by Jo Ann Montgomery
The space barge was quiet, the occupants--except for Herc Stormsailor, the captain--being asleep. Herc could not sleep; he had a strange feeling coming over him, as if someone--or something--were trying to warn him of some danger. But who? And what was the danger?
Herc decided to make the rounds on the Pride of the Skies II one more time. He passed by each of the cargo holds, the galley, the control room, Gillian's laboratory, and so on. Not a one held anything unusual or foreboding.
Lastly, Herc checked the crew's quarters. Each of these rooms had special monitors reserved for emergencies. Herc used these monitors to check the rooms now. Nothing was unusual in these rooms, either. Jayce and Oon shared a room, and both were sleeping soundly. The small suit of living armor was curled up in his bed with his lance. His magic lance, or so Oon claimed.
Jayce slept nearby, shirtless, but still wearing his headband, the pendant with the root, the magical Ring of Light, and his wrist communicator. At the moment, Jayce looked like an ordinary teenager, not the leader of the Lightning League that he was. Herc moved on to Gillian's room.
The old wizard slept like he always did--floating three feet over the bed. His gnarled hands held his wooden staff as it rested on top of the wizard's body. Gillian was snoring loudly, his body floating gently up and down as he inhaled and exhaled his breath. Herc just shook his head and moved on.
As Herc passed Flora's room, he hard tiny moans and gasps. Concerned, the captain flicked on the monitor and looked in on the plant child.
She was tossing and turning in her hammock, her blanket in disarray. Herc could not tell from looking in the monitor, but she seemed to be sweating. Really worried now, Herc opened the door and rushed in.
Flora sat bolt upright--which was not easy in a hammock--just as Herc reached her. She began gasping for breath and crying. Herc hugged her to him, brushing his hand in her hair.
"Easy, honey," he whispered softly, trying to calm her down. "Is it the insect sting? Is it still bothering you?"
"Y...y...yes," she sniffed. The bug that had stung Flora had been like a big bee, or was--about the size of two of the root pendants placed next to each other. Butwhen Gillian had checked Flora for any signs of poison, there was none.
"A bug that size doesn't need poison," Herc had said. "It could kill you with just the stinger!"
Now his words came back to haunt him. Flora did not lose much blood; at least, not at first, though there was a good amount of blood later. Herc checked her again. The bandage over the wound showed very little of the child's blood, so maybe the bleeding had finally stopped. Leaning her back, Herc gently removed the medical tape and the gauze pad from Flora's shoulder.
Upon seeing the wound, Herc leapt up and punched the intercom button near the child's bed.
"Gillian! Get in Flora's room, quickly! The wound's been infected!" Herc cried desperately into the speaker. Before he had turned around, Gillian was in the room. The wizard-scientist went over to Flora and checked the jagged wound for himself.
He was still checking when, moments later, Jayce and Oon rushed into the room. Jayce had moved so fast that he had not bothered to put his shirt back on.
"What is it?" Jayce asked anxiously. He saw Flora in her hammock, the infected wound black, blue, red, and purple on her right shoulder.
"The stinger wound is infected, Jayce," Gillian said calmly. Gillian always spoke calmly. The wizard claimed that excitement could make his old heart beat too fast, leading to heart failure. He might be right. Gillian had rarely spoken with a raised voice, and he was now over a thousand years old!
"Can you do anything for her?" Jayce asked. He looked helplessly at his younger "sister". He reached over and felt Flora's forehead. It was burning with fever.
"I can drain the wound and apply an ointment that would help, but draining the infection would also drain away more blood, and she can't afford to lose much more."
"What's her blood type?" Herc asked. He held out his arm. "If it's the same as mine, I'll gladly donate my blood for her!"
"That goes for me, too!" Jayce replied, holding out is own, bare arm.
"I would, too, if I had any blood!" Oon piped up. Oon was not the bravest of Eternal Squires, but he loved Flora, and would do anything to help her. He loved all his friends, and would do all he could to help them. Even Herc.
"It's not that simple," Gillian said. "Flora is part plant. She needs blood from the same source as herself."
"Another plant child?" Jayce asked.
"Great! And where are we going to find one of those? " Herc asked. Flora was the only such being that he knew of, except for the Swamp Witch, and the Lightning League had no way of contacting the plant sorceress.
"I don't know," Gillian admitted sadly.
They did not know that the solution to their problem had just arrived on the barge. A glowing hole had opened in the air in one of the cargo holds, swirling like a whirlpool of light. From out of this whirlpool, a young girl appeared. She was dressed in a red dress and green boots. Her hair, as red as her dress, was swept up into two, wide, ponytails. A long braid hung in back. She seemed to be about seven years old. Anyone looking at her would see a strong resemblance to Flora.
"I'm here," she whispered into a communicator on her wrist. It looked like a smaller version of the one Jayce wore. "What do I do now, Daddy?"
"Proceed to locate Gillian: Only he can help you in your mission," came the reply. The voice would sound very familiar to anyone listening in on the conversation. "Be careful, Rose. I love you."
"I love you too, Daddy," Rose replied. Carefully, the red-girl made her way through the vast ship. She had a lot of ground to cover, and not much time.
"What is it, Boss?" asked K.O.Kruiser. The Monster Mind--a humanoid plant--held he wrecking ball in his hand. His boss, a plant-man just as hideous as his general, looked off into the distance.
"I feel something... Flora, the plant child is dying from a large wound. It is infected, and if she loses any more blood, she will die," Saw Boss announced. His troopers cheered. Without Flora to warn them of the Monster Minds' approach, the Lightning League could be caught unawares, and finally defeated.
"But I also feel something else," he went on. "A presence that feels the same as the girl. But how? She is the only plant-child in existence! There are no others!"
"That we know of, Boss," Gun Grinner said. "Maybe Gillian created another one."
The Monster Minds' leader thought about this. Gillian and Audric had grown Flora from a flower. Could the old wizard-scientist do so again, on his own? Saw Boss would not put it past the magic-maker.
"But why?" Saw Boss asked. "Why create another plant-child?"
"A playmate for Flora?" Terror Tank asked. The other Monster Minds looked at the metal-eating plant-man with a mixture of disgust and amusement. Terror Tank could be so thick-headed sometimes!
"Whatever the reason, it may spell trouble for us. Make ready the vines! We will attack the Pride of the Skies II, and take the Lightning League prisoner. If the 'presence' I felt is among them, we will destroy her--or him--as well!"
Gun Grinner, Terror Tank, K.O. Kruiser, Beast Walker and Lunch Tank scurried from the room, eager to do their boss' bidding.
"INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!" the computerized warning system blared through the ship. Red lights flashed on and off in every room and hold.
Leaving Gillian to take care of Flora, Jayce--who briefly stopped in his quarters to finish dressing--Herc, and Oon hurried to the barge's control bridge. Hands flying over the controls like a concert pianist, Herc turned off the lights and the siren.
"Computer: Locate and identify intruder!" Herc commanded.
"Searching... searching... searching...," the voice of the computer intoned as it sought out the unknown occupant of the ship by remote control. Soon, in Cargo Hold Number Five, the remote sensors found a small figure creeping toward the door.
"Computer: Lock on and enlarge picture by thirty-five percent. Fifty percent. Seventy-five percent." At each command, the image got larger and larger, until the face of their unknown guest appeared clearly on the monitor screen. "There!" Herc gasped. "Do you see what I see?" he asked, unable to believe his eyes.
"Yes, but I still don't believe it!" Jayce answered. He, too, was dumbfounded at what he saw.
"What? What?" Oon asked, trying to see into the monitor over Herc's control board. Then he saw the mystery person. He dropped his lance and his mouth hung open in surprise.
"FLORA!" all three said at once. Quickly, they raced to Hold number Five, still unbelieving at what they saw.
Rose moved through the cargo hold as quietly as a jungle cat. She was right at the door. She had heard the sirens and knew tat her presence ha been discovered. But she did not know that the crew of the ship knew where she was.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and a hand grabbed her arm. Rose let out a surprised scream as her captor turned her around to face him.
"What are you doing here, Flora?" Herc asked angrily. "You're supposed to be in bed with that wounded shoulder!"
"Herc... she's not Flora," Jayce said in astonishment. "See...no wound. And her hair is red--really, really RED! "
Herc looked at his prisoner closely. Jayce was right. Even though the girl looked like Flora, this was not the plant-child they knew. She stared at him with deep, green eyes.
"Who are you, young lady, and what are you doing here?" Herc asked sternly.
"I come from seven years in the future. My name is Rose. Like Flora, I was grown from a flower. I will one day be the daughter of Jayce and his wife."
Herc looked at Jayce, even as the other looked back at him. "Wife?" they mouthed to each other.
"And my mission is to save Flora's life!"
"From the future?" Gillian asked. The crew of the Pride II was in sick bay with the mysterious Rose. He examined the girl, running every test he could think of to verify--or disprove--her claims.
"And Jayce's future daughter, or so she says," Herc added. The captain was not so eager to believe the girl's wild tale.
"Well," Gillian said as he finished his testing. "One thing is certainly true: Rose is a plant child, like Flora. And she can help us save Flora."
"What I have told you is true!" the girl insisted. She looked worriedly over at Flora. The wounded plant-child looked so very pale, almost as if she were wilting.
"Can you prove that you're from the future?" Herc asked, not yet ready to believe the unbelievable story Rose told them. He folded his arms over his chest as he stood and stared at the little girl.
"There is only one way to prove it to you." Rose held up the arm that bore the communicator. "Daddy, are you there? They don't believe me. Please tell them I spoke the truth," she pleaded into the wrist device.
The communicator awoke into life. Unlike Jayce's communicator, this one had a small screen, set in the casing like a jewel. An image formed in the screen and spoke with a voice that was amazingly familiar.
"Please, you must believe that Rose speaks the truth. Even now, Flora continues to weaken. If something is not done soon, she will die. I have sent you one hope of saving her, but you must act swiftly. Each second draws her closer to death. Trust Rose, Jayce. Trust your daughter!" The image and the voice faded to nothing.
Jayce could only stare at Rose. This child, the girl who would save Flora, was his own daughter. Jayce knew he could trust the image in the communicator. The Ring of Light had brightened as the voice spoke, fading only as the voice did.
For the image in the communicator and the voice that had spoken had been...Jayce!
Stealthily, the Monster Mind vines crept through space, inching ever closer to the Pride as it orbited a small moon. In a few short hours, the vines would be close enough for the Monster Minds to fire a small capsule full of vines into the hull of the space barge. Without Flora to warn them, the Lightning League would soon be no problem. Saw Boss did not worry about the "other presence" that he had felt. He believed that if there was another plant-child like Flora, the child was too new to the universe and she (or he) would not know how to use her (his) powers. No, this would be an easy victory for the Monster Minds.
"I'm' ready, Gillian," Rose said. The red-haired plant-girl laid on a bed in the sick bay of the Pride of the Skies II . Close by, on another bed, lay Flora, looking even more pale and wilted than before. Stretched between them was a long tube, each end sticking into Rose or Flora's arm. Rose held a small rod in her hand.
"Just squeeze the rod tightly, Rose, then release and squeeze again," Gillian instructed. "That will keep the blood flowing between you and Flora"
"Will this work, Gillian?" Jayce asked. He brushed his hand over Flora's forehead and hair, trying to will Flora back to health.
"Of course it will work, Jayce." Gillian smiled confidently. "They are the same 'blood' type. But we must be careful not to transfer too much of Rose's blood all at once, or Rose will be in danger of dying. This will take a long time."
"Rose...my daughter," Jayce said quietly. "One day, I will marry and have children. And it sounds like it will be soon, too."
"Did you doubt that you would have a wife and children of your own someday, Jayce?" Gillian smiled.
"I wonder who the lucky girl will be," Herc said with a grin. He watched as his young friend blushed. Jayce was indeed a very handsome young man, and would definitely find a beautiful bride to love.
Suddenly, Rose started to rise from the bed. She glowed with a red-gold light as she put her free hand to her right temple.
"Lay back down, Rose," Gillian ordered. "You're cutting off the blood flow to Flora."
"Monster Minds!" Rose warned. "I feel them getting closer!"
"Herc, Oon and I will handle the Monster Minds," Jayce said. "Gillian, you remain with the girls and continue the blood transfusion."
"Of course, Jayce," the old wizard replied. Gillian turned his attention back to Flora and Rose. Rose had already laid back down, confident that Herc and her "father" would get the job done. She was not as sure about Oon, but she knew the suit of armor would do his best.
"Computer: Initiate search for Monster Mind activity!" Herc commanded. Cameras mounted all around the Pride , both inside and outside, recorded any and all movement in and out of the ship.
"There!" Jayce said, as a camera panned over the starboard hull. "I see Monster Mind vines headed this way!"
"I see them too, kid!" Herc replied. He piloted the ship's controls so that the Monster Mind vines would miss their target. Soon the ship was out of orbit and into free space.
"Hang on; I'm about to hit the hyper-drive!" Herc punched several buttons and pulled on a lever. He, Jayce, and Oon were strapped into their seats.
Suddenly, the stars were racing past them, looking like streaks of white light as the barge jumped through hyper-space. Down below, in the sick bay, Gillian used a magic spell to keep the girls and himself from toppling over by the jolting jump of the hyper-drive engines.
"They're gone!" cried Terror Tank. "They just disappeared!"
"They went into hyper-space, fool!" Gun Grinner retorted.
"Now what do we do, Saw Boss?" K.O. Kruiser asked. All Monster Mind eyes turned to the figure on the throne.
"Nothing for now," Saw Boss answered. To the emptiness of space, he said: "You win for now, son of Audric. But one day, we will meet again. And then, the Monster Minds shall be triumphant! This I promise you!" Saw Boss continued to stare out into space.
The Pride of the Skies II came out of hyper-space over a large, lush planet. Jayce, Herc, and Oon unstrapped themselves and Herc put the Pride on auto pilot. The three then raced to the sick bay to check on Gillian and the girls.
Flora and Rose were both sitting up, talking to each other, with Gillian watching them and smiling. Rose had just finished explaining about herself when Jayce, Herc and Oon arrived.
As soon as Flora saw Jayce and the others, she leapt off the bed and ran to hug them. "Oh, Jayce! Isn't it wonderful? A plant-girl, just like me!"
"Yes, it is," Jayce said with a smile. "And she saved your life, too."
"And she can stay with us, and sleep in my room with me, and..." Flora stopped when she saw the sad face of Rose.
"I can't stay, Flora," Rose said. "I belong to the future, the daughter of Jayce and his wife. We'll meet again, someday, but you'll be seven years older." Rose then spoke directly to Jayce.
"Jayce--Father--on the planet below you is a tree that can put you on the right track to finding Grandfather. Have Flora speak to him. The tree will tell you where to start looking for Grandpa."
"Thank you, Rose. I hope you will return to our lives soon. I'm happy to have received this glimpse into the future."
"Don't worry, Daddy; I'll be back with you soon." Rose gave her future father a hug and a kiss, then spoke into her communicator.
"I'm ready to come home, Daddy." Instantly the glowing whirlpool appeared beside her.
"Goodbye Daddy; Goodbye, Aunt Flora, Uncle Herc, Uncle Gillian and Uncle Oon!" she called after her as she stepped into the time warp.
"Goodbye, Rose!" they replied. Then she was gone, returned to the future.
It was then that Herc realized what Rose had called him. "Uncle Herc?!?"
Jayce, Flora , Gillian and Oon only laughed.