ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGOTTEN
By Ellis Nelson
Arms folded tightly against her chest, Nigella twisted the ring on her finger as she waited for the micro-vet. She pushed her dark bangs off her forehead and looked up. Her bright green eyes met those of the tall, blond, micro-vet as he entered the room.
“Morning,” said the vet. “Okay, so you have one in isolation and another one sick?”
The vet surveyed the scene. Nigella nodded as he peered over the enclosure. It was a wooden rectangle, roughly ten by twelve feet. Placed on a table, with sides eight inches high, it hit the micro-vet at the armpit as he reached across to grab his patient. The sick animal was near the water, down on two legs, looking disoriented.
The vet carefully wrapped his hand around the little animal and lifted her out of the enclosure. He placed her in the middle of his left hand and began the examination. The weak micro-elephant gazed up at the vet.
In many ways, she was just like the others in her micro-herd. She stood six inches tall and weighed in around a pound and a half. Her skin was tough, wrinkled, and a powdery gray-brown, and she sported two well-formed tusks.
Nigella watched as the vet proceeded to examine yet another of her elephants. This was the vet’s second visit this week. He inspected the elephant’s eyes, ears, and mouth. He lifted her tufted tail and checked each foot. The vet pushed aside several paper flowers and set the tiny pachyderm on a small table near the only window in the display room. He placed one hand in front and one hand behind.
“Hey, Nigella, grab my bag and we’ll see how high this fever is,” the vet said. Nigella picked up the medical bag and brought it to the table.
With a quick, practiced motion, the vet removed his right hand from behind the elephant, unlatched the bag and retrieved the nano-injector. A jab to a vein released the miniaturized computer components into the elephant’s system.
“Humm, any vomiting or diarrhea?”
“Yes, both,” Nigella answered.
“In about twenty seconds, the units will calibrate themselves and we’ll get an accurate picture of what’s ailing this little one.” The vet fiddled with the nano-reading device on his wrist.
“Well, this looks identical to what we had with your first sick elephant. I’m going to give her an injection and start her on the same antibiotics that we put the other one on. Luckily, she’s not as dehydrated as the first. She should do fine in a few days.”
Nigella reached around the vet to stroke her sick elephant. The vet withdrew to prepare the injection and Nigella moved in to lift and cradle her. Gently, she raised the creature to her mouth and whispered, “Sorry, poor girl.”
The vet finished giving the injection and moved the sick elephant into the adjoining room used for isolation. Nigella glanced over at the enclosure and noticed that the rest of the herd had gathered by the water. Two calves were splashing at the water’s edge, but the adults hung back in a tight group. They appeared somehow confused. Nigella wondered if they realized why two of the elephants had been taken. How could they know what was wrong? She reached over to stroke one of the adults. The elephant backed away from Nigella’s hand.
The vet returned.
“Nigella, they’re going to be fine in a few days,” he said. “However, now that we have two cases of infection, it’s important to thoroughly disinfect this enclosure. Keep the elephants in isolation and continue giving the antibiotics. Call me if they don’t seem to be getting better by Friday or if any of the others show symptoms. You might also stop by my office and pick up some of that fortified elephant feed I mentioned on my last visit. It might help the rest of the herd from getting sick.
Nigella shook her head. The vet collected his bag and left.
Micro-elephant keeping is difficult, Nigella thought. She had no experience in it. In fact, she had never had any kind of pet. Dad had said that they just didn’t have time for that kind of responsibility. His job at the nanotechnology firm often kept him away for days. Nigella, too, had the active life of a twelve year old. School, air soccer, and her friends kept her busy. None of that had totally convinced her that her father was right. Many of her friends had micro-pets and occasionally, Nigella would instigate a conversation with her father about getting a pet. Somehow, his logic and persistent belief that a pet was a bad idea for them always prevailed.
Maybe things would have been different if her mother was still alive, but she wasn’t. Nigella resumed turning the ring. Her mother had given her that gold ring with the sapphire stone shortly before she died. Then last week her grandfather on her mother’s side, died suddenly. Although she had no memories of him, Nigella had inherited a micro-herd that contained six females and two calves. She had assumed total responsibility for them since her father was so involved at work.
Nigella looked into the elephant enclosure. On the vet’s first visit, he had remarked that the enclosure was unusual. Most people kept their animals in sterile, easy to clean, hypoallergenic, plastic enclosures. Nigella’s elephants lived essentially in a wooden box mimicking what she supposed looked like the African savanna.
Of course, not much of the African savanna remained now. Nigella had seen pictures showing what it had looked like over a hundred years ago when there were real elephants roaming the earth. Those wild elephant herds had been devastated by years of poaching and loss of habitat. A final, swift moving virus killed off the rest even before biologists could identify the strain.
Even the Asian elephant succumbed through habitat loss and that same virus. A research facility in the Far East had been working with the virus hoping to develop an inoculation to save the small number of Asian elephants still remaining. Inadvertently released through a faulty venting system, the virus spread like wildfire. Some people believed that the captive elephant population offered hope for repopulating the elephant back into the wild. But in the end, there weren’t enough captive elephants left to provide a sustainable gene pool. Those in captivity eventually died out and the giants of the savanna were gone forever.
Nigella decided she should try to clean the enclosure. She left the room and returned with a large laundry basket with a towel, neatly folded in the bottom. Carefully, she removed each elephant and placed it in the basket on the floor. None of the elephants put up any real resistance, although the oldest female did grunt a bit upon being transferred into the basket. With the herd safely relocated, Nigella began the cleaning work.
She needed to sanitize the enclosure to stop any further viral or bacterial growth. And that was the problem. How do you sanitize the African savanna? The enclosure had real water, real dirt and mud, and real plants. At opposite ends of the enclosure were two watering holes. One, a simple shallow pool, attracted the micro-elephants who splashed and played. A miniature waterfall emptied into a second deeper pool just opposite the first. A pump kept the water circulating continuously and here the micro-elephants drank and swam.
Using a siphon, Nigella began emptying the pools. The shallow pool drained quickly. She scrubbed it clean with a disinfectant made for use in micro-elephant enclosures. Snorkel Bright came in a plastic container with a small brush. It promised to “…take on the mess of a herd of elephants.” It smelled distinctly like bleach. Nigella turned off the power to the waterfall and used the cleaner brush to scour the rocks covered in green algae.
Nigella wondered if there might be a way to sanitize the dirt around the falls. She read the bottle of Snorkel Bright, but it talked about cleaning enclosure surfaces, not dirt.
Some deep rumbling, followed by trumpeting, drew her attention to the basket. The calves pushed each other and the biggest adult put herself in between them. The elephants were getting restless and Nigella thought it was time to put the herd back.
Using some toweling, she quickly dried the cleaned areas. She refilled both pools with bottled water and restarted the waterfall pump. She lifted the largest elephant from the basket and set her carefully down near the waterfall. The elephant grunted, then trumpeted. Lower pitched rumblings from the adults still in the basket answered her calls. The calves straightened and extended their ears. Instinctively, Nigella next moved the calves. Once in the enclosure, they immediately moved to touch the older elephant. They nuzzled each other and a short burst of rumbling that turned to purring began. Nigella was struck by the fact that elephants could purr. There was so much to learn about these animals. The other adults were returned to the enclosure and reunited with the rest of the herd. Much rumbling, purring, and nuzzling followed.
The largest of the micro-elephants took a few hesitant steps toward the waterfall. She stopped and lifted her trunk. She held it there several seconds appearing to sample the air. Finally, she dropped her trunk and advanced. The calves burst forward at full speed bypassing the largest elephant. They threw themselves into the water. Several grunts from the adults signaled their advance. Soon the whole herd splashed and played at the base of the waterfall.
Nigella’s Maxim whistled. Short for Maximum Communicator, the wristwatch like device had the capability for satellite communications, intergalactic positioning, and all manner of internet capabilities. She pressed the respond button and heard Kepler’s voice.
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INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS by Ellis Nelson
REALITY AND ILLUSION
The phone rang at an ungodly hour. In the darkness, Blake reached across his desk and clicked it on.
“Hello?” he said, wiping the gunk from his eyes.
“Hi, Blake. It’s Dad,” came the response.
“Listen, I got a call from your mother.” The line crackled with static.
Blake threw his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. “Where are you?”
Mumble, mumble crack. “…at Base Camp. Look, I can’t get away, so the best I can do is have you come here,” Dad said.
“Come there? To Everest?” Blake said with disbelief. He dug his toe into the carpet and reminded himself he wasn’t dreaming.
“Yes, here. Your mother is very upset.”
“I know, but she’ll calm down in a couple of days,” Blake answered.
Dad’s tone turned harsh. “You’re coming here and we’re going to straighten this out.”
Blake drew in a cold breath and pleaded, “This is not a big deal. Everyone is overreacting. Besides, I can’t come there. I’m in the middle of school. Maybe over the break. I know Mom will calm down. Look, this isn’t necessary.”
Static filled the line. “…not open to discussion. You are in big trouble and your butt is mine for the next few months. I’ve talked this all out with your mother and she’ll help you get ready. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
Click. The phone went dead. Blake let it drop into his lap. He climbed under the covers and pulled his comforter up close. With his back against the headboard, he shivered and wondered why everyone was making this out to be so important. On top of that, this was the first time he had heard from his father in the many months following the divorce, and the phone call hadn’t been the warm reunion Blake sought. Why had Dad felt compelled to call in the middle of the night? Everyone was acting like this was a really serious thing, and it just wasn’t. Go to Everest? That was crazy! He’d talk to Mom in the morning and once she truly heard what he had to say, she’d agree and Dad would back off his insane idea. Blake chuckled. Base Camp, Everest, yeah, right!
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