A Family Matter
By: Brian W. Antoine
Chapter 1: Velan Family
My yell for help hadn’t finished echoing off the walls before Wythdantis and her team began pouring out of every door I could see, headed for why I stood holding Kalindra. The first med-tech to reach me held out his arms so I could pass her to him, the one behind him was reaching for her shoulder to begin stanching the wound she’d torn open again during her attempt to teach manners to a bunch of North Idaho Rednecks.
Third to reach me was Wythdantis and she grabbed for me instead of Kalindra, which I didn’t actually mind since I was starting to feel more than a little unsteady on my feet. Being back home, the tension that had kept me on my feet since the Meenzai had attacked finally gave up the battle and I started to shutdown. Wythdantis had other ideas though.
"How dare you risk the life of Kalindra for your stupid revenge!" she yelled into my face, snapping my eyes back open in spite of the weariness I felt.
"Go fuck yourself, it was her idea," was all I managed to say before standing became too much trouble and I fell forward into her arms.
"I should …"
I wasn’t unconscious, just too damned tired to care any more as I mumbled, "You’re probably angry enough to do something stupid, except you can’t get angry with me, and you can’t even get angry at the fact you can’t get angry. Sucks to be you I guess."
"What have you done?"
I closed my eyes and smiled, about the same time one of her med-techs yelled that my mates child was showing signs of distress because of Kalindra’s blood loss.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
I managed to mutter, "Go save your granddaughter you idiot" before I gave up and passed out in her arms. I didn’t wake up for three days.
* * *
I wasn’t even sure I was awake until some voices from the next room caused me to turn my head in their direction. When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at our families sleeping chambers and I was cuddled up behind Kalindra with my arms around her. We were the only ones in the room, and I’m not sure how long I lay there like that, not thinking, just content that my mate was alive and in my arms and nothing was trying to kill us. Eventually though, I heard the voices again, and that caused me to focus enough that I noticed Kal was still in a deep healing sleep. I could feel her in my head, our bond as solid as the day it formed, but all I felt was the constant warmth of the link itself, not her thoughts.
"She still has a few days of healing ahead of her," came Wythdantis’ voice from the doorway and I turned my head to look at her. That’s when I noticed the burn marks on the walls of the room and the faint scent of burnt cloth finally got my attention.
"They will be OK?"
"Your mate and daughter have survived, but there are questions that the Klizach nas Kan must provide answers to."
I closed my eyes for a moment and muttered a mild curse to myself. If Wythdantis was going formal on me, this wasn’t going to be fun. "The Klizach will make himself available for questions as soon as he has washed and found some clothing." Wythdantis simply bowed and backed out of the doorway, which didn’t improve my mood any.
It took about an hour before I’d showered to the point of finally feeling presentable again, and my closet had been ransacked to find one of the more formal Velan ensembles in my wardrobe. Lythandi and Naldantis had met me the moment I left the sleeping chambers and had carried me off to the shower with hardly a word spoken between us, and at some level, for the first time, no words were needed. It wouldn’t have been that long ago that I’d have freaked at the idea, now it seemed right somehow.
And it wasn’t just my own view of things that had changed. As I stood there while Lythandi tied the sash around the robe she’d picked out for me, making sure it hung just right, Naldantis was finishing with the braid he was tying in my hair. As he picked out a gold wolf shaped clasp I’d had made, and clipped it in place, he leaned close and whispered "Don’t take any crap from her" and nuzzled my cheek. There was still a small part of me that was yelling "What the Hell???" in the back of my mind, but the rest accepted what was happening. Hugging both of them close I told them, "Thank You," then walked from our private quarters to my office, where Wythdantis was waiting for me. Last, but not least, outside the door stood my son, holding my staff out to me as I stepped through the door. I took it, ruffled his hair a little and thanked him.
"Ok, they wanted the Klizach, let’s see if they can deal with what they’ve asked for."
* * *
Wythdantis was waiting outside my office door as I rounded the tree that dominated the center of our home. I nodded to her, opened the door and waved her in, then followed and sat at my desk. "I understand there are questions for nas Kan that cannot wait until the Klizan is available," I told her as I pointed at the chair across from me she could sit in. "The Klizach will answer as best he is able in her absence." I did my best to ignore the bright red message waiting light that was blinking from my comm console, as Wythdantis sat down and got right to the point.
"A debt of honor complaint has been filed against nas Kan on behalf of Vandantis ne Felian, one of my staff."
Translation, we were being sued by his family for some reason, and it annoyed me that Wythdantis started by dumping the complaint in my lap instead of explaining what had happened to cause it. "And the nature of this complaint?" I prompted.
"That while caring for the Klizan and Klizach nas Kan, Vandantis was injured and it now appears he may never be able to serve as a Healer again. Nas Felian claims a debt of honor to pay for his care and compensate the family for the loss of his services."
I just sat there staring at her, and after a few minutes of her still not telling me what the hell had actually happened, I turned to my comm console and flipped through to the public records area to view the complaint myself. The complaint was lacking in details as well, all it contained was the basic complaint, the people involved and the amount of compensation that they believed was required. I did my best not to laugh when I saw the amount.
"Ok, now do I dig through your memories or are you going to tell me what this is about?" I told Wythdantis as I turned my chair around to face her again.
"You would not dare, I …"
"I would dare a great many things these days," I said, interrupting her. "I have a world full of angry cats who would love to wipe me and my family from the universe, there are undoubtedly some on my home planet that are thinking similar thoughts, my mate and daughter almost died in my arms and you’re expecting me to sit quietly for a game of twenty questions. I’m not sure whose ass I should kick first here, but you’re the closest at the moment. Now I’ll ask just once more, what happened?"
I watched her think about it for a minute or two, and I got the distinct impression once again that she really wanted to be angry with me, and was annoyed and scared that she couldn’t be. "You may have noticed a few burn marks on the walls of your quarters when you awoke," she finally said.
"Yes, there is an burnt odor as well, even to my poor sense of smell."
Wythdantis rubbed her temples almost like I would when trying to deal with a headache. "It was the third day of your recovery, Vandantis was on monitor duty, when Kalindra began showing signs of distress again. He had just enough time to yell for help when you, for lack of a better description, powered up. He made a choice, he tapped the power you were making available and saved the life of your mate."
I waited, that couldn’t be all of the story, and Wythdantis sighed and grew just a little smaller as she pulled herself into the chair she was sitting in.
"Vandantis latter tried to describe the experience to us, but he wasn’t making much sense. As best we can understand, his skills as a healer, augmented with the power you provided, took him far beyond anything we’ve ever documented. He was describing how he coaxed cells to divide and rebuild tissue, blood vessels to spread out and nourish that tissue, bones to knit like they had never been broken, all under his control and they did so as he watched. When Kalindra was finally out of danger, he broke the connection with you. You returned to normal, or as normal as you ever are, he collapsed into the arms of the staff that hadn’t been able to enter the room because of the energy flows that were present."
"The burnt smell and scorch marks were caused by me I assume?"
"We were worried for a short time that you might have actually set the room on fire, but could find no trace of flame during later examination."
"And the debt of honor?"
"When Vandantis awoke, he became agitated to a degree we could not explain. He is now under constant watch back at my facilities to make sure he does not hurt himself or others. As best we can understand at this point, he remembers everything he accomplished and the realization that he will never likely be capable of that kind of thing again has driven him into a deep depression."
It was my turn to think while Wythdantis watched quietly. I checked my own memories for the last few days and found a blank, which was expected since I’d been deep in a healing coma the entire time. After several minutes I could find nothing wrong with my, or my families actions, so I turned back to the comm console and recorded a message for the public records.
"The Klizach nas Kan regrets any harm done to Vandantis ne Felian as a result of the failure of Wythdantis nal Sata to properly educate her staff before assigning them to the healing of the Klizan and Klizach nas Kan. Nas Kan will assist as it can in the treatment of Vandantis and expressed its hopes for a quick and complete recovery." I added my thumbprint to the message and sent it, Wythdantis was staring at me in shock as I turned back to face her.
"You’ve attracted a great many people to your facility the last few years, due in no small part to your relationship with nas Kan and the discoveries we were helping you make. You better than anybody else knows the relationship between a healer and the power they have available to heal with, yet you placed that poor kid in harms way, without warning him about what you well knew I was capable of doing when I think Kalindra is in danger. There is an honor issue here, but it damn well isn’t nas Kan that failed to deal honorably with Vandantis ne Felian."
"What have you done?" she finally managed to say.
"I have done what any Klizach would have done, I have placed the blame where it belonged and done so as honorably as I could for those involved. Now, is there anything else you wished to question nas Kan about?" I wasn’t sure if she’d simply walk out of the room and never return, or accept her mistake and move on. Having known Wythdantis since my first day on Velar, I suspected it would be a combination of the two and that the issue was hardly settled.
"The Klizan is with child," she finally said.
"That is correct, and I thank you for saving my daughters life."
"Yes, my daughter."
"Your genetic daughter?"
I thought about that for a moment, I knew what she wanted to ask and I knew she wasn’t going to like the answer. Reaching over to one of the drawers of my desk, I thumbed open the lock and removed a small bag on a cord, then hung it around my neck. Concentrating for a moment, reminding myself about the details of the genetic signature of the bags contents, I shifted form and now faced Wythdantis as a middle aged male Velan. "My genetic daughter, and any questions beyond what you have asked will involve family matters, which are not your concern."
"You refereed to your daughter as my granddaughter, does that not give me the right?"
She had a point, which meant it was my turn to be annoyed. "I was not exactly in full control of myself when I said that, a better description of the relationship might be that you are her Aunt, to what degree though is unknown."
"The form you wear, I contributed to it?"
"You, and an number of others, including myself. Human and Velan genetic coding are not directly compatible, but research and more than a little magic demonstrated that the concepts encoded for had similarities. I am Velan in this form, my daughter is proof."
"And you retain some of the changes even in your Human form," she said with a hard stare.
"Yes, my research uncovered the genetic encoding for your anger suppression mechanism and as you’ve noticed, I smell right to you even in Human form now."
"Can you get angry with us?"
I paused for just a second, then smiled as innocently as I could, "I’m sure you already know the answer to that question." She thought about that for a moment.
"Will your daughter be able to get angry with her own species?"
There was the question finally. "No, she won’t, and any further questions on that subject are strictly a family matter." I knew she had more questions, I was not inclined to answer them and it really was a family matter. If she persisted, I’d be well within my rights as Klizach to throw her off the mountain we lived on for violating family privacy.
"Are there any other questions which do not involve family matters?" I glanced at the red light still blinking on the comm console. "I expect to be occupied for the foreseeable future with issues concerning the war that my home world has survived and their new knowledge about the friends and enemies they have."
"No, you have answered my questions. I will leave a med-tech here to monitor the Klizan until she awakens, I will be returning to my facilities to rejoin my staff, who are awaiting my arrival."
I stood up from my chair and bowed to her as she left my office. "Thank you for keeping us alive." The look she gave me as she left made me think she might have done things differently if she had them to do again. I was going to have to talk to her alone sometime soon, when things had settled down and I had time to really talk to her about everything that was going on. Formal Velan or Family Friend, I’d known Wythdantis a long time and she’d saved my life more than once. At the moment though, there were just too many things screaming for attention, my hide, or both. Sitting back in my chair I spun around and stabbed at the message waiting light on the comm console.
* * *
A lifelong habit made me read the flood of messages waiting for me from oldest to newest, I’d never thought doing it the other way around made the slightest sense. Read the oldest first, find out how anything that ended up still needing attention began and what had happened, as it had happened. I had a notepad and pen beside the terminal and began making notes as I discovered just how much hell had broken loose the last few days. I broke two pens before I finally realized my hand was still furry, and that pens snapped way to easily in a Velan paw. When I’d finished the final message, I looked at my notes and made a list of who to call first, just as soon as I calmed down, because I was in no mood to even attempt being polite the way I felt now.
Pushing my chair back from the terminal, I turned and got up from my desk, then headed from my office to the kitchen. As I passed Kalindra’s picture on my office wall, I stopped for a moment and looked up at her. "Wake up soon dear, this mess needs both of us," I told the painting before I flung the office door open with a crash and continued on to the kitchen.
Lythandi was waiting for me as I entered and handed me a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows just starting to dissolve on top. "Have I mentioned recently that I love you?" I told her as I took the mug. She gave me her best attempt at a human grin and said, "Not in the last few days." I held the mug up to my muzzle and inhaled the scent of the chocolate causing an involuntary shudder because of its intensity. "You obviously don’t slap sense into me often enough." I closed my eyes and took a sip of the chocolate, then thanked her and headed back to my office.
Sitting back in my chair again, I finished off about half the mug before I sat it on my desk and turned back to the terminal once again to place the first of many calls, this one being to Tanindra.
It had taken less than twenty-four hours for the US Government to track down just who I was, and worse, who my family was, thanks to Pennys broadcasting the battle communications feeds back to Earth. It had taken even less time for them to take my Aunt into "protective custody" while she was out trying to pick up a few emergency supplies from the local store. My cousin, Steve, had found and called the emergency phone number I’d given him years earlier the moment he and my Uncle realized something had happened.
Tanindra had showed up before Steve had even gotten off the phone. He’d stayed just long enough to pick up my Aunts trace, in spite of my Uncles reaction to his teleporting into the living room of their home. Then he’d vanished again as he’d left to explain to everybody at the local airforce base just why they shouldn’t be interfering with my family. From the messages I’d read before calling him, they’d resisted the lesson he’d tried to teach them, but that hadn’t stopped him. As soon as my Aunt was safely back home, he’d picked up my mother and brother, and dealt with even more hysterics on my mother’s part, and then thrown a defensive barrier around the house to keep everybody from bothering them. For good measure he’d assigned a couple of security guards from Geneva, with weapons that made it clear they hadn’t come from Earth, to keep a watch on things. As for the call I made, I barely had time enough to pull my hand back from the keyboard before Tanindra answered it.
"Are they still safe?" I asked him.
"As of a few minutes ago, they are fine, though still angry enough with how the events of the last few days have played out that I have not tried to speak to them directly. The barrier around the residence is still in place and the guards I assigned report that nobody has attempted to bother them in the last 30 hours, though there are still a number of your news media personal in the area."
I looked at Tanindra across the lightyears the call was traversing and could see in his eyes that the stress was getting to him. "And how are you doing? None of this mess is your concern, I expect there are more pressing matters concerning Velar that you should be dealing with."
"All these years living amongst us and you still don’t understand about family?" he said, and I think, for me, that cemented the fact that no matter what his name might be the rest of his life, there would always be a silent suffix.
"I’m but a poor stupid human, what would I know." That got me a laugh and I saw some of the stress etched in his face, release its hold.
"You’re a bit fuzzy, even for a human who hates to shave, at the moment."
I thought about that, and the calls I was going to be making, and closed my eyes to concentrate as I shifted my form again. "There, is that stupid looking enough?" Tan nodded, but didn’t say anything because he was too busy trying to keep from laughing. "Speaking of stupid, I don’t suppose you’ve seen my idiot sister lately?"
"I assigned her to guard your family, she’s been standing in front of the residence for the last few days, doing her best to scare off anybody who even looked like they might want to become a problem."
I thought about that for a moment, then drew a line through one of the calls on my list. "Thank you, she caused much of this, that’s a good place for her." I silently added something about that also making sure she’d be right at hand when I took a hammer to her, and it must have showed on my face because Tanindra laughed again. We then talked about what was currently going on at Tycho, I wanted a second opinion about what I’d read between the lines of the messages I’d gone through. "I don’t suppose you left my family a comm console by chance?"
"Sorry, no, I must admit the thought did not occur to me to do so."
"Ok, I’ll just place a really long distance phone call then. I’ll get back to you as soon as any of this mess starts to sort itself out," then I broke the connection when he nodded his acceptance of that. Finishing off the now cold mug of chocolate, I put a call through to the security department of the company Kalindra and I had setup in Geneva. The duty tech still managed a surprised look as the call went through, in spite of the fact that there were probably less than a half dozen people in this part of the spiral arm who could have even placed the call he was answering.
"Sir, it’s good to see you!"
"It’s good to be around to be seen," I told him. "I need to place a secure call to the following phone number, I’ll wait while you get the relay setup." The look on his face confirmed what I’d suspected.
"Sir, I can setup the relay, but I can’t secure it. In your absence, Jean ordered us to leave Zorac inactive, our links to the planetary networks are only manually monitored and defended."
"Then it’s a good thing I’m no longer absent, and that you work for the Family nas Kan, not Jean. I am authorizing you to bring Zorac online and if Jean says anything, you have my permission to tell her to go to hell, I’ll provide the map." It took a few seconds for that to sink in, then he grinned. "This is what I hired and trained your team for. I expect Zorac will keep your team busy for awhile as he starts cleaning house, I’d like that phone call relay near the top of your priority list. Please give me a callback when it’s available."
"No problem sir, and again, it’s good to have you back."
I nodded and terminated the call, then grabbed my mug and decided a refill was in order. The walk and the chocolate would both calm me down, because Jean was the third call on my list.
When Kalindra and I had setup a company in Geneva to act as the local contact point to deal with us, I’d known from the start that we were going to become the focus of every idiot and intelligence agency on the planet once they learned about us. I’d also decided early on that our security was going to be more than a few harsh words for anybody who tried to screw with us. With Penny’s help, we’d recruited a unique team of people and created an AI to assist them. Zorac, the AI, would identify and track attacks made against us; the team, which included a few Mages, would deal with what he found. Rule number one, any computer attacking us was to be rendered incapable of further attacks. I didn’t care if it caught fire, melted or exploded, whatever the team decided was appropriate based on the attack and the attacker.
Jean, I now knew, had decided on a more passive response. Well, she was welcome to that approach when she owned what was being attacked. Lythandi wasn’t waiting for me this time when I got to the kitchen, so I had to get my own hot chocolate, and the message waiting light was blinking when I got back to my office.
"I have your relay ready for you sir," said the same tech I’d talked to earlier when the connection went through.
"Not for us, though I expect there are more than a few people around the world scrambling to understand what just happened to their equipment. Zorac tracked more than seventy taps on the test call we placed, and he warned them what would happen if they were still tapping the call thirty seconds later. Only a few ceased, Zorac dealt with most of the remaining taps and the on-duty security specialist dealt with the rest."
"Anything after that?" I asked.
"We placed a second test call two minutes later, the specialist melted down everything that tried to tap it. A third test call went through without issue."
"They won’t have learned their lesson yet," I said.
"No sir, I wouldn’t think so either. We’ll be monitoring your call and any repeat offenders will be escalated to a more forceful lesson."
I took a sip of my hot chocolate and nodded, "Please put my call through and thank your team for me." He grinned and nodded, then my screen switched to an audio only call and I heard the familiar ringing signal get relayed across twelve hundred lightyears. On a Caller ID box back on Earth, my name and the location ‘Kan Residence, Velar’ was blinking silently at anybody who was looking.
I got the answering machine.
"Hello, yes, this is Brian. If you’re monitoring the call, pickup, believe me this call is secure." I waited a few seconds, nobody answered, so I continued. "I’ve heard what happened and I’m sorry, I didn’t want you guys to learn about what I’ve really been doing all these years the way you did. You can trust Tanindra though and I’ll be there in a couple of days with the family to answer all your questions, I just need to wait for Kalindra to finish healing up from the battles we’ve been through. If you need anything, the number Steve has will bring help, I’ll see you …" and the call ended with a beep as the machine cut me off. I just shook my head at the stupidity of some bit of electronics and tape that believed no message should ever be longer than a two minutes, then rubbed my temples with my palms.
* * *
The next call was to Jean, and I really hoped she didn’t answer, I’d get to tell myself I’d tried but had been unable to reach her. Unfortunately, she must have been close to her terminal because it took less than fifteen seconds for the screen to clear, it took even less time for her to react to seeing that it was me calling.
"You son of a bitch! When I get my hands on you …"
No, I wasn’t going to put up with that shit, not from Wythdantis, nor from Jean. "Strike One," was all I said then I terminated the call. I hadn’t even sat back in my chair before the incoming call light began blinking at me, I ignored it and after grabbing my mug I headed to the kitchen. Naldantis was fixing himself a snack as I entered, and after he gave me a questioning look and I nodded, he started fixing another for me. Sitting on the other side of the table, I accepted a sandwich from him with a sigh, then closed my eyes for a moment.
"You look like you could use a backrub," he said quietly.
I let one eye open enough to look over at him and replied, "Several I suspect, I haven’t had a chance to work out the kinks from laying in bed for days in a healing sleep yet." I stretched and my back popped loud enough for him to hear it.
"I’m sure Lythandi would be willing, even though she hates cleaning that oil you like out of her fur afterwards. That’s why were here after all, to support you and Kalindra."
What the hell? I sat up in my chair, wide-awake now, and stared at him. "Is that why you think we asked you to join this family?" I continued to stare at him, and I found myself wondering just when he’d picked up the scattering of grey in his fur. "You’re serious." He didn’t say anything, but he also wouldn’t look me in the eyes. "Nal," and I paused for a moment to think. "Nal, I wish I’d realized you and Lythandi felt like this, and I refuse to try and give you some flip answer simply because I’ve got so much else to deal with at the moment. Can you give your sorry excuse for a Klizach a few hours to slap some sense into a few people, then join me and the rest of the family for a long overdue talk?" He barely managed to blink in surprise, but finally gave me an all too human nod. I stood up from the table, bowed to him, grabbed my sandwich and walked through the house to the doors that led out to the patio, deep in thought.
When I’d created this place I’d done it with song. No matter how many times Kalindra had tried to teach me how she did magic, when I wanted it done and done right, I still returned to what had first sparked the magic within me, music. When I wanted to relax, to concentrate, to clear my head of crap, it was still music that did it best. Standing there on the patio, staring out at the valley below, I went there once again. Jumping over the railing I flew several miles away from our home to a sweet spot I’d found above the valley floor, and then came to a stop.
To keep some part of my mind from worrying about falling, I teased one of the clouds that was nearby into place below me, than floated above it like I was sitting on it. With a glance at four places around me that I’d previously memorized, crystal transducers formed and hovered in place. Then I pulled a beat up old iPod from my pocket, selected the playlist I had in mind, and closed my eyes as I clicked play.
The first piece was Valley in The Clouds, by David Arkenstone, which I’d always thought of as the signature piece for where I lived. Next up was Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, by Michael Murray, played on an honest to god pipe organ that could do it justice. I didn’t bother turning the volume down. It wasn’t until a week later, after all the events of the next few days had been recorded in the family history, that I learned one of the Velan Orbital Control stations had been overhead at the time. The news reports, without any additional commentary, were simply videos of me sitting there in the clouds before they vanished ahead of the shock wave, and a note that I’d triggered seismographs a thousand miles away.
When the playlist finally ended, and I slowly made my way home and to my office, I understood a simple truth I think I’d been missing. I’m wasn’t sure if I’d understood it once and forgotten, or if it had been waiting patiently for me to find it. I also understood for the first time just what a pain in the ass I’d been for Kimi to deal with, in spite of the fact I’d thought I’d shown her respect. Sitting down at my desk, I turned and deleted all the saved messages from Jean that she’d left, then placed a call to her.
"How dare you hang …"
"You will shut the fuck up, or I will never bother talking to you the rest of your life," I said quietly as I interrupted her. "I am tired of the games, you will speak to me in a civil tone, or you will not speak to me at all." I then waited, my hand above the disconnect button. She didn’t say a thing for several minutes, though I could see her fighting with herself as she fought the urge to yell at me.
"Thank you for returning my call," she finally said. "I have been informed that Zorac has been activated, though I distinctly recall giving the order that it be left inactive."
"Yes, my staff informed me that you had made such a request of them, and admitted that in my absence, they had deferred to your wishes. Now that I’m available, they have activated him per my orders." I watched her bite back a response, think about what I’d just said and how I’d said it, then think about it again. I’d just drawn the line in the sand and reminded her that those people didn’t work for her, they worked for me. "Out of curiosity, since it’s been several days now, I’d like to know if anybody from Earth has managed to make it to Tycho yet. Given how simple that drive is to build, I’d have expected you to have gotten a few visitors by now." I watched her again as she realized I was not going to allow arguments about my decision.
"You would be right, we’ve tracked four vessels so far, three made it here."
"As best we can tell, the forth had some kind of life support failure, either they didn’t plan well enough or something failed. The container they’d bolted the drive to never made any course corrections or attempts to decelerate and they are now headed into a long orbital path that will probably decay and drop them into the sun."
We’d planned for this kind of thing during the preparations for releasing the plans, though we hadn’t liked it. Once things got moving, we couldn’t afford to try and go after everybody who might try to reach Tycho without doing their homework. It was harsh, but every failure would make those behind them rethink their plans, and hopefully fix their own problems. "And the three who made it?"
"Two private groups and one military one, the military group has taken a particular interest in your ship, which is still sitting on the landing pad where Kalindra left it."
"The Sunbeam can defend itself if they get annoying, but I’ll notify the TipKatz repair crew that it needs to be moved from Tycho so its out of temptations reach." I thought about a few other calls I’d need to make, and scribbled a few notes on the pad on my desk. "If you are interested, I have a suggestion for you," I said as I turned back to the screen. "You have not mentioned it, perhaps it is next on your list of issues to deal with, but I understand from the messages I’ve seen that the debris cloud from the Meenzai is becoming a nasty hazard."
"That would be understating the problem," said Jean while gritting her teeth.
"One of the things I found was always in short supply while I was ArchMage was money. A bank account with large numbers associated with it was always easier to make use of than the ability to create precious metals, or gems. Have you thought about contacting 931 and offering to sell the TipKatz the salvage rights to that debris? They get enough stuff to keep their shipyards busy for decades, you get that mess cleaned up and out of reach of military people who are probably trying to figure out how to get at it even as we speak. I’ve got a couple of other suggestions also, if you have a few minutes."
I had no idea if Jean wanted to kill me, hug me, or both, I couldn’t read the expression on her face. We ended up talking for another hour before I told her I had some family business to deal with and that I’d call in a few days to see how things were going. Looking over the notes I’d made, I sent off a few messages and then closed down the terminal. As I walked out of my office, I found my son sitting on the bench that surrounded the huge tree that grew in the central courtyard, and he had the strangest damn look on his face.
"Is this when I should run screaming from the house?" I asked him.
"I have been asked to make sure that neither I, nor anybody else, enter the room where my mother is recovering for the next few hours. As for any screaming, I have been told that anything I hear during that time did not actually happen, it is simply my youthful imagination or problems digesting some of the family chili I warmed up for dinner."
I glanced at the front door to our home and wondered if I could get to it before he could.
"Father, you have expressed your willingness to accept complaints from Lythandi and Naldantis, have you changed your mind?"
I took a couple of steps sideways so I could see around the tree to the door that lead to the family sleeping area, where Kalindra was resting. Standing on either side of that door were Lythandi and Naldantis, waiting for me. "Lan Louis," I said, glancing over at him where he sat grinning at me. "I have fought entire planets of beings who wanted nothing more than to see me served up with a decent brand of ketchup. Surely a calm family discussion about a few misunderstandings should be easy to survive." My son laughed just loud enough for me to hear, and I remembered that Velan’s channel their anger through their sense of humor.
Ok, I’d asked for and accepted this, so I circled the tree and walked up to the doorway where Lythandi and Naldantis waited. As I bowed to them, the doorway opened and we were all greeted by the Healer Wythdantis had left to watch over Kalindra.
"Greetings Klizach, Lythandi, " and I saw her give a glance at Naldantis and dismiss him just as quickly. "Your mate is resting …"
"Thank you for your service, you may leave now," I said as I interrupted her, for some reason all the anger I’d felt since ever since watching Kalindra get shot on New Years Eve all come into sharp focus inside me.
"I have been instructed by Wythdantis …"
"You may tell Wythdantis that Naldantis ne Kan will care for his Klizan, I trust him with her life more than some Healer who is unable to show him the respect he is due." The Healer in front of me stared at me like she was going to dismiss me as well, then I think she noticed the faint glow that had started to surround me. With a quick bow she excused herself and made her way to the front door and the Gate that would take her back to the northern continent. I watched her leave, then turned back to face my family.
"I may be the worst Klizach this planet has ever known, but I’ve really had all I can stand of my family being looked at like we aren’t worthy of being shown the respect due us." Naldantis just stared at me, Lythandi stepped up, grabbed me and threw me over her shoulder.
"Respect due us is one of the things we want to talk to you about," she said as she carried me through the door and into our sleeping quarters where Kalindra lay healing. Naldantis followed, and closed the door behind him. Two days later, Kalindra woke up, and I mentioned while holding her close and crying with relief that I was going to have to move her painting in my office so that I could make room for one of Lythandi as well.
Chapter 2: Terran Family
Kalindra was laughing so hard, I thought she might hurt herself, but considering what she was laughing about I also gave a moment or two to the thought of throwing her off the side of the mountain we lived on. "I do not think this is funny." She calmed her laughter just long enough to give me a look, then took off on another round until she started having trouble breathing and laughing at the same time. "Not funny at all," I said to no one in particular, and went back to trying to find something to wear that wouldn’t embarrass me to the rest of the family when we met them in a few hours.
The problem had begun when I’d agreed with Lythandi that she deserved to have her portrait on my office wall, next to Kalindra’s. Then I’d explained the other criteria for that portrait and she’d simply nodded and asked when I was available. When I’d told her that it was Naldantis’ job to help her, not me, she’d gotten as annoyed with me as is possible for a Velan to get and hadn’t spoken to me until Kalindra finally woke up. When I’d brought her up to speed on all the things that had been happening, and she’d made a few calls to add her word to the mix, I’d contacted Penny and the security guards back on Earth and told them we’d be arriving the next day.
Lythandi, vindictive trickster that she was, had volunteered to help me get dressed, just as Naldantis had done for Kalindra. I now found myself dressed like a cheap pimp, at least to my eyes, and I’d found out that was actually her intention. My darling mate, mother of my children, head of the family, had given her a few suggestions and had held me still when I’d resisted being dressed.
I finally gave up trying to talk to Kalindra and headed for my office to let Penny know we might be just a little late. I passed Lan Louis on the way and heard him try to hide a snicker as he quickly got out of my sight. The moment the office door closed behind me and concentrated for a moment and then relaxed as my normal attire of jeans and a silly shirt replaced the ‘formal Klizach attire’ as it had been described to me.
When I was finished with the call, I walked back to our quarters and found the entire family there waiting for me. The moment Lyth saw he work had been ruined, she headed for me with an evil gleam in her eyes, and I held up my hand and put a stop to the nonsense. "You’ve had your joke, now do this right or I go dressed as I am." Since I was wearing a shirt that brightly proclaimed, ‘I’m With Stupid è ’, I hoped they’d see things my way. Since Lythandi stopped coming towards me, and the laughter finally died down, I figured everybody had made their point.
"Naldantis, I’d like to make one suggestion to how you have dressed the Klizan, if I may?" He blinked, decided I was serious, and nodded. I walked over to Kalindra and the bright green layered combination wrap and dress she was wearing, and spoke to the cloth with a little magic near the shoulder where she’d been shot. When I was done, her shoulder was bare and the starburst of white fur around the healed wound was visible. As I stepped back, Kalindra gave me the oddest look I’d ever seen, but she also know better than anybody there what I was feeling when I looked at her. She finally just bowed and then pulled me close to hug me.
"Now as to Lythandi, I believe I still have to figure out how to dress you." I caught just a hint of panic in her eyes, but she didn’t try to hide. "Now I’ve been thinking about this all day, I hope it turns out right and looks as good on you as it looks in my head." Taking her paw and leading her to a clear part of the room where I could walk around her and not stumble over something, I had her stand still while I started to sing to myself. Her existing clothing vanished within seconds, and then she was surrounded by light that swirled around her as I sang. When I finished, and the light faded, she was dressed in semi-transparent silk, all of it brightly colored enough to suit Velan eyesight. For the final touch, I stepped up behind her, took a small silver chime with her name engraved on it and clipped it to her tail. Then I stepped back to admire my handy work.
"There, I believe that should be acceptable attire for a female of nas Kan."
There were no dissenting votes.
"I believe I’m the last one that needs to get ready here, what did my family have in mind?" I was about to clear my throat and ask again, everybody in the room was looking at each other, then at me, but not saying a word. Finally, Kalindra gave a swish of her tail so that her chime could be heard, Lythandi did the same and listened to the slightly different tone of her own chime, then they both approached me and that stupid shirt was the first thing they got rid of.
When Lan Louis handed me my staff finally, I laughed and thought to myself that I still looked pretty good for my age.
"Don’t get any ideas, you belong to us," said Kalindra as we made our way to the household gate that would take us to Tycho. Lythandi said something I didn’t catch, but Kalindra laughed and replied, "Yes, we’ll keep him around."
* * *
We hardly made it through the WorldGate at Tycho before we were spotted and everybody in range headed towards us, all of them talking, trying to get our attention. Amongst them were a couple of soldiers from the military group that had made it to Tycho, the look on their faces were not nearly as friendly as the rest of the crowd that formed around us.
"Thank you, and I’ll be happy to meet with as many of you as I can, when I can, but we are here on family business and have an appointment to keep," I told the crowd. The moment I said family business, most, but not all of the crowd, quieted down and gave us room to move. Those who didn’t realize what was going on were intercepted by those who did, and taught what that phrase meant. Our little group completely ignored those who still thought they had some claim to our time as Kalindra did a visual check of the Sunbeam where it still sat on the landing pad, and I built up a mental picture of the driveway of my Uncle’s home on Earth. When I was sure the area was clear, I signaled Kalindra and all of us gathered in a small area so I could teleport us all there.
Penny saw us first from where she was standing guard by the front door of the house, the security detail was only slightly slower and gave us just the briefest of looks before turning back to their duty. All of us were inside the defense field Tanindra had thrown around the property, it looked to be mid-morning and it was snowing both inside and outside the field since falling snow was low enough in energy to not get blocked. We were not dressed for either snow or cold, though I was the only one that was going to really notice the cold due to my lack of a fur coat. That only took a few seconds to deal with and the faint shimmer of an environment field formed around me, even as Penny flew from her post at the front door to great us.
"Good to see you up and around brother!"
"Don’t you brother me you piece of costume jewelry with delusions of grandeur." That stopped her in mid-flight, and I saw her lean from side to side as she tried to see around me.
"You didn’t break a hammer with you, can I assume I’ve got a chance of surviving your anger this time?"
"We’ll see," I told her, and she fell into line behind us as I lead the family up the walkway and stairs to the front door of the house. I was at the head of the line, I figured it better be my face visible in the peephole when we knocked on the door. Before I knocked though, and I’d always knocked when visiting, I’d never used the doorbell, I did glance over at it and grinned. My cousin Jody, when she was just a kid, had taken a pencil and carefully wrote ‘Ring Me’ on the pale brickwork next to the doorbell. Decades later, those words were still visible and were a reminder of how long we’d all been around.
Reaching out with my staff, I lighted rapped on the door with the head of it, and said, "It’s Brian, and have I ever got a surprise for you …"
* * *
The surprise, turned out to be mine, nobody answered the door. I knew they were in there, I could hear somebody moving near the other side of the door and the peephole flickered as they moved between it and the light coming from the kitchen window behind them. I knocked again after a couple of minutes, I could hear a couple of muffled voices now, but still nobody opened the door. When I reached out to knock a third time, Kalindra reached out as well and stopped me.
"Perhaps your old family does not wish to speak with us," she said as she held my arm.
I looked from her, to where everybody else stood on the stairs behind us, and slowly nodded. "All things considered, you might be right. I’m not the young kid they remember from years ago and all this," I nodded at the rest of the family on the stairs and the defense field that glittered in the air around the house, "might be more than they can deal with." I turned to face back down the stairs, "Maybe I’ll try again by myself …"
The deadbolt on the door shot back with a loud metallic snap and as I turned back to the door again, somebody fiddled with the knob lock and the door opened.
"Still causing trouble I see," said my brother, Mike, as he swung the door completely open and backed up so we could enter.
"Maybe," I admitted with a grin, "but this time I won’t try and blame it on you," and everybody followed me inside as I stepped through the open door.
My Aunt, Uncle and Cousin were standing in the living room, just off the entryway, watching us as we entered. My brother had backed up to the doorway between the entryway and kitchen, I discovered my mother was standing a ways down the hallway that led to the bedrooms when Lan Louis turned and said, "Hi Grandma," as he followed Kalindra through the front door.
I’d never seen my mother look quite that confused or scared as I turned to see where she was. She didn’t return my son’s greeting, instead, she inhaled so loud we could all hear it, stepped back into the bedroom behind her and slammed the door. I looked at Lan Louis, who’d turned to me in confusion, "I don’t think my Mother is going to deal well with becoming a Grandmother."
As soon as soon as Naldantis had entered the house, and his tail was clear of the door, I waved at it with my hand and it closed and locked itself again, then I turned to face the living room. "Aunt Joan, before we do anything else, if you have any of your medications for your animal dander allergies handy, you might want to take them. I still don’t understand why, but Velans do sometimes trigger allergic reactions in Humans, it took me years to adjust." I watched as she looked from me to the rest of my family, then she nodded and took the long way around through the dining room to the kitchen where she usually kept her allergy medication.
While she was doing that, I looked from my Uncle Ron, to my Cousin Steve, then my brother. "Do you mind if we sit down?" I asked. They all backed up to the couch on one side of the room and my Uncle waved us towards the other side of the room.
Kalindra and the rest of the family followed me, not saying a word for the most part as we found things to sit on that would be reasonably comfortable. Human chairs aren’t made for beings with tails and I decided redoing my Aunt’s dining room chairs to make them comfortable to sit on would be pushing things, so everybody made do with what they could find. About the time we were getting settled, my Aunt returned and joined my Uncle on the couch. I imagined a dotted line down the center of the room for a moment and Kalindra laughed to herself as she picked up the image from my thoughts.
"It’s safe to come out now," I told my Mother, loudly enough for her to hear, she didn’t come out of the bedroom so I gave up for the moment. I knew she’d cracked the door open enough to hear us talking, that would have to do for now.
"Ok," I said, facing my other family, "introductions are probably first."
‘This is Kalindra nal Kan, my wife, who you met last Christmas, though she didn’t look like this at the time. The lady next to her is Lythandi nal Kan, my other wife," and I heard my cousin cough as he swallowed wrong. "The big guy on the end is Naldantis ne Kan, my husband," and this time there were several coughs and I heard my Uncle mutter "What the hell?" under his breath. "The short guy there is my son, Lan Louis," and now my Uncle more or less yelled, "Son?"
I looked him straight in the eyes and nodded, "Yes, my son." I watched the expression on his face go from confusion to anger in the space of a couple of seconds, while behind me I heard Penny clear her imaginary throat to get my attention.
"Oh yeah, and the egg shaped paperweight back there would like it known that she is Penny Louise Antoine, my Sister," and all hell broke loose as everybody sitting across the room from us began demanding explanations at the same time. By the time they finally stopped shouting, I could feel the beginnings of a good headache asking for my attention, Kalindra caught my distress and whispered something to Lythandi, who moved to where she could sit behind me and massage my neck.
"Ok, we’re here to answer questions, but lets take them one at a time, please?" Everybody quieted down finally and my Aunt ended up speaking first.
"She is the Kalindra that helped me cook last Christmas? That can’t be."
"Aunt Joan, she’s the same person, even though she doesn’t look the same at the moment."
"And I did remember to bring those herb seeds we were talking about with me, if you still want them," added Kalindra as she pulled a small package out of one of her pockets.
"As for why she doesn’t look the same, well, she’s a Mage like I am, and the shape we wear isn’t always the one we were born with. When here on Earth, she normally changes to the shape you saw at Christmas, but she can’t at the moment because she’s pregnant with our daughter and changing shape is a really bad idea when another life is inside her like that."
All hell broke loose for the second time, and I closed my eyes and hoped Lythandi didn’t get tired soon, because the headache I was getting felt like it was going to be one for the record books by the time this day came to an end. Nobody seemed to believe what I’d just said, so I decided to answer several questions at the same time.
Reaching back behind me, I caught Lythandi’s paw in my hand and stopped her for a moment. Then I concentrated and in the space of a few seconds I shifted from being Human to being Velan. The flash of light that accompanied the shift interrupted the yelling. When they saw what I’d become, it stayed quiet.
"The shape a Mage wears is not always the one they were born with, that is my son sitting there, Kalindra is carrying our daughter, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop yelling!" I looked around the room as I got used to the dull colors that are all a Velan sees. The yelling didn’t start up again, and everybody on the other side of the room more or less sat or fell back into their seats in shock. As I shifted back to Human form, I heard Lan Louis laughing to himself quietly.
"Now, if you’ll give me a few minutes to try and explain things here, I’ll start with my Grandmother." That got me several puzzled looks. "You might or might not remember, but back in college, when I started staying out all weekend long to play Dungeons and Dragons, my Grandmother swore that nothing but trouble would come of it. Well, she’s now laughing her ass off, saying ‘I told you so’," and I started to explain how I’d become a Mage.
I started more or less with when I’d almost blown a hole in the side of the house where I’d lived with my grandparents, and how that had led to my introduction to Kimi, though I didn’t use her name. I simply referred to Kimi as the ArchMage or My Teacher. I’d already decided before we’d even left to come here that no names were going to be used, and some things were better left out of the discussion for now. Then I explained how I’d met Penny, are at least what I remembered of how we’d met, and I noticed that pretty much everybody except Kalindra was listening pretty closely. I thought about that for a moment, then it occurred to me I’d never really told Lythandi, Naldantis or even Lan Louis a lot of this stuff before, so of course they might be interested as well.
It wasn’t long after that before I got the how I met Kalindra, and here finally she could join the discussion as she talked about how things had happened from her point of view. It’s also when I discovered the anger she’d kept hidden from me, because her sense of humor had her telling my old family things that could only embarrass me.
I mean, really, did they need to know that she’d caught me "Checking out my ass" as she described it when Wythdantis had put me back together after the first me many times Kalindra had gotten angry with me? I sure didn’t think so, but I couldn’t always shut her up.
One thing we definitely tried to skip over as much as possible was Bob and his family. Wherever they were, they didn’t want to be found, and in spite of how things stood between us I wasn’t going to drag them into this very public mess that Penny had created. We’d more or less gotten to the part of the story where Kalindra had decided I might be an acceptable partner to start a family with, when we hit the next stumbling point.
"That was it? She bit your ear, and you were married?" asked my Uncle Ron.
"Well," I reached up and fingered the Memory Stone that I still wore in my ear, "it wasn’t quite that simple. There was something like an exchange of vows, they have a ritual just like we do, in some ways."
"But no Church, no Minister, nothing like that?" asked Ron.
I watched as Ron and Steve looked at each other for a moment, then Steve spoke up. "Kalindra, does your race believe in God?"
Oh boy …
Kalindra didn’t even hesitate, "No, we do not, and when Brian tried to explain your religious beliefs to me long ago I just got confused because I did not have background to understand what he was trying to describe."
"What do you believe in then?" asked Ron.
Again, Kalindra didn’t hesitate, "Ourselves of course."
Looking back on things afterwards, I think that was moment when the dotted line down the center of the room that I’d imagined earlier, became a solid line. Even as Ron and Steve started to interrupt each other as they tried to ask Kalindra more questions, I called for a break so I could get something to drink, I’d been doing a lot of talking. It took a few minutes to get everybody to agree, but then the Terran side of my family headed for the Kitchen and Bathrooms, while Kalindra turned to talk to the Velan side of my family.
Me? As soon as the way was clear, I made my way across the living room to the front of the house, and pulled the drapes covering the front window aside just enough so I could see outside.
There were two news trucks parked in front of the house now, and a third coming around the corner in the distance. The street in front of the house was still clear, but the sidewalk on the far side had a small but growing crowd of people, all of them looking our direction.
"Yeah, they started showing up about twenty minutes ago," said Penny from where she hovered next to me now.
"This day just keeps getting better," I told her as I watched one of the news crews setting up a video camera. "Start thinking about how you’re going to explain to them why they should all be gone before I have to officially take notice of their presence."
"No problem boss," she answered with a laugh that sent a shiver up my spine.
* * *
I was still watching through the window, when a mental nudge from Kalindra snapped my attention back inside the house, where an argument was going on in the kitchen. Releasing the drapes so they could swing closed again, I turned and crossed the entryway and found Steve and Penny going at it in the middle of the kitchen.
"Lay a hand on me again you hairless ape and I’ll remove it at the wrist!" yelled Penny, and I could hear the faint hum of her main drive unit that she’d powered up.
"Tell this machine to obey orders and stay out of my way!" yelled Steve, just as loudly, as he saw me walking up to them from behind Penny.
"What the hell are you two doing!" I yelled, just so I’d be heard. "Haven’t we all got enough problems without this kind of crap?"
"This machine wouldn’t get out of my way when I ordered it to."
"So you did what?" I asked.
"He reached out to push me out of the way and probably sprained his wrist when I didn’t move," said Penny after rotating to face me. Then she rotated back and in spite of the fact her central lens wasn’t really an eye, I expect Steve understood she was glaring at him in anger.
"You gave her an order?"
"And she refused to obey," said Steve again.
"Why the hell would you think you could order her around in the first place?"
"She’s a machine, she’s not human, she’s supposed to obey. She obeys you!"
I stared at Steve in equal parts amazement, and surprise. "Penny? Obey me? I’m damned lucky if she bothers listening to me most of the time. And as for that machine crack, if that's what you called her, I don’t blame her for getting angry. Penny is a person, comprised of coherent energy, who happens to inhabit the systems built into that shell so that she can interact with us easier. Now I’ll admit she’s slightly insane as our standards go, I still don’t know why she thinks she’s my sister, but she’s as much a sentient being as anybody else in this house."
Both families had been watching and listening for awhile now, and as Steve and Penny exchanged looks that promised round two was about to start, I things down before they could get started again.
"Don’t even think about it or I’ll role dice to see whose ass I kick first here! Penny, you’re a guest in this house, stay out of Steve’s way. Steve, I’d have sworn your mother taught you manners when we were kids, but you’ve lost them someplace, find them!"
All the TV coverage, my shape shifting in front of them, everything we’d talked about the last hour or two. In all the years I’d been coming to this house I think that was the first time most of the human half of my family had seen me angry, and not bury that anger. Penny and Steve just blinked at me, then separated from each other and took different paths back to the front room. I grabbed a glass from one of the cabinets, they were still in the same one even after all these years, then filled it with ice cubes and some water from the refrigerator and headed for the front room myself.
"Ok, so were up to the part of this story where the Meenzel enter the picture," I said before sipping at my water and wishing I had an aspirin handy. "You know them already, they’re the race that Kalindra and I just gave an ass kicking to because they wanted Earth as the first slave planet of their new Empire."
Here was where I had to get a bit creative with names, so that where ever Bob and his family were, they’d be kept out of this mess. I did keep all the major parts of the story intact, I just left it a bit vague as to who had done what when I needed to. When I was describing the incident where we’d just saved their planet from the Maal, and they decided the best way to say thank you was by taking us all prisoner, I caught just the end of a mumbled comment from Steve.
"What was that? I didn’t catch all of it," I asked him.
"I said, what would you expect of animals, gratitude?"
I think I froze up mentally for a second as that registered, then turned to look at Kalindra. "Did I hear?"
Turning back to Steve, I stared at him for a moment, and he stared right back. "Ok, while the Meenzel might act like animals at times, Klingons in a fur coat is how I think of them, they are not animals, they’re people. Twice now you’ve referred to people who aren’t human in ways that sure imply you don’t consider them people, I’d like to know why?"
Steve looked from me, to his father, his mother, then at my brother. "They aren’t Human, they don’t have souls, they can’t be people."
I just stared at him, not saying a word, for several minutes. My Aunt was the first to get uncomfortable with the silence, but before she could actually say anything, I spoke up.
"Steve, do I have a soul?"
"Of course you do," he answered.
For the second time that day I concentrated and shifted to my Velan form. "Do I have one now?" I asked again.
He had to think about it for a moment, certainly not long enough to actually understand what I’d just asked on the large scale, so it was his guts that answered. "Sure, you’re Human after all, you just look different now."
"Steve, you couldn’t be more wrong about my being Human," I snapped back at him instantly. "The only thing that makes my seem Human at the moment is the fact that this Velan brain is holding the collected memories and emotional reactions of me while I grew up on Earth. At the moment, this whole room looks a little odd and the brain holding my memories is warning me that you don’t smell right, there is something wrong with you. Now I’ll ask again, as a Velan, do I have a soul?"
Now he had to think about it, and I saw him look at his father like he wanted to ask him what he thought about it, but my Uncle looked just as unsure of what the answer was.
"I don’t know," he finally said.
"Fair enough," I replied, but you were a missionary long ago, tough questions were thrown at you all the time. "Here are a few more, and you really need to think about your answers." I concentrated again and shifted back to Human form. "If I didn’t have a soul as a Velan, then do I have one now that I’m Human again? If I did have a soul as a Velan, does my family behind have one, or my unborn daughter?" I watched as he thought about it.
"I don’t know," he finally said again, but only after I’d caught the thought before he’d spoke that turned that answer into a lie.
"Steve, the rest of you, the last time somebody doubted whether Kalindra was a person, they tried to kill her with a hunting rifle and got turned into hamburger seconds later. Everybody in the family room glanced at the white starburst of fur on Kal’s shoulder where she’d been shot. "If my own family isn’t sure if she’s a person, how am I going to convince the rest of the planet?"
For the next few minutes at least, there were two very separate groups of people in that front room, and I turned around to face the Velan half while the Human half tried to make sense of all I’d been telling them and what I’d just asked.
Then Penny got my attention, "Boss, we’ve got more company outside."
I didn’t get up to walk over to the window this time, I cupped my hands and called up a holo projection of the area around the house. Sure enough, the military were now showing up, probably from Fairchild, the local Air Force Base. One other thing caught my eye as I scanned the scene, and I turned back to my Uncle for a moment.
"Ron, you’re the bible scholar around here, what’s Exodus 22:18?" I had a nasty suspicion I knew what the answer was, he confirmed it.
"That’s the verse about not suffering a witch to live."
I looked at Kalindra, her shoulder and then the rest of the family. "I think the history lesson is over the moment, the asses have arrived outside and are begging to be kicked."
Chapter 3: More Slow Learners
Ok, I’d allowed as how something like this was going to happen, though the idiot with the sign was a twist I hadn’t considered. The government had already proved they would go after my family when they’d grabbed my Aunt, I had no doubt they’d try again, they didn’t yet believe that they were dealing with somebody who could actually stand up to them and get away with it. The problem of course was that it wasn’t me they were after, at least not yet.
"Ok, there is a mess brewing outside I’m going to have to deal with, but before I do, there is something I need to take care of in here." Looking across the entryway to the hallway leading to the bedrooms, I raised my voice a little. "Glenna, that means you too, get your butt out here. And you keep quiet for a moment," I told my son when I saw him starting to smile. I counted to five, my Mother didn’t respond, so I pictured the results I wanted and snapped my fingers. The door my Mother had cracked open and was standing next to so she could hear us, vanished, and she stumbled out of the room and into the hall. "I mean it, you need to hear this, get down here." She hardly moved, but did slowly walk to the end of the hallway before she stopped. I decided that was good enough.
Closing my eyes and concentrating on an image, I pictured a wooden box I’d left on my desk back in my office in Geneva, and with a faint pop felt it drop into my arms where I’d stretched them out before me. Setting it on the table, I flipped open the latch and opened the box so everybody could see the contents. "Ok, there is one of these for each of you, if you want it," and I pulled a small translucent bracelet from the box. "Think of these as an emergency button. You can wear it on your wrist, your ankle, you can even wear it as a ring. It will change size to fit you when you’re putting it on." Glancing towards with front window, I continued. "I would expect the people outside will not take a hint, at least not easily. If something happens, just think to yourself, ‘I could use some help’ or ‘Help Me’, anything like that. Either a member of the family, a security team, or possibly both will show up to deal with the problem."
Looking around the room to make sure everybody had been listening, I had to admit to myself the chance they weren’t interested in my help. "Now if you decide you don’t want the bracelet, my help, or possibly anything to do with me, you also have another option. Instead of putting the bracelet on, hold it with both hands and snap it in two. It’ll disappear and I’ll honor your wish to be left alone." One last time, I caught the eyes of everybody in my Terran Family. "I know all this is a lot to deal with, I didn’t get a chance to finish telling you everything I wanted to." Pulling a business card from my pocket, I left it on the table next to the box. "That card has a phone number and other information about how to contact me, or the people working with me, if you have any questions. They’ll answer what they can, or pass the question on to me where ever I am."
I sensed Kalindra mentally clearing her throat and glanced over at where she stood by the front window, watching the crowd that was growing outside. "Lythandi, Naldantis, the Kilzan and I would like you to take Lan Louis and return to Tycho. As soon as we’ve dealt with the people outside, we’ll join you there." Without a hint of an argument, they grabbed everything they’d brought with them, each of them placed a paw on one of Lan’s shoulders, and I teleported them to the landing pad next to where the Sunbeam was parked.
"Cool," said my brother, just loud enough for me to hear. I glanced his direction and winked in reply, then walked to where Kalindra was standing. Everybody gave me a wide berth as I did it and some part of me grew just a little sadder.
"So what are they up to?" I asked Kal as everybody else headed for the kitchen, even my Mother. Kalindra just looked at me for a moment, glanced towards the kitchen as a low pitched conversation started, then leaned over and gave me a playful nip on the cheek.
"The ones that you refer to as reporters keep arguing with the ones in uniform, trying to get closer. They keep getting pushed back and told to stay out of the way. There are a few who simply look like they are curious, and everybody seems to be keeping their distance from the one with the sign."
"They probably know what that passage is and don’t want to be standing too close if something happens." Every time I looked at that sign, I got a little more angry. "There might not be a safe distance the way I’m feeling at the moment." Through the link that bound us together, I felt a twinge of pain in Kal’s shoulder. "Ok, the reporters are first, they need to learn that the rules have changed and that their desire for a story doesn’t ride roughshod over our right to privacy." I turned and looked around the room behind me to see where Penny was, and found her resting on one of the coffee tables like a house decoration. I had to chuckle when I saw it and realized that I hadn’t seen anybody giving her so much as a second look recently, she’d blended right in. "We’re going to need you," I said to her and she lifted off the table and zipped over to where we stood.
"Brian," said Kalindra as I was still chuckling to myself about Penny hiding in plain sight like that. "I find myself thinking it might be to our advantage to allow one witness from your world when we deal with the military people out there."
I thought about that for a moment, decided it made sense, and looked out the window. "Do you believe anybody out there can be trusted?"
"I was thinking that the women who knows how to dress correctly might be a good choice. I have checked and does not seem to have decided whether we are a threat or if your military is the threat here."
Dress Correctly? I looked over the crowd again and finally spotted the women she had to be talking about. There was one women holding a sketchpad in one arm, drawing with something she held in her other hand, who was dressed in an assortment of bright to the point of flamboyant clothing, none of which seemed to match. Those bright colors probably looked just about normal to Kalindra. The women also got points for not standing with the rest of the reporters, and in fact she seemed to actively avoid them when one wandered by where she was standing.
"If you trust her, yeah, we’ll see if she’s interested." Turning to Penny, I held out my hand so she could land on it. "As for you, I’m going to drop you by that group of reporters next to the news van. Explain to them exactly once that whatever it is they believe allows them to violate our privacy, they’re wrong, this is a private family matter and they better not be there when I step outside in a few minutes. After you’ve told them, tell the women wearing the bright purple hat that we’d like her to stay, as a witness. She can report what she sees, no constraints."
"And the military?" asked Penny.
"I’ll deal with them myself," I told her, and then I teleported her through the defense field into the midst of the reporters. Even as she appeared, she was engaging one of her more obnoxious holograms, and I had trouble not laughing as I imagined how the conversation must be going. I watched the reporters with video gear try to figure out how to record her without revealing the fact that they were being told to go screw themselves by a busty and very naked Amazon Warrior. As soon as she delivered her message, she added an appropriate dress to her appearance and delivered the second message. One or two reporters tried to follow her, I could hear them yelling something, she simply turned and body slammed them back into the snow. Then she turned and bowed towards the house as she stood next to the women who’d apparently agreed to be a witness.
Turning to face Kalindra, I straightened her dress around her shoulder and brushed some imaginary dust off her. She returned the favor, whispering something to a couple of wrinkles in my shirt that made them smooth out. Together, we turned to face everybody that was standing in the kitchen doorway, watching us.
"Thank you for allowing us to visit you," said my wife.
"Wish us luck teaching everybody outside to respect your privacy," I added.
Turning to face the doorway, I called for my staff and it flashed into my hand from where I’d stored it in my office. A similar flash from beside me confirmed that Kalindra had done the same. Then with a light tap of her staff on the floor of the entryway, the door opened and we stepped out onto the front porch together.
* * *
I don’t think it would have mattered how many layers of defenses we had between us, I still felt Kalindra panic for an instant as we were noticed and the solders surrounding the area started swinging guns our direction. Before they could actually take aim as us though, Kalindra poured power into the image of reality she’d built up in her mind, and every firearm in about a ten mile radius of where we were standing simply vanished. Saying this caused a bit of a shock to those who had been holding the weapons in question, would have been like calling a typhoon a rather stronger wind than was normal for an area.
And while my mate took care of the military, I dealt with the reporters. Their equipment vanished first, everything from the news van to their pens. A few seconds later, their clothing vanished as well, and then just to add insult to injury, I dropped the temperature of the area and had it start snowing.
"You should have listened. Now, I suggest you get out of my sight."
A number of the reporters and their crews tried to beg jackets and such from the other bystanders I hadn’t gotten too yet, anybody stupid enough to loan them anything ended up naked as well. It only took a couple of occurrences before everybody started to scatter to avoid all contact with the news people.
"As for the rest of you, leave, return to your homes, or figure out how to stay warm without clothing. This is the only warning I’m giving that you’re intruding into a private family matter."
Then I turned my attention to the idiot with the sign, who’d backed up a bit during the confusion, but hadn’t left. He caught me staring straight at him, and stood a bit straighter as he held the sign up for Kalindra and I to see. My face was the last thing he ever saw, my voice in his mind the last thing he heard.
*You have been found guilty of inciting violence against my family*
This all of his senses faded away, along with conscious muscle control. I have no idea how long he actually lived, but I suspect he spent every moment of it screaming, locked inside his own mind with only himself for company.
Five minutes after we had first stepped onto the porch, the streets were clear of everyone except the military, our witness, Penny, and an idiot being looked after by a military medic who’d seen him collapse into the snow. I led the way as we walked down the stairs, then down the driveway, to stand within an arms length of the defense field. As we’d approached it from our side, several people had gotten out of a staff car mixed in with the other military vehicles and approached from the other. Penny had led our witness up to join the gathering as well, after shoving a few of the guards out of the way who had tried to stop her.
Completely ignoring the Captain and his aide, who were trying to get my attention, I faced our witness, bowed, and said, "Miss? Mrs? Ms?"
"Miss Winkel," she replied, "And I’m not sure why I’m here exactly."
"Miss Winkel, you’re a reporter, right?"
"Uh, yeah, I write occasional stories and sell them to some of the local independent newspapers."
"That is why you are here," said Kalindra. "Even though this is a private matter, I understand the curiosity your race must have concerning me and my family, so I have decided that one witness should be present."
Miss Winkel looked at me and asked, "her family?"
"Yeah, Velar is a Matriarchal Society, I’m just her arm candy." That earned me an odd smile and a swat from Kalindra’s tail. It also gave the Captain a momentary break in the conversation he used to interrupt again.
"Now Mr. Antoine, I really need to …"
"Shut the hell up before you get yourself into more trouble than you’re already in!" I finished for him. "Captain, I expect you’re here to take us into custody, right?"
"Mr. Antoine, I have been ordered to place you and your family in protective custody and to escort all of you to a safe location. Now if you will just …"
Kalindra’s low growl froze whatever else he’d been about to say in his throat. I waited for her to calm down a bit before I finally spoke. "Captain, my family has just won an interstellar war against a race that wants little more than to see our hides mounted as trophy’s on some warlords wall. The idea of you protecting us is a nice joke, and I doubt there is anyplace in this part of the spiral arm that could be considered a safe location."
I was wasting my breath, he had his orders. Almost like he’d forgotten his men had been disarmed, he signaled to them and told his aide to take Miss Winkel into custody. His men managed about one step before they were frozen in place by Kalindra, the aide ended up with a broken arm as Penny stepped between him and Miss Winkel. With the Captain watching, I slowly removed a few pennies from my pocket, held them in front of me, then released them to float in the air.
"Captain, I’d rather not do this the hard way, but if that’s the only way that will get through to you and those you’ll be reporting back to, it’s your choice." His eyes weren’t leaving the pennies, he’d obviously seen a copy of the battle video Penny had broadcast.
"You will leave my family alone. Anybody who bothers them, including the entire chain of command that gave the orders, better have made out their will ahead of time," and I tapped the first penny to start it spinning.
"You will leave Miss Winkel alone. You will not interfere in what ever story she writes about what has happened here today," and I set the second penny spinning with a flick of my finger, then turned to Miss Winkel. "If it wasn’t clear, we will not interfere with any story you write either. You are a witness here." Waving my hand with a small flourish, one of the family business cards appeared in the air in front of her, and after a moment she plucked it from the air and tucked it into the sketchpad she was still holding. "If you have questions, or they don’t take me seriously and try to screw with you or your story, our contact information is on that card."
Then I turned back to the Captain, who had finally pulled his eyes away from the pennies and was trying to help his aide. "Captain, now is the time for you and your men to leave." I glanced at Kalindra and she released his men. "I suggest you and those you report to consider their next move quite carefully. While it would sadden me to have to deal with my own race the same way I’ve had to deal with the Meenzai, if my own race is determined to be as stupid as they are, so be it."
Another medic ran up and took charge of dealing with the aide’s arm, the Captain just stared at me. A time or two I thought he was going to say something, but he finally looked around at his men, saw what was in their eyes and then turned back and nodded to me. With little more than a few arm signals, he and his men gathered themselves and left with as much dignity as they could manage.
"Miss Winkel, I look forward to reading your story," I said as I watched them leave. When I actually glanced over at her, she was still sketching in her book, while looking up at Kalindra every few seconds. I wondered if that drawing would be part of the story as well, but I didn’t actually take a peek at it. Instead, as soon as I could no longer here the trucks in the distance, I finally relaxed my shoulders and sighed. "Kal, if you’ll deal with the defense field, I’ll get us back to Tycho."
Kalindra took down the defense field, the Terran half of the family was now free to come and go as they wished, I just hoped the reporters and the military took me seriously. "Miss Winkel, it was nice meeting you," I told her as she frantically tried to sketch something else in her book.
Then, between one second and the next, Kalindra and I joined the rest of our family at Tycho, only our footprints in the snow showing that we’d ever been there.
In the weeks that followed our visit, we were kept pretty busy as the world discovered the interconnect between the Internet and The Velan Central Library, and word filtered out that Velar had named Kalindra as their ambassador to Earth, if Earth was interested. Only two events occurred that involved my family back in Spokane.
The first took place about a week after we’d visited. My brother, trying to pull together something resembling his life as it had been, had gone to see his old employer. He’d barely walked in the door before several large black SUV’s had pulled into the company parking lot and surrounded his car. He’d hit his panic button and before the occupants of the SUV’s had even gotten the doors open, they’d found themselves surrounded by several of our security teams. Everybody had stared at each other for a few minutes, then the SUV’s had driven away, followed shortly by the departure of the security teams.
The second was about three weeks after our visit, and it took a day or two for the message to reach me. It was from my Mother, she’d called the number on the card we’d left and asked them to take a message for me. The message was short and to the point, something unusual for my Mother.
"Brian, on the advice of your Uncle, I’m leaving everything to you Brother, Mike. I don’t understand what happened to you, or if you’re even Brian anymore, but I want nothing to do with you." The security report attached to the recording said she’d discarded her safety bracelet a few minutes after leaving me the message. A follow up report indicated my Uncle and Cousin had also discarded theirs, several days later. My Aunt and Brother had held onto theirs and both were active.
I was listening to the recording again when Kalindra entered my office and heard the last part of it. She didn’t say anything, hell, given our bond she didn’t need to ask how I felt, but I knew she was curious. Reaching back to take her hand in mind, I punched the delete button. "There’s a reason I was raised by my Grandmother, that was just making it official."