in case the smoke is toxic, and I also need a set of goggles.” Then, having got her supplies, she made her way back to hydraulics.
When she got there a foul smelling gas greeted her. She was also greeted by two small cheerful voices. Once assured that the twins where fine she made her way over to the ventilation valve and turned it to full on.
Then she collected the twins and herded them back to engineering. When they got back into the light Skoshi could see that the smoke had stained the twins an impossibly bright shade of purple. Aside from that, they where fine. In fact, the first words out of their mouths were. “Boy, Mama, you were right! Hydraulic fluid and bleach does make a lot of smoke.”
* * *
The twins stood at attention facing the captain. Behind them stood their parents and Skoshi.
“Do you children have any idea how much trouble you caused today? How much worry? And what danger you could have been in?”
“Uh... yes, sir?” was Daniel’s reply.
“Mixing chemicals is extremely dangerous! Not something to be done lightly! And not something done just ‘to make lots of smoke’! Understand?”
Hannah sighed. “Yes, sir,” she said, not sounding at all like she was listening.
“Now, since the damage was done to my ship your parents have given me permission to mete out any punishment I think necessary. First, since you seem so inquisitive about chemistry, and are determined to do it, even at the risk of blowing up the ship, you will learn to do it right! Mr. Hara will spend an hour every day teaching you the elementary concepts of it. Including chemical safety!”
Skoshi uttered a barely audible groan. Ignoring her, the captain went on. “Second, you will personally scrub the walls of the hydraulics room, supervised mind you, until they are white again instead of bright purple. Understood?”
“Yes sir!” was the twins’ delighted reply. They had wanted to learn chemistry for a long time.
After the twins and their parents had left, Skoshi turned to the captain. “Captain, may I speak to you as your potential granddaughter instead of just another ensign?”
“Well, I guess so. It can’t hurt.”
“What did I do? It wasn’t my fault Grandma was taken back to Hon’ya. It really wasn’t. My father wasn’t even conceived yet!” Skoshi said.
“Skoshi... what are you talking about?” The captain asked, clearly confused.
“The twins! Chemistry? Just a question... do you want me to die?”
“Die? No! Of course not! I meant elementary chemistry. Don’t overreact. And dying has nothing to do with it. How would you die?”
“They’re seven. And I would die the same way the rest of us will when the twins blow up the ship by mixing something really dangerous together!... I... I’m sorry Captain. I guess I am overreacting a little.
“But, sir, why me? Again? I mean I’m already their babysitter. Now I’m their chemistry teacher. What did I do wrong? Why am I being punished? Did I even do anything wrong? Or is this just a sick mind game that captains play on ensigns for the sole purpose of driving them insane? Did you pay the Miguels to come on board? Are you coaching the twins?” With that, Skoshi dissolved into a somewhat hysterical sobbing. After a few minutes she seemed to calm down. Only then did the captain start to speak.“Skoshi, I realize that you have been under a lot of stress lately. And I have seen stronger men crack under less strain. In fact, I admire you for not strangling the twins yet. But despite that, you are still the best person to deal with the twins. And not just because you are a woman. But because, one: You haven’t killed them. And no, trying to kill them will not get you out of it.
“And two: Because you are the only person besides their parents who they even come close to respecting. You are the only one of my officers I would trust to teach them chemistry and not either strangle them or go insane. This displays a lot of confidence in you, especially as to the latter. There, do you understand now?”
After the short bout of hysteria Skoshi had calmed considerably. Now she seemed in complete control of herself. “Yes sir. I believe I understand now. I’m sorry for the scene before. It will never happen again.”
“Now, Skoshi, don’t promise that. You don’t know what other tasks I might give you. I won’t hold you to it.” Thinking she was dismissed, Skoshi got up to leave. “Oh, Skoshi, by the way, we have another passenger coming aboard. A... Mr. Grimes. He will travel with us to Morsar. He has some business there. No, don’t worry, I won’t ask you to do anything. But do try to keep the twins out of his hair.”
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Allen