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Halcyon and Warren

Warren gestured to Isabelle and Digger to wait, then ducked into his father’s greenhouse. His father never let his friends come into the building as he said they were too clumsy. Warren didn’t disagree, so he kept the rules. He stepped past a palm tree and paused when he saw a girl sitting on the viewing bench hunched over a datapad.

“What are you doing here?” He growled.

The young girl jumped with surprise. She looked up from her datapad and stared at him with clear eyes. She certainly didn’t look guilty; despite that, she was sneaking around his parents’ greenhouse. A place out of bounds for most people, let alone a child.

She defended herself by saying, “Your dad said I could come here. My parents are visiting and they are talking about boring stuff.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Boring stuff?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, despite that they have half a dozen degrees between them, none of them overlap, the only thing they all have in common is the people around the University and therefore all their talk is boring.” She waved her hand around to indicate the University as she spoke.

He looked at her carefully. She had long black hair, which was pulled back in a simple ponytail. There was a streak of pink through the fringe.

He tried to place her. She must have realized what he was doing as she offered a hand and said politely, “I am Halcyon McDonald.”

He shook her hand and smiled at the prim politeness.

“Ah, the dean’s daughter.” As he finally placed the name with the face.

She nodded to confirm his guess. Once the introductions were over, she stared at him with those clear eyes.

He broke the silence. “What did you do to convince my father that you would be safe in here?”

She glanced around and said, “I understand biology enough to know there really isn’t anything dangerous here.”

He chuckled at her misunderstanding. “The plants aren’t dangerous, but my father would be if you harmed any of his precious plants.”

She grinned at him. “Oh, yes, of course. No, I wouldn’t touch his things. Ever. I have a thing about that. He knows that.”

She sounded older than the ten years she looked. Not that he was much older at sixteen. He turned when he heard a giggle from Isabelle outside. Halcyon’s eyes turned sharp as she searched past the plants.

She said in a soft and dangerous voice, “Your father wouldn’t want her in here.”

“I know. I just came to get her present.” Warren gestured to the table against one of the walls of the greenhouse.

Halcyon looked towards the outside entrance and said, “She isn’t really suited for you.”

He bristled and added sarcastically, “Yes, and how would you know? You are ten.”

“Eleven and I know because she is in my class at school.”

He blinked, surprised. Isabelle might act like an idiot, but she was two years ahead of others at school. That would mean this small girl was in her last year of high school.

So a genius then.

That explained why his father had taken an interest in her.

He moved past her and picked up the vase of cut flowers he had wheedled out of his father that afternoon.

Warren wished he had a green thumb, but all the plants or pets he had as a child had been neglected and taken up by his parents before they could perish.

He turned to the girl when she said, “Does she know how smart you are?”

He frowned and she added as an explanation, “She thinks you are homeschooled because your parents don’t want you to feel stupid amongst the other kids who are all smarter than average.”

“Nonsense.” He snapped, but he wasn’t sure. Isabelle never spoke to him of any academic things.

The girl continued, “My parents think I’m an idiot, as well.”

He said, “How? If you are almost finished high school? Shouldn’t they have figured out you are smarter than the average bear?”

She snorted at the whole idea and waved it off with a flick of her hand. “My parents are unaware of my academic achievements. The school has tried to speak to dad, but he is always too busy and mom always makes them talk to Dad or ignores them when they talk to her.”

She hesitated and her tone changed as she added, “You can talk to me, you know. That is if you don’t have friends that are clever to talk to.”

He realised then she was very lonely. He looked at her more closely. He could imagine it was very lonely being smart, at such a young age, even among the University children who seemed to be brighter than any average child.

He turned when Isabelle called for him and Digger her brother added in his own commentary, which was rude and vulgar. Warren hoped Halcyon didn’t understand what he had said.

Warren looked back at her and she said, “You better go before they try to come in and look for you. Your father would really kill you if they came in here.”

He nodded and started out. He stopped at the glass door out into the yard.

He turned and said, “I’ve never had anyone to talk to about my theories. I’m an anthropologist major, so my parents can’t help me.”

She grinned. “People, yeah, I can definitely talk about people. Or at least be interested enough to listen.”

He laughed at that and left.

“What are you reading?” Hal said as she plopped down next to him on the bench. Warren looked up from the book he was reading and offered it to her. They had taken to meeting in the greenhouse at least once a week. He enjoyed their conversations strangely enough.

She flicked through the handwritten symbols. Stopping occasionally to study a symbol more closely.

She grinned after a second and said, “Oh, this is the book. This is the collection from that doctor you were telling me about.”

He pointed to the book. “I’ve been researching these and the doctor was incredible. I knew he was visiting, but he spent some time with me. He agreed to the deal. He said one of his colleagues would pay an arm and leg for the DNA mapping. This is only a copy, but it is priceless. He has managed to find the root of all languages. He has only found a few root words, but if you parse them together, you have quite a sophisticated language. They have been buzzing through my head ever since I opened the book.”

Hal passed him back the book. “I’ve seen some of these symbols before by the way.”

He spun to look at her. “Where?”

She shrugged nonchalantly. “In DNA.”

He chuckled. “Only you would see words in DNA. I take it you have been having fun working with Doctor Wong.”

She grinned. “He thinks I’m crazy. Still, though, he says he has never seen anyone with steady hands like me.”

She flicked her hands around as she spoke about her work with Bioware and Doctor Wong. He listened as he knew there were very few people who understood even half of what she said.

His father was one of them and the reason Hal was allowed in the greenhouse. Warren was still baffled that her parents were completely unaware of her genius.

Hal stopped talking when Digger called to him from outside the greenhouse. Warren glanced at her and she said, “You better go.”

He hesitated as he didn’t want her to feel like she was less worthy of his time than Digger. “We are going out to the lake on the shield edge. Do you want to come along?”

She said, “No way. Isabelle will be there and I can’t stand her.”

He gave her the book. “You can borrow that overnight. The others won’t be interested and it could get damaged by the lake.”

She took the book reverently and he left her.

Digger bounced on his feet outside the greenhouse. He had a crate of beers under his arm as he said, “Hey, you ready, man? Tonight, is going to be awesome.”

Warren frowned at the beer. “Do you think that is a good idea, Digger? If our parents caught us drinking, they would flay us.”

Digger snorted. “You are such a stick in the mud, Warren. We are teenagers, we are supposed to do dumb stuff like drink copious amounts of alcohol.”

Warren contained his anger and eventually sighed out. “Except we aren’t dumb, Digger, and drinking is a destructive habit. Especially with the excess you expect to go to tonight.”

Warren spun around when Isabelle said behind him, “Then don’t drink to excess. Only an idiot, like my brother here, will drink enough to make a fool of himself, but there is no reason why we can’t just enjoy ourselves.”

Warren huffed. “You two can enjoy yourselves. I’m going to stick to water tonight.”

Isabelle sighed dramatically. “Fine, suit yourself, Wren.”

Warren said, “I hate it when you call me Wren.”

She pinched his cheeks. “Aw, you poor little wren.”

He slapped her hand away. Maybe she would be a little nicer once she had a bit of buzz from the alcohol.

Or maybe he should just go back into the greenhouse and spend the evening with Hal and go over the symbols in the book.

“Is everything all right?” Warren asked Hal.

She had been wandering around aimlessly in the greenhouse for over an hour. She dropped a small trowel when he spoke and looked visibly shaken.

Hal sighed and turned to him. “The doctors need me to stay in the hospital for the next round of Chemo. I don’t know when I’ll be out again.” Or whether at all was unspoken but clearly said in the silence.

Warren stood up and opened his arms. She sidled over and he hugged her tight against his chest. She sobbed silently for a long while and he just stood there holding her.

When it was clear she was starting to calm down, he asked, “What do the doctors say are your chances?”

“Less than fifteen percent. The cancer is threatening to spread to my lymph nodes. If this lot of Chemo doesn’t work, then I have months to live, maybe even weeks.”

He was glad he was holding her as he didn’t want her to see the look on his face. He didn’t have many friends and over the last two years, she had become one of his closest.

Determinedly, he said, “You are not going to die, Hal. You can beat the odds. You have done so before and you will again. I will show you.”

He went to the bench where he had left the book with the notes he had gotten from the Doctor of languages. “Here, you keep this for now. When you beat this monster, you bring it back to me.”

Hal took the book reverently and said, “I can’t, Warren. You love this book. You swapped DNA mapping of your mother’s shield plant to get these.”

Warren closed his hands over her hands and the book. “It is just for now. When you are better, you can bring it back yourself.”

She pulled the book closer to her chest and said, “You are a bloody fool, Warren.”

He smiled as he saw the way she held on to it. Maybe if she had a little hope, she could survive this.

“It won’t be the first time,” he said.

The hospital was quiet. It was late at night, but Hal sat up in her bed surrounded by books, papers and her datapad. She had slept all yesterday, so she was working to catch up.

She was close to passing her high school equivalency exam which the hospital provided. At least that meant she wouldn’t be in Isabelle’s class anymore.

Hal reached for Warren’s book. She wasn’t sure why she kept going through it. She had so much to do and she had no idea if tomorrow would be a good day or one of her bad days.

She flicked to one page and she ran her hand over the image. She kept coming back to this one. In the margin, Warren had added his own notes about the origin of the word and what it meant. In layman’s terms, it meant health. The one thing she wanted more than anything else.

She glanced at her homework and frowned. The professor who was teaching her bioware had sent her some images the other day of Nano machines which had all but disappeared during the upheaval of global warming. There was a stack of pictures which showed things at a micro-level. It had one which had a rough approximation of the symbol which was on the page of the book. Most people would say she was only seeing a pattern because her brain wanted there to be a pattern.

Hal looked at the image in Warren’s book and the breath left her lungs as she realised what it all meant. Surely it couldn’t be that easy. There would have to be some way for it to all interact together. An interface between the language and the body. But it was there right in front of her in black and white.

She could almost feel it on the tip of her fingers. This was what she was looking for if only she could figure out a way to make the body understand the written word.


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