The trip had been uneventful, and the weather stayed nice. Yuki was used to seeing the same type of lifeless and monotonous landscape on the moon, so it didn’t really bother her that she was seeing the same type of thing down here. Every now and then she could hear her grandmother singing, humming or occasionally snoring. She was a little worried that Oya would lose her grip on her waist and slide off, but she must have been used to sleeping on the back of a four-wheeler because she hung on without any problems. So far, the trip had taken about an hour and a half including one stop for some water and a snack. The sun was getting lower in the sky but there was still plenty of light to drive by.
Yuki continued to follow Kit as he turned on to a worn path that was made up of two equidistant ruts about the same width as their four-wheeler. As they came around the side of a small hill, Yuki saw something very strange; twenty or thirty columns of ice, some of them at least twenty feet tall.
Oya tapped Yuki’s shoulder and pointed to the closest one and yelled for her to stop. She pulled next to a glimmering tower which sort of reminded her of an upside-down ice cream cone (the sugar kind not the waffle one). All around the pillar was a pool of water contained by a stone and mortar wall. Her grandmother slid off the bike and walked to the edge, Yuki joined her. Kit jumped up and over the tightly stacked stones, landing in the shallow pool of water with a small splash. He lowered his head and took a drink.
Yuki asked, “What is it?”
“An ice stupa.”
She stepped up onto the wall and squatted down to run her fingers through the cold water. “Ice stupa? I’ve never heard of them. How do they work?”
Oya pointed to a distant mountain. “There’s an underground stream in that mountain over there. Pipes connect that to here…”
“How come the pipes don’t freeze?”
“How about you let me finish? Hmm?”
“As I was saying, pipes, buried below the frost line so they don’t freeze, bring down the water with enough force to push it up and out of another pipe that goes up through the center of each stupa. The water sprays out the top and freezes when it hits the cold air, creating that upside-down cone shape.”
Yuki stood. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Oya said with a straight face, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they don’t do this on the moon.”
Yuki laughed, “I mean I’ve never seen pictures of them.” She looked around at the other stupas. “So, I guess these are a means of storing water or something?”
“Exactly, the summer sun slowly melts them during the day, providing enough water for the plants in the green houses.”
“Green houses? Really? Up here?”
“Yep, I guess you could look at it as a positive result of global warming. Temperatures have gone up enough to make growing stuff in green houses possible year-round.”
Yuki shook her head in amazement. “That’s incredible.”
“That’s your mother in a nutshell.”
“She thought of this!”
“Nah, she saw it used somewhere else but, she was the first to use it here and on such a large scale.”
Kit came over and sat by Yuki’s feet. He poked her leg, so she took off her glasses. What?
If your mother takes you to see Shedu, tell her I said hello.
You’ll see. He turned and ran off.
Yuki put her glasses back on and asked Oya, “What was he talking about?”
“Beats me and besides, I’m beat. Come on, your mom’s building is a little ways over there.”
They got back on the four-wheeler and followed Kit a short distance to a surprisingly big metal building, smoke slowly wound its way out of a metal chimney pipe that extended beyond the roofline. Yuki pulled up next to the base of a stairway that led up to a bright yellow door.
Oya led the way up the stairs and wiped her feet on a mat outside the door then pushed it open. Kit ran in before she had a chance to enter, almost tripping her. She shook her head at his rudeness, then went inside. Yuki stepped up to the door and noticed a sign screwed to it at eye level. It asked everyone entering to please wipe their feet. “Must run in the family,” she murmured.
Oya, still just inside the doorway, stuck her head out and asked, “Did you say something?”
“Uh, no ma’am.” Yuki wiped her feet then stepped inside. Oya reached for the light switch and flicked it a couple of times to let her daughter know someone was here.
Yuki followed Oya into the room; computers, telescopes, binoculars, cameras, photos, notebooks and half eaten food were everywhere. A potbellied stove sat in the middle of the room; Yuki could see a fire crackling behind the stove’s glass door. She looked to the right and saw a small stairway leading to the floor above.
In the back of the room, and in front of a rain splattered window, sat a woman with her dark hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore a long sleeve, tie-dyed shirt under faded overalls and a pair of bright pink sneakers over rainbow-colored socks. She was looking into a microscope with her left hand raised, her pointer finger extended. Yuki took this to mean; Hold on a second. She could hardly believe it, across the room sat her mother! However, instead of feeling happy about it, a feeling of frustration welled up inside. Her mother had practically given her away and never bothered to find out anything about her or even come looking for her! This should be a happy moment but, she felt angry!
Her mother was taking forever to look in the microscope, so she was about to say something but, before she could, Oya picked up a piece of paper, crinkled it into a ball, then threw it at her daughter, it hit her squarely in the head. She snapped her head up wearing an angry expression which immediately turned to a broad smile the instant she saw Yuki.
Oya shook her head and whispered, “Kids.” She turned and put her hand on Yuki’s shoulder. “This is the part where I go take a nap. Good luck with her, she can be a bit, um, driven by her research but, she means well and is genuinely excited that your here.”
Yuki nodded to her and whispered,“Thank you.” Oya looked over at Marie and signed, “I’m going upstairs to take a nap. Call me when you two are ready to go to dinner. Her mother signed “Thank you” and blew her a kiss. As Oya started up the stairs, Kit ran past her and disappeared. “Hey, where do you think you’re going you mangey animal!” She took one more step then stopped. Oh, I almost forgot.” She looked at her daughter and said, “Marie, this is Yuki, your daughter.” She turned to Yuki and said, “Yuki, that’s Marie, your mother… enjoy.” She trudged the rest of the way up the stairs.
The two of them stared at each other. Marie, still wearing a wide smile, finally got up the nerve to walk over to Yuki. She put her hands on her shoulders and looked her over, head to toe.
Yuki stood there, frozen.
Marie must have sensed Yuki’s discomfort, because she took her hands down and instead, took Yuki’s right hand in hers and gave it a slight squeeze then released it. She signed, “How was your trip? Did you have any trouble getting here?”
Yuki shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. “No trouble.” She desperately wanted to tell her about the giant wave she saw before she got here, that she knew John was her father, how they found Kit in the back seat of the truck, meeting Caroline and Jordin at the boat and a million other things, but something kept her from saying anything else.
“Oh, I see. Um, how are you getting along with your grandmother? She can be kind of gruff.”
“She’s nice, no problems.”
Her mother’s smile was staring to fade, and Yuki could see worry creeping into her eyes.
Her mom tried again, “Who was that I saw running up the stairs with Oya?”
“That’s Kit.” Yuki replied, still without signing.
“Ah.” Her smile disappeared. They both stood there, caught in an awkward silence.
Her mother stepped back and looked down while wringing her hands. Suddenly she snapped her head up and signed, “How about we go out to the observation vehicle and take it for a spin?”
Yuki shrugged her shoulders and said, “Okay.” She knew she was being rude, but she was feeling too much anger towards her mother and she couldn’t seem to get past it.
“Great, you’ll need a… oh, I see you still have yours on, let me get mine.” She picked up a coat that had slid from the back of a chair onto the floor and headed to the door. She stopped at a small table and picked up a pair of sunglasses. She turned to Yuki and asked if she needed a pair. Yuki responded by tapping the side of her glasses, darkening the transparent lenses.
“That’s handy,” said her mom but, before Yuki could respond, she pushed open the door and stepped outside.
Yuki took a deep breath and followed her out the door. They walked down the stairs and around to the back of the building where, parked a few feet away, was a vehicle which Yuki thought looked like something you might expect to find on the moon; it was large enough to fit a lot of equipment inside, it had oversized tires for driving over soft surfaces, and it was in two sections so that it made it easier to turn. However, it was the one thing about the vehicle that made it stand out as something you wouldn’t find on a moon vehicle that caused her to stop and stare. It was bright red…and blue…and yellow and green…and some other color she thought didn’t actually have a name. The paint job looked like whoever did it used a color until it ran out then switched to whatever color closest.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of her mother scrambling up a ladder at the rear of the vehicle. She didn’t want to lose her, so she hurried over, but, even so, by the time she got there, her mom was gone. She grabbed hold of the ladder and climbed up a couple of rungs before moving over to a small platform in front of a door. The ladder went all the way up and over the vehicle, but she figured she probably hadn’t gone that way, so she pushed the door open and stepped inside. It looked a lot like a portable version of the other lab; it had most of the same equipment, just in different places, and it was just as messy.
Yuki didn’t see her mother, so she headed for the door on the opposite side. She thought to herself, “How in the world can she live like this? It’s disgusting! There’s no way I can be related to her!”
She opened the far door, stepped through the enclosed section that joined the two halves, then opened the door to the front section. In here was a bunk bed, a small bathroom and a kitchen area defined by a small sink, a hot plate, and a small under-the-counter type refrigerator. Cookie boxes and all sorts of wrappers littered the countertop as well as a wooden table that sat in the middle of the vehicle. Yuki went over to the table and ran her hand over a clear spot, it reminded her of the one in Oya’s cabin.
She looked up to see her mom sitting behind the vehicle’s control console. Yuki went up and sat down in the seat next to her and watched as she pushed some buttons and flicked some switches. Yuki suddenly felt the big machine come to life; it lurched slightly forward, a slight vibration came up through the floor and lights flickered on around the perimeter of the inside of the vehicle.
She felt a bit useless, if this were her ship, she would have all sorts of things to keep her busy. She also didn’t like feeling so uncomfortable around her mom and wished she could shake the feeling. She was wasting an opportunity to get to know her!
Her mom must have noticed she was deep in thought. “Are you okay?”
Yuki turned to her, “Can I ask you something?”
Her mom tilted her head to one side and said, “Sure, go ahead.”
“Why didn’t you want me?”
Yuki didn’t expect her mother’s reaction; all her energy seemed to drain from her all at once. She looked forward, her shoulders dropped, and she put a hand over her mouth, tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. Yuki sat silently as her mother reached over to the console and found a tissue to wipe her eyes and nose with.
When she was able to regain her composure, her mom stuffed the tissue into a pocket and looked over at Yuki and said, “Please, let me explain.”
Yuki sat back in the chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Your father and I had recently been married. He was working for his family’s grocery store in Nunavut and I was a professor doing research for a small, local university. We were both young and didn’t have much but we enjoyed what we did. Not long after, your father’s father, your grandfather, passed away and the grocery store ran into some financial trouble which meant they might possibly have to sell it to keep from losing everything. My job didn’t pay much but my research was at a point where it could turn out to have a great impact on the lives of everyone up here. We just needed a little more time and money to make it happen. One day, out of the blue, one of my students mentioned hearing something about a program a local company had just announced. They were looking for women to donate their eggs for a scientific trial and it turned out I fit most of the requirements. The clincher was that, in return, they were willing to fund my research.
“What was the research?” asked Yuki.
“The ice stupas. Did you see them on your drive in with Oya?” Her face brightened as she mentioned them.
“Yes, we went over to look at one.”
She continued, “Anyway, the funding meant we could supply enough water to expand the number of greenhouses and produce enough fruits and vegetables to keep the grocery store going.” She looked out the windows and spread her arms. “All around here, our families and friends were suffering. Global warming had forced everyone to change their daily routines and many of them were having a hard time adjusting. The old ways weren’t working any more so, in order to survive, we had to figure out new ways of doing things. My research was going to prevent a lot of hardship.” She paused, staring out the window. After a few seconds she looked down, “So your father and I thought it would be beneficial to everyone if we were to apply and then be accepted. To our surprise they chose me.”
Yuki could see how hard it was for her mom to talk about what had happened.
“After a couple of weeks and some more testing, we set up an appointment to have the procedure done at their medical facility. It was quick and there were no problems, so we went back home. At first, I had a lot of doubts about if I had done the right thing. We got the funding and never heard anything else from the company, so I had no idea if they had used my eggs or not. Your father and I would often sit and wonder what our child would be like. As a way of feeling better, I told myself that I would never miss someone I knew nothing about, but that turned out to be untrue. In fact, it was extremely hard for both of us There wasn’t a day that passed without me wondering if we had a child out there, somewhere.”
“It wasn’t until a year later that someone I knew at the lab, told us the program had been a success and my eggs had been used, that the reality of what I had done set in. I tried to get in to see you, but they wouldn’t allow it. They said it was for the best. It was devastating to us, every day I wondered what you looked like, what color was your hair, were you short or tall, what you did each day and where were you.” She looked at Yuki again. “You know, for some silly reason, I always knew you were a girl, I don’t know why, I just did…I’ve waited for this moment for so long.”
Yuki uncrossed her arms and sighed. “I grew up on the moon with other kids that were just like me. All we knew was the life we had up there. Sure, we knew about “the planet” and the way life was on it, but that was alien to us. We were always told that we had a different purpose in life; we were training for something that would benefit everyone else.” Yuki placed her arms on the chair’s padded arm rests and picked at a loose thread. “We each had a technician that taught us the things we needed to know; they were sort of like our care takers. We didn’t think of them as parents because none of us knew anything much about that, it just wasn’t talked about. Then one day, Karen, my tech, had to leave for a couple of weeks because her mother had passed away. It got me thinking about if I had a mother. I asked the other technicians if they knew anything, but they just changed the subject and didn’t seem like they wanted to talk about it. But it was all I thought about, I couldn’t let it go and I couldn’t wait for Karen to get back so I could ask her. When she did return, I peppered her with questions about what is was like having a mother and if she knew if I had one. Thinking back, I wasn’t very inconsiderate of her feelings, I just wanted to know everything I could about parents.”
“Did you know how you were, uh, born. I guess that’s the right word for it.”
Yuki shrugged her shoulders. “Not really. Nobody on the base talked to us about it. As far as we knew, we were normal, there was no reason to think any more about it.”
“How did you find out about us.”
“One day, after Karen got back, I was mid-way through a training session with her, when she got a call to go to another part of the complex. She said she’d be right back but, by the time I was finished, she still hadn’t returned. As I walked past her laptop to get some water, I noticed it was still open. I glanced at it and saw my name at the top. I looked closer and noticed that it was my file I was looking at. I glanced through it, all the normal stuff was there; height, weight, hair color, that kind of stuff, but something caught my eye next to a section called Emergency Contact. The word None was filled in and next to that was Egg Donor. Karen walked back in and I didn’t get a chance to read anything else. She had seen me looking at the screen, but she just closed the laptop and told me I shouldn’t be snooping around her computer like that. That was it, she didn’t get mad or anything. Looking back, I kind of think she did the whole thing on purpose. But, anyway, after seeing those words, I wanted to know more about what an egg donor meant, so, when I had the chance, I looked it up on the Internet. I read that some women donate their eggs for money, but others do it to help out less fortunate women. This got me to thinking about myself; I was born using donated eggs which meant I had parents. Did my mother take money or do it to help out others? But what kind of parent would do that and not want to know about their child? Wouldn’t my parents want to know all about me? Come visit even? It became something I couldn’t let go of. It me angrier the more I thought about it. Then everything went wrong, plus I was told I had to come here to find you! I was afraid of meeting you; I wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t given a choice!”
Her mom looked confused. “I don’t understand, why were you afraid of meeting me?”
Yuki looked down and whispered, “Because I thought you would be ashamed and embarrassed of me.”
Marie reached over and put her hand on her Yuki’s. She asked, “Why in the world would I be ashamed or embarrassed of you?”
Yuki looked away then turned back to her. “I found out some things about myself before I left the moon. I’m not like other teenagers down here, I’m different.”
“How? What do you mean?”
“My whole life has been for one reason; to go with a team of others like me through a black hole and to an exoplanet.”
“Wow, I had no idea we could do that. That sounds very dangerous.”
“It is but, uh, changes, genetic changes were made to us to allow us to safely travel long distances through space.”
Marie tilted her head a little to one side and her expression became hard. “I think you might have to explain that part a little more. What did they do to you?”
Yuki noticed her mom was upset. “See, your already upset with me and I haven’t told you anything yet.”
“Oh, Honey, I’m not upset with you! I’m worried about what they did to you.”
“Well, you don’t have to be worried, it’s not like I’ll grow a third eye or something. And besides, I’m just like the others in my crew, different down here but not up there.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. Um, how are you different?”
“Have you ever heard of a tardigrade?”
“Yes, it’s a microscopic water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented micro-animal. It’s also called a Water Bear.”
She smiled at her mom’s science background quickly coming to the surface, “Exactly, well, the thing about tardigrades is that they can survive under the harshest of environments; low or no oxygen, high radiation, extremely low temperatures, and other stuff. It turns out, those are some of the same characteristics a long-distance space traveler needs. So, scientists were able to splice some of the DNA from a tardigrade into my DNA and viola, I, or we, can now withstand the same things.”
“I’m sure it’s not as simple as that.”
“No, it’s not, but it works and that’s all they needed.”
“I read tardigrades can also become dehydrated then rehydrate without any ill effects. Can you do that?”
Yuki screwed up her face. “Yeah, but it’s really gross to watch and it takes a while for my body to fully recover. I’ve only done it once and don’t want to repeat it.”
Her mom thought for a minute, taking it all in. She looked Yuki in the eye and asked, “How do you feel about being the way you are?”
“I never really think about it, it’s who I am. I’ve always been this way, just like the rest of my team. It’s normal for us.”
“That’s right, it’s important to know that just because you’re different it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you and I want you to know that I love you no matter what.”
“Thank you, that really makes a difference hearing it come from you.”
Her mother reached over and gave her a hug. Yuki wrapped her arms around her mother and felt her anger disappear. They both sat back. Yuki said, “There’s something else I need to get off my chest.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about going deaf.”
“On the moon I always felt like there was a purpose to my life; I was an astronaut training to go on a mission. Everyone and everything up there were all about doing that one thing! But going deaf took that all away from me. My friends, the mission and my reason for existing. Everything!” She looked down at her hands in her lap. “Ever since it happened, I’ve been blaming you!”
“Me! Why me?”
“Because my deafness runs in your family.”
“Hey, that’s not very fair. I have no control over something like that! Besides, it also runs in your father’s family as well. How come your not blaming him?”
“I know, I know…” Yuki sighed. “I think I blame you because… I came from you. I have a direct link to you. It sounds crazy now that I’m saying it out loud, but think I was using it as a means of focusing my anger. I needed to blame someone as a way of dealing with it.”
“I think it’s very mature of you to realize that, but it’s still not fair to me. I’ve lived with my deafness all my life, but I don’t blame my great grandmother for it. Plenty of people in our family are deaf, to us it’s just as normal as being born and able to hear.”
“I know it isn’t fair, and it took you away from everything, but you shouldn’t let it define you! Feeling sorry for yourself and blaming me is just going to keep you angry!”
Yuki looked out the window. “Yeah, I suppose. It’s hard to get used to, though.”
Marie took a deep breath and said, “You need to find a positive about it.”
“Yes, exactly. Like I said, a negative attitude is going to keep you negative.”
Yuki’s looked confused. “What positive could there possibly be!”
Her mom looked at her and said quietly, “It brought you to me, didn’t it?”
Yuki felt foolish. She never stopped to think that if she had gone on that mission, she would never of met her dad, her grandmother, or her mom. None of that would have happened. She felt terrible and didn’t know what to say. She sank down into her chair.
After a few seconds of silence, Marie put her hands in her lap and nervously asked, “Not to change the subject or anything but, there’s something, um, I’ve been dying to know ever since I found out you were coming.”
Yuki replied, “What’s that?”
“I’ve been wondering… have you been able to, um, connect…”
Her face brightened. “Yes, exactly!”
Yuki sat up straight. “I have! With Kit, at Oya’s cabin!”
“Really! That was today! Oh my gosh, I’m so happy for you! I can’t believe it just happened today! There wasn’t anything before?”
“Well, I haven’t been around many animals since I got here and there’s, like, one on the moon and that was a lab rat, sooo, no.”
“Of course, the moon! I can’t believe that! I’ve got a million questions!” She glanced at her watch and said, “But we need to do something first.” She reached for the starter button.
Yuki grabbed her arm “Wait!”
Her mom sat back. “What is it!”
Yuki took a second then said, “Mom…I’m sorry.”
Marie’s face lit up at hearing her daughter call her mom. “You don’t have to be sorry, Honey; it couldn’t have been easy going through all that you’ve gone through these past few months. How about we give ourselves some time to start over. Does that sound okay?”
Yuki smiled. “That sounds good.”
Her mother leaned forward, entered some data into the GPS unit on the dash then said, “Okay, then, how about we go talk to a flying beast?”