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Outpost Phoenix: Personal Com-Net


by Lieutenant Lukas Behr & Doctor S. Vasari
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She never dared to open the letter he left her, fearful that he’d tell her to move out of the house.  With Lukas gone, Jane found herself more willing to wander the island and the house that they had built together.  It simply didn’t feel like the home it once was. The heaviness in her heart was a constant companion, and the sensation was odd.  She was always a fairly happy person despite hating the expectations placed upon her and despite the knowledge of her future. It was lonely without the operations officer and his words dug at the confidence that came naturally to her character.  She retreated into the silence that came from her introverted nature, politely declining invitations to coffee or dinner. There seemed to be a number of her colleagues who thought she needed their company.

By chance, she wandered into Lukas’ room two days after his departure.  The sight of the bed in the converted space made her sigh. She was sure he was thinking more about being watchful of his niece, but a little girl needed her own room.  Little girls craved independence. Moreover, Jane was sure that the last thing the German wanted to do was make Adelina feel as if she was nothing but a burden to his life.  His niece required a home as much as she needed family. Lukas also needed to keep his space, to have a room that remained his sanctuary so that he could decompress and not feel like a parent.  His niece was going to take over a good chunk of his life, and she was sure he didn’t quite fully comprehend the true extent of that commitment. While the Italian had no experience with children, she had once wanted them.  Little girls imitated their mothers - it was the basis of interactive and imaginative play. She was a natural nurturer when it came to children.

Adelina, she gathered, had suffered a loss, but children were resilient.  They were better at accepting terrible news. The young girl was forced to grow up at such a young age, and that meant creating a space that catered to the innocence that naturally came to youth yet the maturity that came with a sudden change to her life.  

Jane was certain that Lukas would have far harder of a time adjusting.  He was capable and he would be an amazing father, of that she was sure, but there was a steep learning curve.  It seemed like the least she could do was lessen the growing pains he would undoubtedly suffer.

When she wasn’t at the outpost, she was home to do just that.  It required some help from her colleagues, who apparently were willing to put in manual labour in exchange for coffee and dinner.  The best guest room in the house was emptied of its furniture and sent to the outpost to be recycled and changed to fit a younger occupant.  Every day, she worked tirelessly to paint the walls, the mural to one side complete with bright colours of oranges, pinks, reds, purples, yellows.  It took nearly two weeks to complete sketching the petals with pencil. Thankfully outlining everything in black only took the better part of a day.  Painting took far less time.

The other side was more muted, a soft grey wall served as a background to the white outline of mountains.  She wanted to bring Lukas’ love for the outdoors into the room, hoping that his niece would find comfort in camping and being one with nature as her uncle.  The bed was painted a muted pink and she managed to find a nurse with the most fantastic handwriting to draw out the outline for Adelina’s nickname. Hot air balloons decorated the simple mountainscape, a nod to the older generation when air travel was considered a romantic fancy of the imagination.  Soft linens and a starry canopy decorated the bed and the designated sleeping space of the room was calm and inviting.

Jane fashioned a chandelier from one of the larger branches she found on the island.  It was painted black and pristine white lights were strung around it before being hung.  It blended well with the small modest lighting fixture she and Lukas had picked for the guestroom.  Creating the six little papier-mâché fairies was awfully annoying, but the little figurines added the whimsy she hoped to create.  They dangled from the large branch, delicate wings capturing the light that filtered into the room.

By the bright floral mural, she managed to create a lace teepee as a reading nook.  Silk flowers hid the corded ropes that kept it together and her meager sewing skills were enough to create a tube for the wooden poles.  Toys joined the space to fill it with the potential for joy. A small play kitchen, a table with two chairs, a tin tea set, stuffed animals.  Floor pillows. Jane spared no expense, draining the credits tied to her name and even requesting more from her parents. The Vasari’s were generous, instantly wiring whatever credits they could.  Bianca, her mother, always did have a soft spot for the young man. They offered to send old toys they’d saved for the grandchild they hoped to dote upon with reckless abandon, and she accepted them willingly.  They’d arrive well after Adelina’s arrival.

The bathroom was her favourite, which was rather funny considering all the work she had put in to create a safe and enjoyable bedroom for the little girl.  She left everything fairly intact, but she had asked a colleague to assist her in attaching a shelving unit by the bear claw bathtub.  Filling the narrow shelves with all sorts of rubber duckies really shouldn’t have given her as much joy as it did, but Jane enjoyed the reprieve from her sorrow staring at the little yellow bath toys.  Floral colours for linens and toiletry holders brought in the brightness of the mural into the bathroom. The selection of bubble bath soaps was a bit obscene and she wondered if perhaps she went a little too far.

She answered ‘No’ pretty quickly to that thought.

She averaged roughly four hours of sleep a night.  Decorating and painting took far too much of her time.  The sketch for the Behr family portrait went through several drafts before she finally put water paint to paper.  Another version would take far more time. The canvas sat in her studio space waiting for oil.

Small little tokens were left throughout the family room to invite the young girl into the space.  She didn’t want the house to feel like it belonged to adults alone. The more breakable things were moved to the top shelves.  Picture books took a portion of the bottom shelf and a stuffed animal or two were placed on the large sectional couch. Unbreakable dishware that appeared to be the same as ones used by grown ups took a shelf on a cupboard where Jane imagined a four year old could reach and some healthier snacks were provided so that Adelina could learn to feed herself on with actual nutrition.  Fostering independence for a child who was forced to grow up would hopefully lessen the burden on Lukas.

It took her a month of hard work, but Jane managed to finish Adelina’s room and she received more than enough help to bolt larger pieces of furniture against the wall.  She was satisfied with the results just before Lukas’ expected arrival. The house was warm and inviting. There were spaces designated for grown up behavior - the living room, the dining room.  Though she did add a few children’s books in Lukas’ room. She assumed the little girl would wander at night - Jane distinctly recalled stories from her parents laughing at how she disrupted their beauty sleep.  Adelina would hopefully feel as if the house was her home. Her toys and books were tidy in the family room and she had her own safe space.

The finishing touch was a far too large red ribbon placed on the closed door.  

She decided to be absent, opting to stay with a friend for several days so that the German and his niece could have the house to themselves.  The ache in her heart never dissipated, especially when she realized that Lukas probably didn’t want her to stay in the house he had built when his niece was to live with him.  Jane would do nothing but serve as a reminder of the family he’d lost. She had been the one to force his hand. It was his print that authorized the patterns to be released, but it was by her insistence that caused it.  He had asked her to go - well, “shoo” away like a dog. After what she’d done to him, it seemed like leaving was the most loving thing she could do.

That night, she made a list of what needed to be done to move back into the residential building and she cried herself to sleep yet again.

* * *

There was some trepidation in approaching the house when Lukas noted that the shuttle was still there.  His thoughts had strayed to the Italian from time to time during the four weeks he was gone. The anger he once felt toward her had dissipated, but there was a great deal of doubt for its source.  He held Lina’s hand and carried his bag over his other shoulder. While the actual definition of their relationship was undefined, the German made sure to mention to his niece that he shared the house with his friend Jane.  The girl may or may not have understood, but she was excited to meet another of his friends. He tapped on the chime to warn his roommate of their arrival and then opened the door.

Adelina peered around his legs into the house.  Curiosity pulled her into the space and she found that there was so much to see.  She quickly glanced around, her eyes wide with awe and wonder. “Du hast das gebaut, Onkel Lukes?!  Whoooooa, (You built this?)” she whispered as she made her way to the family room. Her exploration of her new home was thorough.  Lina giggled and pointed out the soft teddy bear on the couch before running to claim it as her own.

He smiled gently at the sight, quietly thanking the Italian for having the forethought to do such a thing.  He was surprised that she had even thought of things like moving the breakable objects, bolting down the heavy furniture, and creating small spaces for Adelina.  He had no idea how she knew to do such things - he certainly wouldn’t have thought of it. “Miss Jane und ich haben es getan. (Miss Jane and I did.)” Lukas waited until she had explored the entire first floor, including the snacks for her in the pantry and her own dishware ready to use.  There was some amusement in seeing that Jane’s idea of snacks were healthy items like dried fruit and granola. He noticed the step stool that folded so the small girl would be able to reach the sink. ‘I really was not prepared for this.’  He directed her up the stairs, following close behind to ensure she didn’t fall back.  At the landing, he pointed to the right and was about to mention his room was there when he caught sight of the red ribbon at the end of the hallway.  “Huh,” he grunted as he dropped his bag.

The young girl had already caught sight of the ribbon and reached up to turn the knob.  She didn’t wait for Lukas to join her as she pushed the door open. For a slow minute, Adelina stood in the doorway and simply stared at the room.  With each passing second, excitement grew in her little frame and it wasn’t until she saw her name painted on the headboard that she squealed with delight and ran into the space.  

Lukas rested one hand on the doorknob and the other on the frame of the door to keep himself standing upright.  His eyes shifted around the room in muted awe. What had once been a non-descript guest room was now a space just for Adelina to really grow into.  There were personal touches everywhere and it dawned on him that they were handmade or hand painted. The German knew Jane was an artist, but he didn’t realize how much she could do until that moment - he’d never seen much of her art during the Academy.  He took in each of the details - the flowers on the wall, the teepee reading nook, the kitchen and tea set, the chandelier, the bed and canopy, the hot air balloons, the mountain. His heart grew with affection for the woman who had put so much detail into the space.  The anger that he held for her continued to melt away with each passing moment. Guilt also overwhelmed him, twisting in his chest painfully. The medical officer hadn’t just thrown pink sheets on a bed, she’d created his niece a sanctuary - a home within their home. As he turned his head to look for the girl, he saw into the adjoining bathroom that it too had been transformed.  He stepped into the room and peered into the space, grinning at the display of rubber ducks. “Lina, Sieh dir das an. (Come look.)”

She hugged the stuffed bear to her chest and trotted over to peer into the bathroom.  “Kleine Enten! (Duckies!)” she giggled with delight. The teddy bear was handed off to Lukas so she could run over and inspect the rows of bath toys.  “Ich mag dieses, es hat eine rosa Nase! (I like this one, it has a pink nose!)” Adelina smiled and looked back to her uncle before running to give his legs a hug.  Wide and clear ice green eyes stared up at him, her features full of joy. “Hast du das für mich getan, Onkel Lukes? (Did you do this for me?)”

He caressed her dirty blonde hair back from her face as he smiled down at her, his expression both joyful and sorrowful.  Adelina was so happy with her room. He was sure the girl’s reaction would have been quite different if he’d shown her the closet that he’d prepared for her.  ‘A closet,’ he scoffed to himself.  ‘What the hell was I thinking?’  The truth was that he hadn’t been thinking.  He had no idea what a four year old girl needed.  He still didn’t, but Jane knew better for some reason.  Lukas wondered if he’d ever be able to ask for her help.  It was difficult to keep his voice from breaking or the moisture in the corner of his eyes from spilling down his cheeks.  “Nein, ich war es nicht, Lina. Miss Jane hat das für dich getan. (No, it wasn’t me. Miss Jane did this for you.)” As he studied the transformed room again, realization hit him like a ton of bricks.  Doctor Vaeros’ words rang between his ears. She’d left rations for him, reached out to him, left the shuttle for him, prepared Adelina’s room for him. She had taken the blame for his family’s death for him.  ‘She did all of this for me.’  He took in a deep breath to ensure that his voice wouldn’t crack.  “Wir müssen ihr dafür danken dass sie so nachdenklich sind. (We’ll have to thank her for being so thoughtful.)”  When the girl nodded and darted back into her room, his gaze followed her before lifting to the mural of flowers on the wall.  It looked like the garden she’d planted outside, the one he’d built the surround for.

His heart skipped a few beats when he saw the framed portrait that rested on the dresser.  Slow steps carried him across the room as he stared at the watercolor painting. While the detail was not precise, it was still obviously a picture of the Behr family.  His father standing stoic, his curvy mother with a brilliant smile, his sister with a ballerina’s pose, his brother and wife with their hipster clothes, Adelina in a bright floral dress, and him in slacks and a dress shirt.  His fingers curled over the edge of the dresser so he wouldn’t be tempted to caress the glass. “Oh Jane,” he whispered. “Was habe ich getan? Wirst du mir jemals vergeben? (What did I do? Will you ever forgive me?)”

   
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