Glass separated Vanna from the grown-ups as it always had, as it always would. She placed the flower in a box which sealed shut at the press of a button, then waited while the grown-ups investigated it through their gloves.
“Exquisite,” Dr. Baglioni said. His eyes, soft and rich brown, looked to Vanna with curious need. “Where did you find this?”
“Beatrice gave it to me – and she wonders when you’ll believe that she’s real.”
A scowl. “Beatrice is our moon, where we live. It can’t give you flowers. Are you lonely, Vanna?”
“No, but… I got you this flower. Twelve kilometers that way.” Vanna pointed south of town.
“That’s mighty far. Are you sure it’s safe?”
Vanna nodded vigorously. “It’s an easy walk. I can wear a tracker if you need me to.”
Dr. Baglioni lifted the flower and examined is pristine, blue petals. “We’ll prepare for the journey this time – as we would have last time, had you told us your plans.” He gently replaced the flower on the bottom of the air-tight box and pulled his hands out of the gloves. “I don’t want you to get hurt out there with none of us knowing where you are.”
Vanna saluted him. “I won’t let you down!” She smiled and leaned up against the glass. “Can I have my supper now?”
“Of course.” Dr. Baglioni smiled, selected a few packages from a shelf, and placed them into an air lock where Vanna could get them. “Wait just a moment – I’ll get you the other things you’ll need.”
Though she immediately sought a couple candies from the little package of food, Vanna nodded in acceptance of Dr. Baglioni’s plans. She slid on the tracking bracelet when it came through the slot, then accepted the food, water, and heating elements from the doctor. “All you want’s the flower?” she asked. “Then you’ll believe me about Beatrice?”
“Just bring me another flower, and you can tell me more about your Beatrice.”
With a stiff salute, Vanna responded, “Aye-aye, chief!”
“See you tomorrow, kiddo.”
Vanna ran through the streets of the city, back to her heated lean-to. She saw lights in some of the windows, saw the movement of shadows within. Grown-ups lived behind the glass windows, and sometimes other kids she could never know peeked around curtains.
She ran across the snowy streets, lightness of her bare feet leaving small footprints behind. It was twilight on her moon, Beatrice, which meant the system’s ever-eclipsed star, Rappaccini, cast long shadows before her. Sometimes Vanna wondered what the star’s brightness would be like if the massive planet Giacomo weren’t always in the way. Pictures of Earth, where all the humans came from, always seemed inviting and cheerful. Bright.
Just like where all the grown-ups lived, behind the glass.
It didn’t take her long to get to her little house. Dr. Baglioni had insisted she take a good sleeping bag if she didn’t want to live in the provided housing, and he’d supplied her with a stove and other equipment to cook her food. But the snow on Beatrice didn’t bother Vanna, and neither did eating cold food.
She ripped open the retort pouch and sniffed what was inside. Beans, which meant the other pouch was probably rice. She dumped them both into the paperboard tray that came with the meal, then doused it in hot sauce. It tasted good and filled her stomach, but she wished she hadn’t already eaten all the candy.
After field stripping the pre-packaged meals, she rolled up on top of her sleeping bag, wished Beatrice and Giacomo a good night, and fell asleep.
Beatrice was a treacherous moon, or so Vanna was told.
She was cold, poisonous, and dark. All the humans, save for lonely Vanna, lived inside their buildings, hidden within towers of glass and stone. Once in a while, Dr. Baglioni or another grown-up would venture outside, but their pitiful suits degraded after a couple hours in the open air. Sometimes Vanna would watch robots as they built new greenhouses or dug foundations for new towers, but otherwise Beatrice was her lone companion in the wild.
She reached the rock formation outside of town and brushed off some of the snow. She touched Beatrice’s frozen body with a bare hand, then pushed more of her weight onto the rock, making sure the moon could feel her pulse.
Vanna felt the moon’s breath through her hand. “Hello, Beatrice,” she ventured to say. “Dr. Baglioni loved our present.” Vanna found Beatrice responded on her own time, so she waited for the moon to think.
Whatever lived within Beatrice answered through a quiet voice made out of snowfall, “Will your Dr. Baglioni stop carving away my flesh?”
“I don’t know,” Vanna responded. “But he’s interested in that flower. He might believe you’re real, if I bring him another.”
“I don’t understand,” Beatrice answered. “I gave you a flower already. How will another help?”
Vanna blinked a couple times. “I don’t really know. He just said he wanted another.”
“He could talk to me,” Beatrice sobbed, “Why won’t he speak with me? Why must he send a child?”
“I don’t know,” Vanna answered. “None of the grown-ups go outside. I alone live outside, close to you, Beatrice. So, you know… I guess I can take him a message. What would you do if he doesn’t believe me this time?”
Beatrice whispered through frosted breath, “I’ll have to get rid of the robots, I suppose. I can’t let the grown-ups, as you call them, keep hurting me.”
Vanna rubbed Beatrice’s rock, thinking the humans wouldn’t like that. “Is there anything short of that? Surely you can strike a deal. Hey – you grew flowers. You’ve grown all these rocks. Could you make them a new tower? One they can fill with the same air that’s behind the glass, the kind they could breathe?”
“I think so,” answered Beatrice.
“Then go ahead and do it. Kill off their robots, then begin growing some walls. I’ll let Dr. Baglioni know what’s going on.”
“Thank you, Vanna.”
Dr. Baglioni frowned behind the glass. “Beatrice said what?”
“She said that she can build your towers for you. We agreed that she could destroy the robots to prove it,” Vanna said. She held out a hand. “Do you believe me now?”
The grown-up’s eyes widened, tears formed in his face. “I believe you, and you have to believe me – this moon is dangerous.” He leaned up against the glass. “She’s already attempted to grow a tower, and… Vanna, it failed!”
Vanna lifted a curious brow and crossed her arms. “Failed? What do you mean?”
“Beatrice evidently decided to finish the tower we’re building in the east side of the city. It was structurally unsound, and it fell into some of our completed towers.” He wiped a tear away. “Seventeen thousand people died before we could seal off the tunnels.”
Vanna shook her head. “No. No, I don’t believe you – Beatrice loves the grown-ups. She’d never kill them!”
“She did!” Dr. Baglioni cried. He lifted up a phial of fluorescent green liquid, rotating it so the viscous fluid slid down the sides of the glass. “I analyzed those flowers you gave me, Vanna – Beatrice is a life form, a film that lives all over the planet’s surface. She’s what makes this planet poisonous and untenable for humankind, but I don’t think she has to be this way. She wants us to die, Vanna.”
“No.” Vanna backed away.
Dr. Baglioni shook the vial. “We have to kill Beatrice, Vanna. In this vial are some nanobots – if they’re released, they’ll eat Beatrice alive until she’s gone. But we need to start them somewhere Beatrice is known to exist. We need to take them to your site outside of town and release them there.”
“I won’t do it!” Vanna shouted. “Beatrice is my friend!”
Dr. Baglioni put the vial into a sack along with several meals worth of food. He shoved it through the air lock, then said, “If you don’t do it, Vanna, we will. We have the data from your tracker.”
“I’ll tell her to run away! I’ll tell her to hide so you can’t find her!”
Baglioni leaned downward, scowling. “A moon can’t leave its orbit, Vanna. Just beware of Beatrice. Don’t listen to her. If you don’t believe me, go to the east side and see what she’s done.”
With a pout, Vanna grabbed the sack out of the airlock, then she ran away.
“Stupid Baglioni,” Vanna muttered as she ran. Giacomo continued to block the light from Rappaccini, Beatrice remained cold and poisonous. Her footsteps traveled east through the city in search of the ruins.
The smoke and dust rising from the fallen towers made the place easy enough to find. Vanna ran across the empty streets and came upon the rubble.
She bent to see what had stung her foot, only to find something red was on it. It was like blood, like when she dashed a foot or scraped an elbow on a hard surface of Beatrice, but very much greater in volume. She shuffled through the rocks then gasped when she found the destroyed, smashed head of a grown-up. The skin was warm, even though the moon’s atmosphere was destroying it.
Vanna suddenly felt lonely. She had never felt another human’s skin, only had embraces between glass or space-suits. And, here, Beatrice had killed them.
She clasped a hand around the vial of nanobots Dr. Baglioni had given her.
Beatrice had to answer.
Vanna waited patiently for Beatrice to show. At last, she answered, “Oh, Vanna, I didn’t mean to kill them. I thought I was doing the right thing! I wanted them to come outside and play with me like you do.”
“But they can’t,” Vanna cried. “If they go outside, they’ll die. I’m the experiment, the one who can live with your poison.”
“I had to know,” Beatrice rebutted. “They were digging up my bones, making my flesh into their towers.”
“If you want them to come out and play so badly, Dr. Baglioni says all you’d have to do is stop making poison. He says it’s your fault they have to stay inside.”
“I do it, dear Vanna, to keep you alive. Haven’t you noticed, dear child, that the grown-ups won’t let you into their window-world? Haven’t you realized that my poison nourishes you?”
Vanna bit her lip.
“If I stop making poison, they’ll shove you into a cage and keep you there while they enjoy the outside. As it is, you get to do whatever you want.” Beatrice grew another dozen flowers, complete with ribbon and card. “I love you, Vanna. You are more of me than you are of them, my sweet. We could be happy together. Don’t let Dr. Baglioni keep us apart. You don’t need them.”
Vanna opened the flask of nanobots and poured them onto the flowers. “Dr. Baglioni was right!” Vanna shouted. “You are dangerous!”
The sky thundered with Beatrice’s screams.
“You’ll die, Vanna! You’ll die without my flowers, without my poison!”
“I know,” Vanna answered. “But you won’t kill anyone else. I’m sorry, Beatrice.”
While the moon wailed its last, it reached out another bundle of flowers to Vanna. “I only wanted to be loved…”
This was written for D. Wallace Peach’s March Speculative Fiction Prompt. It is also very strongly inspired by my favorite short story, Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter. Written in 1844, Rappaccini’s Daughter was a tale that inspired by Indian (like India Indian, not Native American type of Indian) folklore. I hope you enjoyed this overly-long response!
Picture by Natan Vance.