Brian W. Antoine
February 3, 1994
Peace and Quiet...
"So, anything else you can think of that I should know about?"
"No, that is everything I recorded" said Tan. "Once you commit all of that to memory, you should be up to date with everything I did while I covered for you."
I scrolled through the list on the datapad. Tan had been covering for me while I was busy with the Meenzai and the Maal. He'd initially been glad to do it. He'd seen it as a chance to learn about another culture. That had gotten beat out of him the first week. The young Velan that sat in front of me on the couch looked like he'd aged 10 years. Even Kalindra had been a little worried when he had come by dragging his tail in the dirt. I wasn't too happy about the nervous tic he had in his ear either.
"I can't thank you enough" I said as I laid the datapad on table. "I can see that the experience was not what you expected it to be. Staying locked in Human form can't have been fun either."
"Please do not ask me to do it again. I would do it, but I would rather take up sky-diving to help me relax. I do not wish to spend another minute listening to your world try to drive itself insane."
"It does get a bit intense at times." I was watching that tic and trying to think of how to make it up to him. "I suspect that I'm going to have to settle things in such a way that I have the freedom to move around. As much fun as I find programming, one full time job is all I can juggle without something giving away. I've managed to cover myself until now, but I'm afraid the time has arrived to make a clean break of things."
"You will tell your birth family what you are?"
"I don't know. I'll have to tell them something to cover my not being around. I just don't have any idea what that will be yet."
Tan heaved himself off of the couch and stood looking around the living room. "Having met your mother, I do not envy you that task. As for myself, I plan on sleeping for the next week. I may not be considered a Mage yet, but anyone who tries to wake me up is going to regret the attempt."
I stood and stretched. "I know how you feel. Kalindra is in soaking away the worst of the aches and bruises. I don't know how long I'm going to stay awake myself."
"Well, you have a week to recover. I told your boss that 'we' were going on vacation and there would be no way to reach us."
"I'm surprised I had any vacation time left," I said as I escorted Tanin to the door.
"You didn't until Penny and I convinced the computer that it had made a small mistake." We stood on the door step for a moment and soaked in the last of the heat from the sun as it dipped towards the horizon. "Well, it was an interesting experience, but don't call me..."
"I'll call you" I finished for him. He just nodded and turned to head towards his home. I stood there and watched as he dragged his way out of sight. Then closed the door and went to update Kalindra, who would want to know how he was doing.
Sticking my head through the door, I saw Kalindra still soaking in water that was hot enough to have steam boiling off of it. "You still alive in here?" My reply was a non-committal grunt of pleasure. "Save some of the hot water for me."
"Hummmmmmmm... It will not feel so good on your skin."
"Maybe, but I'll chance it. Tanindra just left for home if your still interested. He was looking pretty worn down when he left. I'm going to have to come up with something special to pay him back for helping me out."
"That would be the honorable thing to do."
I watched as she ducked her head under the water so that only the tufts on the tops of her ears were exposed. When she surfaced, I was surprised to see her reach out and pick something from the water. With a <squitch>, she crushed it and threw it into a small bowl. When she saw the puzzled look on my face, she grimaced and dunked her head again.
"You want to tell me about it?"
"Only if you promise to not tell Robert I said anything. I'm am not sure he would understand my distaste."
Now she had my curiosity bump itching. "Ok, my lips are sealed." It took her a moment to parse that, then she smiled.
"His pets need to be cleaned and groomed." She reached down and I heard another <squitch> as she crushed something between her fingers. Then it dawned on me and I tried not to laugh.
"Let me guess, fleas?"
"Fleas..." she muttered in disgust. "I was not sure how Karen and Robert would take my complaint about how they care for their pets. So I tried to ignore the problem as best I could." I couldn't help it, and I started to laugh under my breath. Even the glare I got wasn't enough to stop the giggles I was trying to control.
"Kalindra, tell them. They will understand and take care of it if they haven't already. Those pets sleep with them and I'll bet they are already aware that K1 has stowaways." She just ducked her head under the water again and glared at me from beneath the surface. Something told me I wasn't going to find any hot water when my turn came later. Closing the door behind me I headed back to the living room to review the datapad Tan had left behind.
Lythandi had offered to cook us both dinner, so Kal and I would have the evening free to ourselves when she finished her war against the fleas. I made it through three whole screens before I fell sleep on the couch. They let me sleep until dinner was actually on the table and they were ready to eat.
"Damn, I was enjoying that dream..." I grumbled as Lythandi gently shook my shoulder.
"You were smiling, what were you dreaming about?"
"A warm fire, some soft music and a backrub..." I caught the look on her face. "And the rest is private. Do all Velan's have dirty minds?"
"Just the females..." she giggled as she lead the way into the kitchen.
"Why does that not surprise me." I started to sit down, and noticed that there were only two settings at the table. "Hey, what's going on here?"
"Sten and I are going into town for the carnival. We thought you and Kalindra might like the evening together by yourselves."
"As tired as we both are, you'll probably hear our snoring all the way in town." I grabbed the other chair and helped Kalindra to her seat as she came into the room.
"Listen to you snore you mean. I do not snore. My sinuses are not designed to scare away every creature within hearing distance."
"Complain, complain. Just whack me with a pillow, I'll stop eventually." I collapsed into my own chair and looked at the small feast Lythandi had laid out for us. "So much for my diet. My compliments to the chef." She just bowed to the two of us and backed out of the room. I was busy shaking my head and chuckling, so I missed the wink she gave Kalindra.
"I suppose I have to put up with it. I told her to quit it unless we were on the Velan side of the Gate."
"She finds you worthy of the honor. Why ask her not to show it as she finds appropriate?"
"Just doesn't feel right I guess, but I won't say anything about it again. This is your world and your customs."
"It is your world also now. You would do well to remember it" and she bounced something that looked like a purple meatball off of my forehead. She didn't need our link to tell her she shouldn't have done it. "Now wait a minute, I owed you that..."
"Oh?" and I returned fire with something that resembled a small cherry tomato. Things went downhill from there and we both needed a bath by the time the battle was over.
Pass me another vitamin C please
The fire was crackling nicely as I leaned back against Kalindra and watched it popping to itself. Dinner had made me sleepy and I was starting to doze off as I watched the flames flickering in their hypnotic dance.
"You are not feeling well." It was a statement, not a question. This close to her, Kal was reading our link and was picking up the warnings.
"No, I'm not. I think I'm trying to come down with a head cold. To many climate changes, to little sleep and way to much stress are catching up with me I'm afraid." Doing her best not to jostle me, Kal grabbed a throw blanket and covered me. I had to admit it felt good as I nestled back against her and fluffed the cushion around us. "Thanks..."
"Don't thank me yet. If you start sneezing, I'm leaving. Your snoring is bad enough thank you." I could feel her chuckle as it rumbled in her chest. It made the crazy dance of the flames even more interesting to watch.
"So much for helping me in my hour of need..." I closed my eyes and watched the shadows as they danced on my eyelids. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be very energetic company this evening."
"There will be other times" she answered as she tickled my ear.
Neither of us said a word for quite awhile. The silence was a welcome change from the chaos we'd been living with the last few months. No matter what the household though, there are always little things that people talk about when the big ones have been taken care of. I do suspect though that what Kalindra and I considered little, would have scared most other families shitless.
"What did Wythdantis want this afternoon?" came the quiet question that broke my rambling train of thought.
"She was asking about Ficus. She wanted to make sure the forced regen of his arm hadn't been bothering him. I told her that he was fine. White as a ghost, but fine."
"Good, we need to think of something to repay her for her efforts."
"She did mention that her house could use a few minor repairs. Since she retired, she has had fewer chances to barter for the work she needs done."
"Just the work, or the materials also?"
"Mage's don't have much trouble coming by material" I muttered. "I was thinking of dropping over in a few days and taking care of things for her."
"Let me know when you go, I have something I wanted to talk to her about. We can talk while you work."
"Sounds about right..." I winced as she tweaked my nose. "Have you thought about what you are going to do about your armor?"
"You think I will be needing it?"
"The way our lives seem to run? I'd tell Jab to start thinking about building you another setup."
"You may be right. This time though, I will design the look. Robert may know the functionality required, but he doesn't have fur. There were times when I thought I was going to rub bald spots in my fur, and I want my tail to be free also. Neither he or Jab seemed to realize I use it to help keep my balance."
"I can just see it now..." and a picture appeared in my mind of this delicate exo-skeleton of polished hull metal festooned with every kind of weapon and defense Jab and Bob could come up with. I think had a slight fever, because I changed the silver metal to bright pink and started to laugh.
"Maybe not quite that bad" said Kal as she picked the image from my mind. "But the basic idea has some merit." Link or no, she felt my forehead with her hand. "You sure you don't want to go to bed?"
"It wouldn't help and I'm more comfortable here by the fire."
"You are always were colder than I. You make such a good heat sink in bed. Be glad you don't have fur, you'd be desperate for something cool."
"I know. I still think I'm overheating when ever I'm playing wolf. How you stand all the fur is beyond me."
"You have been practicing?"
"When I get the chance, yeah. Speaking of which, thank you for the cloak. It was delivered this morning while you were gone and it's beautiful."
"You like it?"
"I love it."
"Then it was worth the price."
I chuckled to myself. "The shopkeeper did ask when I was going to have you pose for your painting."
"You will have to tie me down first. I can't see what you want a picture of me posed like that for anyway."
"For the wall of my den silly. That way I can always remind myself of how lucky I am. Of course if you really want to be tied up, I'm sure that would make an interesting painting also..."
"And you claim I have a dirty mind" she giggled.
"It was your idea, not mine" I snickered, then coughed as the movement shook something loose. "I think Wythdantis is going to have to wait a few days. I know the symptoms by now, and this is going to be a good one."
"Then it is time you were put to bed. I'll get you some of those orange pills you said helped you last time. I can ask you when you are feeling better."
"Hummm? Ask me what?"
"Nothing, it can wait."
I heard the tone of her voice and opened one eye to stare up at her. "Ask me what?" I repeated.
"You are sure you don't mind?"
"Kalindra, I'm catching a cold. Not loosing my mind to little green cats from Alpha Corini 2. What did you want to ask me?" I just lay there and watched her with one eye. Whatever it was, I could sense it meant a lot to her. She returned my stare, then leaned over and whispered in my ear.
She said the 'C' word...
The blanket went one way, I went another, and Kalindra rolled backwards over the cushion as my jump startled her. "Your serious?" She just nodded and looked up at me from where she lay sprawled on the floor. I may have been scared, but I could still see the look of hope in her eyes as she watched me.
Standing there, I started putting the clues together from what I remembered us talking about the last day or so. Then my fright changed to abject terror. "Oh no... No way... Not with my DNA you don't!" I turned and started moving towards the door. "It can't be done. It won't work. You've got to be kidding!" I was standing by the front door. "Please tell me your kidding?"
"I would not make fun of such a request."
Throwing open the door, I turned and started to run. "No way! Absolutely not!" I started to scream as I ran from the house. Kalindra stopped in the doorway and watched me as I ran towards town.
"That could have gone over better" she said to no one in particular.
"On the contrary" came Penny's voice from the house security system. "I think he took it rather well."
"That was taking it well?"
"Yep, I half expected him to keel over from heart failure. Running away in terror is a lot better for our side. Now we get to work on him to change his mind."
Kalindra tilted her head so she could follow my screams as I faded into the distance. "I hope your right..."
"Hey, I've got all his memories and I know how he thinks. He'll come around in the end" came the smug answer.
Kalindra just stood there and stared into the darkness.
Lots of rest? Not a chance...
I hate head colds, I really do. Every single cold I get winds up on my lungs and I spend a week feeling miserable. This one was no different and spending the night outdoors hiding from Kalindra hadn't helped things any. Given the choice between feeling miserable alone, and inflicting myself on someone else, I'd stayed on Velar. When the entire family had had enough of me, they had all headed into town to enjoy the carnival that was still going on.
When I had asked Wythdantis about curing my cold, she had laughed and said something's were beyond even her skill. Given what I knew of how colds worked on humans, I had to agree it was a tall order. The only bright spot of the entire ordeal was my discovery that the symptoms weren't as severe when I was in wolf form. Since I needed the experience, I was now resting on a hill that overlooked the town square with my head resting between my paws.
It was roughly dinner time as I lay there and listened to the music that filtered its way my direction. Somewhere down there was a Velan that had mastered their world's analog to the Terran flute. The sounds that reached me alternately ran shivers up my back. Then in the next second would sing of the joy of being alive. I sure hoped the musician had brought a large enough hat to hold the contributions that had to be coming his or her way. I was so lost in the music that I never detected whoever it was that snuck up behind me. It wasn't until something began to tug on my tail that I realized I'd been found.
*What the hell?* I thought to myself as I looked behind me. What I saw made no sense, at least in this setting. Standing behind me and playing tug-of-war with my tail was a Terran Fox. The growl I let rumble from my chest didn't faze it in the slightest. If anything, it encouraged it to tug harder. Then as it was shaking itself, I heard a small bell tinkle to itself and saw a metallic flash from the foxes' tail.
*Kalindra?* I didn't get any answer, but I thought I saw a twinkle in her eyes as she continued to worry at my tail. *Practice of your own huh. You should learn what not to annoy when you are about the right size for an evening snack.* Springing to my feet showed just how great the size difference was. As I started to circle, she had to get a grip lower down on my tail. I was easily 4 times her size and her eyes started to get larger as I started dragging her around the hilltop.
*I would advise you to release my tail before I get annoyed.* Instead she bit down harder and managed to break the skin. *Ouch!* and I leaped sideways. That hurt even worse because while I made her let me go, she pulled a couple of large tuffs of fur from my tail.
*That's enough!* and I glared at her. She just stood there with the remains of my tail sticking out of the side of her muzzle. Watching me ever so carefully, she set the tuffs of fur on the ground and pushed them towards me with her paws. I was not amused, and my growl was more then a little angry. *Let me introduce you to another Terran custom called the fox hunt.* That, and the look in my eyes had her running full tilt towards the underbrush as I charged.
She might have been smaller, but damn she was fast. Try as I might I couldn't catch her as she darted around me. I still had to think of my moves as I ran where she was only using a smaller and slightly altered version of her normal form. It was good practice though, and as I stopped to catch my breath I noticed we had covered a good portion of the way into town. Then I had an idea, and changed my tactics slightly.
Instead of trying to catch her, I started to herd her towards the town square. It didn't take her long to figure out what I was up to, but she didn't have any luck getting around me. Pretty soon we were running around the edges of the carnival and people started to notice us. Then things got really strange.
At least some of the townsfolk had either seen me before, or heard the story of the cloak. None of them had ever seen anything like Kalindra's form and they weren't sure what to make of her. The fact that I was chasing her lead at least a few of them to surmise that I was after some kind of dangerous alien that had stumbled into their midst. Suffice to say that the most widely held opinion was to 'get the hell out of their way'. As we wove our way through the middle of the carnival, I almost ran over Sten and Lythandi.
Sten didn't recoqnize me, but Lythandi did and there were now four of us chasing each other around. Kalindra trying to stay out of my reach, me trying to get a piece of her tail, Lythandi yelling for everyone to stop us, and Sten bringing up the rear with a huge grin on his face. It wasn't until we reached the food stalls that the crowd started to get involved.
Kalindra was small enough to run under the tables. My first and only attempt proved I was a little large to follow her. An opinion shared by the people who now wore their dinner after I tipped the table over. Now Kalindra had the advantage and she enjoyed it. I had to wind my way amongst the people and tables while she could run in the less crowded area beneath the table. Her undoing was when she started running on top of them. I was just rounding a table to try and catch her as she leaped to the next one. When I heard this horrendous screech and skidded to a stop to see what had happened. It's to bad wolves can't laugh.
Standing at the table I'd been circling was a large male Velan. Dangling by her tail and making all the noise was Kalindra as the Velan held her up for everyone to see. Then he spotted me where I had stopped at the end of the table.
"Hey, is this what you were chasing?" he asked me as he waved Kalindra to the crowd around him. When I shook my head yes, he startled for a second before giving me another look. Then I think he figured out what was going on.
"Say, is this thing good to eat?" He started sizing up Kalindra who was trying to swing her body so as to take a bite out of his arm. I put everything I had into a howl that voiced what I thought of the idea and started nodding my head real fast, which got the entire crowd to laughing. Kalindra stopped squirming and glared at me as she spun to a stop. Resting my front paws on the table, I used my nose to push one of the knives towards him.
"Ah, you want me to cut you off one of the good parts huh?" That was the final straw for Kalindra and with a shimmer she reverted to her normal form. The poor Velan just stood there in shock while she started reading him the riot act, and I saw my chance. A quick leap onto the table and I grabbed a mouth full of her tail and pulled. She was still yelling in shock when Lythandi finally showed up and tried to figure out what had happened. Me, I just hid under the nearest table with my hard won prize until Kal wound down.
* * *
Kalindra ended up paying for the dinners we had ruined in our little chase. All except for the male who had decided he had urgent business in the next town. Kalindra still hadn't run out of things to call him as we headed for home. As for me, I trotted along at her side with a large tuft of her tail fur in my mouth. I'd made it clear I wasn't giving it up without a fight, so she had snorted in disgust and walked away. I wasn't about to give her the last word though.
Dropping back just slightly I looked over at her tail as it swung in the moonlight ahead of me. *Just think. Two or three more like this and I'll have enough to get a collar made for my cloak.* Luckily I'm just a little faster than her when I'm in wolf form. A gift I found quite useful as she chased me the entire way home.
Build bridges, don't burn them
"Asshole!" I yelled as some clown in a pickup switched lanes right in front of me. After piloting a Starship and K1, driving my mini-van proved to be more fun then usual. I switched to the center turn lane and signaled for my turn. Pulling away in the distance, the pickup was switching between lanes without signaling again. "Christ, Gerbers must be giving away drivers licenses again..." When the traffic thinned for a moment, I pulled into the rear lot of my cousin's video store and shut off the engine.
"Keep an eye open. This isn't the best part of town."
"I'll yell if someone gets to snoopy" came my sisters voice from the dash. "Nas Kan Security, we don't leave any remains to identify" she snickered as I closed and locked the door. Then I wandered around to the front of the store and yelled to get his attention.
"Hey, you got any dirty movies around here?" I laughed as I stepped through the door. Steve was sorting movies on the racks and spun around at the sound of my voice.
"Hi cuz, what brings you out this late? Don't you have work in the morning?"
"Hey, it isn't even nine yet. I don't turn into a pumpkin for another hour or so." I looked around the store, and noticed it was empty. "Business a little slow tonight?"
"Not more than usual. It always drops off after eight or so." Steve stepped into the office part sat down at his desk. While he shuffled through some papers, I grabbed a chair and kicked back against the wall. "So, what up?" he asked as he glanced up from his account book.
"You have some time after you close tonight to talk? I've got a couple of things I want to run by you for your opinion."
Steve stopped scribbling and set his pen down. "That's a switch. It's usually me who wants to bend your ear. Something wrong?"
"No, nothings wrong."
"Everything going ok out at ISC?"
"Yeah, that's fine. I just wanted to talk to you about something I want your help with."
"Who is she? You finally find someone slow enough for you to catch?"
I started laughing. "That isn't what I wanted to talk about, but yeah. I finally found someone who was fast enough to catch me."
"Is she a Redhead?" I thought of Kalindra and Steve started laughing. "She must be!" he yelled. "You should see the expression on your face."
"Damn, you're the third person to tell me that. I guess Bob wasn't full of shit after all." I dropped the chair to all fours and stood up to wander around the store.
"So, the confirmed bachelor has fallen. My dad's going to have a field day when I tell him. So when do I get to meet her?"
"That's a bit of a problem at the moment, she doesn't live in Spokane. Anyway, you up for some food? I didn't have dinner and we can talk while I grab a burger or something."
"Yeah, I suppose. Let me get closed up and we can hit McDonalds or something." With two of us to move the displays, we got his store closed in pretty good time and he locked the door just a little after nine o'clock.
"Let's take my car, I can drop you back here after we've eaten."
"Ok by me." Steve walked around the front of the car. "They did a good job fixing it. It looks a lot better then it did at Christmas."
"Yeah, they just replaced everything that was bent with new parts." I started the motor and we headed down the street to McDonalds. It was one of the few places that stayed open late during the week, and the food was at least edible. "You hear from Jodi lately?"
"Yeah, last week. She was telling me..." and we chatted back and forth until I pulled to a stop in the parking lot. When we'd gotten our food and sat down, I started to get serious.
"So, who is she and how did you meet her?" asked Steve as he dived into a pile of french fries. "You get out of your apartment even less then I get out."
"It's a long story, I'll tell you about it later. Right now though I want to know what you think of the idea of my moving."
"Moving? Oh no, I helped you move in and you've collected enough stuff that I don't even want to think about moving you out." I just sat and waited. "Your serious? You really are thinking of moving?"
"Actually, I've already moved so you can quit worrying about getting to help me pack all that crap."
"You buy a home? My mom has been looking for you, but she didn't say anything about finding you a house."
"I know, she's been bugging me to tell her what I was looking for in a house. As it turned out, I didn't buy anything. I moved in with the redhead you keep asking me about."
"Oh shit, I wouldn't tell my dad about it. He'll have a fit." The look Steve was giving me wasn't the best in the world either.
"Don't worry, everything's legal. We were married about three months ago."
"WHAT?" Everyone in the restaurant stopped to look our direction. "My cousin is married? This is a joke, right? Oh the shame..." As theatrical as ever, Steve started wailing about how I'd lost my mind. It was a long standing joke between us, and he wasn't going to pass up the chance to rib me about it. Hell, I'd done the same to him when he had gotten married.
"Fraid not. She asked me and I accepted a couple of days after my birthday."
"She asked you? Ok, what's going on here?"
"Like I said, I'll tell you that later. Right now I want to talk about my moving."
"Moving, moving where? You said you had already moved."
"Yeah, I have. That isn't the real problem."
"Then what is?"
"I've moved to Alaska. That's why you haven't seen much of me except for Christmas."
"WHAT? What do you mean you've moved to Alaska? What about your job? What about Mike and your Mom?" We were getting looks from the people around us again.
"Hold it down, will you" I whispered. "We don't need to get thrown out of here."
"Ok, spill it. What is going on here."
"Simple. I've moved to Alaska to get out of the rat race around here. I've been bouncing back and forth to Spokane while I got settled and made arrangements for my stuff to be moved."
"What about your job?"
"I put in my notice and quit." I pulled a check from my pocket and laid it on the table. "I picked up my severance check today."
Steve picked up the check and looked at it, then at me. "Your serious."
"Absolutely. That check is one of the things I want you to handle for me. I'm going to be living in the back country and I'm not going to need a lot of cash. I'm going to deposit that check into an account, and I want your name on the account with mine. If anything comes up with my Mom when I'm not around, I want you to use that money to help her out."
"Why don't you have my dad handle this?"
"Because your dad has been giving me funny looks ever since I started to let my hair grow. He was giving me shit at Thanksgiving dinner and I doubt that the ear-ring is going to improve his opinion of me when he sees it. No, I trust you to watch out for things more than him."
"Will you be coming back?"
"Of course! Whenever I can get back for birthdays and holidays, I'll drop in and give your dad a bad time."
"What will you be doing? Did you find a job up there?"
"Something like that. I'm going to be working with some people who want to protect the wilderness that's left up there."
"Like your bumper sticker?"
"Brian, I think your crazy and my dad is sure of it. We were talking about you getting your eyes fixed and everything and he was joking that you must be going through your mid-life crisis early."
"Possibly true, but being crazy has its moments." I polished off the last of my milkshake while Steve kept staring at the check. "So, what do you think?"
"I don't know" he answered. "It's your life I guess. If this is what you want to do, I'm not going to try to talk you out of it. I do want to meet your wife though. She must be something to get you to drop everything and leave like this."
"So, you believe I'm serious?"
"Yeah, I suppose so."
"Good, because about half of what I just told you is bullshit. I wanted to run it by you to see if I could convince you. If I can get you to believe it, I can get the rest of the family to believe it." Steve just sat there with his mouth open.
"That is a pretty lousy joke." He waved the check at me. "Is this part of it?"
"No, the check is real and I am moving from Spokane. That much of the story is true."
"How much is a lie?"
"The part about moving to Alaska for starters. I am married, or at least the equivalent of married." I twisted the Ruby in my ear. "That's where this came from. She didn't want to exchange rings. She's a redhead also."
"Then if you aren't going to Alaska. Where are you going, and why the secret?"
I looked around at the tables in our area and we were clear for a couple on each side. Steve's earlier outburst had chased most of the late night crowd to other parts of the restaurant. With a slight motion of my hand under the table, I build a slight distortion field around us. Nothing visible, but it would garble our words as we talked.
"Remember when we use to play D&D? You always played an Assassin and I always played a Magic User."
"Yeah, back when you were in college. What's that got to do with your moving?"
"Do you believe in magic?" I watched his face as he listened to me talking.
"No, do you?"
"Yes, I don't have much choice."
"Now I know your nuts. I think you should get a hold of your doctor and get checked out. Maybe you've got some strange bug, or all those years of being x-rayed by your computers have messed with your head." Steve was starting to stand up when I stopped him dead in his tracks.
*Steve, I can prove it. Now please sit down and listen to me.* There is no way telepathy can be mistaken for talking. As I sat and nibbled on a french fry, Steve stared at me like I'd grown an extra head. The curiosity that I was counting on though won out, and he sat back down at the table.
"Thank You," I told him. "I didn't want to leave without at least one person in the family knowing what was going on. You were the only one that made sense given the topic."
"You can do magic?"
"Yes" was all I said.
"What level are you?"
I started laughing again. Trust Steve to remember something silly like that from a game we hadn't played in over ten years. "It doesn't work like that."
"Can you cast wishes?"
With a straight face, I leaned over a little and said "I wish Steve Hull was four feet tall." For a fraction of a second he started to panic and then realized that nothing had happened. Of course he probably was thinking about how stupid he was to believe it would have worked anyway. Then he got as pissed as I'd ever seen him in all the years we'd know each other.
"That was not funny!"
"No, I suppose not" I answered. "Understand a few things about what I just told you. If you insist, I can take us somewhere private and prove to you that I can in fact work magic. One thing I won't do is use that magic to screw with your life or anyone else's for that matter."
"And why not? I remember how you use to play and you never passed up the chance to screw around. If you're not lying to me, why should you be any different in reality?"
"Because the position I find myself holding forbids it. I've found out the hard way that it is 'look, but don't touch'. I can get away with small things, but large scale messing with the way things work is pure trouble."
"My position, and you don't need to know anything more about it. Suffice to say that I'm not going to become ruler of the Earth. Hell, I've got more than enough trouble without adding that to the mix." Steve sat and stared at me for almost ten minutes without saying a word. I patiently munched on french fries and waited.
"You are a Wizard."
"And you can work magic."
"But you can't work magic on the Earth."
"No, I can't use magic against the Earth."
"Prove it" and he fell silent again.
"So be it" and I stood up from the table. "Come on, we need someplace private for this. Is your place ok with you?"
"Are you going to blow it up?"
Steve got up and followed me to the door. As we left, I dispelled the distortion field around the table we left behind. I was concentrating on it and almost ran over some people coming through the door.
"Hey, watch it moron!" "Out of our way dummy!"
It was a small group of teenagers and I just stepped aside to let them pass. "Oh, look at the cute rock." The clown who was looking at my ear-ring clamed up when I started staring at him. When they were gone, Steve and I walked out and headed for my car.
"Why didn't you fry them?" he asked.
"Don't think it isn't tempting at times" I muttered as we walked to the rear of the building to my car. When we got there, I found another of them screwing around with my car.
"Excuse me" I said as I cleared my throat. "Your copying down the phone number, right?" As he backed away, I saw what he'd been doing and started to get pissed. Where the bumper sticker had read 'Support The Gray Wolf', the idiot had been drawing small nooses around the necks of the wolf figures.
"Support them now" he laughed and slashed the bumper with a knife as he ran around us towards the door. Both Steve and I gave him wide berth as he waved the knife our direction. I just stepped over to the car and looked at the bumper.
"Damn..." I concentrated for a moment and passed my hand over the bumper. When I was done, the bumper was as good as new and the sticker was back to normal. Steve was just standing there watching me as I leaned down to double check the restoration.
"...magic, yes. Get in, I'll drive you to your car and then follow you home. You might have gotten your proof, assuming you believe your own eyes, but I still have something I want to leave with you. It will let you get a hold me where ever I am if something comes up that you figure I need to know about." We climbed into and I was just backing up when I caught sight of the idiot artist and a couple of his friends coming out of the door.
"It seems this isn't over yet" and I told Steve to look behind us.
"I don't like this..."
"They are going to like it less." I watched as he realized just what I meant. "This doesn't count as interfering with the normal development of the planet. It's more along the lines of pest control." I stopped my car and opened the door. "Penny, keep Steve entertained while I deal with this."
"Will do" came her reply from the radio. "So cousin, what do you..." I heard the doors lock as she introduced herself to Steve.
"You guys need something?" I leaned against the door and watched as two of the morons from inside and the artist snickered and pointed at the bumper of my car.
"You got any money man? We need some money for food and you owe us for getting in our way."
"Sorry, you're out of luck. Why don't you go bother..."
"Hey, you fixed it!" came the exclamation from the artist. He had finally noticed that his artwork had been erased. "Now I have to do it again" and he pulled a marking pen from his pocket.
"I don't think so." When he reached out for the bumper, I discharged the energy I'd built up through the frame of the car. It made a nice two foot arc as it jumped from the frame to his body and to ground. It wasn't enough to hurt him, but it scared him shitless and he turned and ran off. "I'd advise the rest of you to follow your friend."
"Or what fuck face?"
I let my defense field flare to life and arc the excess energy I'd been holding to ground. "Take a guess asshole..." Both of them turned and bolted. Before they made it 30 feet, I reached out and tinkered with their memory of the last few minutes. By the time they made it to the door, none of them could have described either me or the car.
"So, did Penny keep you entertained?" I closed the door and pulled out into traffic.
"She says she is your sister?"
"Close as I'll ever come to one, yeah. Of course the idea of a crystal the size of a basketball being my sister does seem a little odd I suppose." Steve didn't say another word until we stepped through his doorway and into his house. I guess he had decided to believe me because I spent the next three hours answering questions.
"Ok, I don't know how you feel, but I'm asleep on my feet here. I'll leave you the comm device and you can talk to Penny until you get tired. If there is anything she loves to do, it's talk. The chance to talk to someone in my family will keep her busy for days."
"You mentioned it before. What kind of communications device?"
I reached for my jacket and pulled a small chunk of polished onyx from one of the pockets. Setting it crest side up on Steve's TV, I motioned him to come watch. "This will only work when you are alone. If anyone else but you is around, or tries to operate, nothing will happen. See the insignia there, touch it."
Steve reached out and tapped the crest where the twin rings came together and stepped back slightly when they began to glow. It took a couple of seconds for the hologram to form, but Kalindra soon stared back at us. "So this is the cousin of whom you spoke?"
"Yep. Kalindra nal Kan meet my cousin Steve Hull. Steve, say hello to the most obnoxious person I've ever met."
"Next to yourself of course" laughed Kalindra.
"Of course" I replied.
Steve just swallowed hard and looked from the hologram to me. "You did say redhead didn't you?"
"That I did. Did I forget to mention she was born on another world? How forgetful of me." Steve collapsed backwards onto his couch as I laughed and joked with Kalindra.
"This has to be a dream..." he muttered to himself.
"If it is, don't wake me up" I replied. "It may have its bad moments, but the good ones make everything worth it."
Not the nose again...
"Good dog. Stay still and I'll get you a nice bone to chew on later."
*Want me to tell you where you can put that damned bone?* I was not a happy wolf, even if Wythdantis was doing her best to distract me while she took her tissue samples. <Yipe!>
"Sorry about that..." was all she said as she put the sample with the others she had taken. "Ok, that does it."
"About damn time!" I muttered as I reverted to human form. "That damn female is going to drive me nuts. You know what she wants this for don't you?"
"Yes, she made no attempts to keep it secret when she asked me to run the tests. I'm afraid that I hold little hope for the results though."
"I don't either, but this is the only way to convince her that it won't work. She sure doesn't believe me when I try to reason with her."
Wythdantis cocked an eye my direction. "Are the females of your own world any more reasonable about wanting children?"
"No" I answered.
"Then be glad she didn't decide to see if she could force you to assume Velan form. It has been my experience that Kalindra usually gets what she wants in the end."
I remembered the laughs that I'd gotten back on the Sunbeam when she had interfered during a shapeshift. That had been the start of this boondoggle, and I had no wish to repeat that experience. "Tell me about it. She came close once, and I was afraid I was going to be stuck in that form. How the hell she got the idea that we would be biologically compatible if I assumed Velan form, is something I'll never understand."
"Do not judge her to harshly" smiled Wythdantis. "I have known Kalindra for a lot longer than you have. She did not have an easy childhood given that her talent as a Mage showed up at an early age. It set her apart from the other children her age and she has always tried to hide how much that hurt."
I just sat there on the table for a minute. "And now she wants a large family to remind herself she will never be alone like that again?"
"Something like that possibly. Though you will never get her to admit it without a fight."
"No thanks, I've fought with her enough. I always seem to come out worse than she does. A physical fight with someone who is several times stronger than me is not my idea of fun."
"I hear though that the last discussion took a slightly different form?" There was a twinkle in her eye as she hoped I would answer.
Neither Kalindra nor I had ever told anyone just what had happened the night I taught her about honor. I didn't see any reason to talk about it now. "I'm surprised your nose doesn't have more scars the way it keeps finding its way into places it should avoid."
She sighed and turned back to her work. "Being a healer has a few advantages" she giggled. "Since you won't be sociable, the tools and supplies are stacked in the back yard."
"Slave driver" I laughed. Hopping from the table I headed to the back yard and got started. To balance our account for fixing up Ficus and the odd broken bone, I'd found out what kind of repairs Wythdantis needed to her home and ordered the stuff to do it. Now though, I had to actually do the work so I pulled the list from my pocket and got started. Some of it could be handled with magic, but there was fair amount that was easy enough to do manually. Besides, I enjoyed fixing things with my own two hands.
I was almost dark when Wythdantis stuck her head out and yelled for me to come off the roof. "You may not be afraid of heights, but you can still break your neck if you fall. I would not like to have explain that to your mate."
"Coward!" I yelled, but I finished the repair I was working on and climbed down from the roof.
"It is not fear. I just have a strong aversion to having my insides shown to me like a textbook display." I looked at her, but didn't ask the question on my mind. She knew though what I was thinking. "No, I have not finished. You and your mate will have your answer tomorrow."
"She is going to be hell to live with tonight."
"Distract her then" came the straight faced reply.
"You my friend have a dirty mind." She just laughed in agreement. "I still don't know just what you think we do besides cuddle."
"Please remember that I have at least a passing knowledge of how you are put together" she snickered. I hoped she couldn't see me blushing in the fading light.
"Tell me, are all Velan females ticklish just above ..." That shut her up, and I started laughing as I stepped by her to grab my stuff. "Remember, you brought the subject up." She still looked like she had swallowed a lemon as I stepped back into the darkness to head home. "Tomorrow morning then?"
"Yes" she answered. Then she winked at me and closed the door. I'll be damned if I didn't spend the entire trip home wondering just which question she had answered. Stepping into the rear of our house, I found Kalindra busy fixing dinner and Sten setting the table.
"Hail the mighty Mage, home from a hard days work!" Nobody even looked up as I stood there. "Uh, do I even get a hello?" I heard Sten trying to muffle a laugh while Kalindra ignored me. Ignored me until I took a couple of steps towards her.
"Hold it right there" she said with a knife pointed at my chest. "Not another step closer until you have washed. I could smell you before you got through the door."
"Well, it was a little hot outside today and I suppose..."
"Suppose nothing! You smell like you've been rolling in a barn! To the tub, or no dinner!"
<gulp> "Yes sir! Right away sir!" I shuffled backwards away from the knife and went around the table to the washroom. As I moved, Kalindra tracked me with her eyes and I could feel the question. "Tomorrow morning" I said and watched her ears drop slightly. There wasn't anything else to say, so I kept going and took a quick bath. I got back to the kitchen about the same time the food was ready.
"Better?" I asked. Three Velan's took turns sniffing the air and looking at each other.
"Acceptable" came the common answer and I snorted as I sat down to eat.
"The things we human's put up with for a semi-decent meal..." The banter went on all evening and we welcomed the distraction it provided. Kalindra had asked and I'd agreed that Lythandi and Sten had a right to know what was going on. The three of us spent the evening making sure Kalindra didn't have time to brood about what the next day might bring.
"Ok, that's about enough. Lythandi, don't you have some work to do?"
"No, I..." <ouch!> "Oh yeah, I do have some design work to finish on the telescope" she said as she glared at me. She made a big show of hobbling away and wincing when she used the foot I'd stepped on.
"Take the munchkin here with you" I yelled as I motioned for Sten to follow her.
"And what was all that about" asked my mate as we sat in the living room by ourselves.
"Doctors orders" I answered.
"On the orders of the family healer. I am to keep you distracted all evening and night if need be."
"Oh" she asked as she snuggled closer. "And how do you propose to do that?"
"Want to help me sort my lint collection?"
"Why you big goof!" she yelled as she hopped into my lap.
I have to admit, it was one of the more agreeable prescriptions I'd ever had to fill.
* * *
I was busy helping Lythandi work her way through some engineering docs the next morning, when I felt my link to Kalindra throb with pain. It faded almost as quick as it came, and was like a dull ache by the time I had run up the ramp to the main part of the house. Sitting in the middle of the floor crying was Kalindra, as Wythdantis stood by and let her work it out of her system.
"I guess that answers the question" I said as I took Kalindra in my arms.
"I am sorry" she told me. "I ran the tests twice and they came out the same both times. No matter what the form you take, you are as human in any of them as you are in your own form. There is no genetic shift that I can detect."
"Thank you for checking. I'll take it from here." She nodded and closed the door behind her as she left. "Kal, we need to talk." I picked her up and carried her to the couch.
"What is there to talk about. It is hopeless..." she managed to say as she continued to cry.
"Not if you really want a child of your own it isn't." She looked up at me and I decided right then I wanted the twinkle back in those eyes no matter what. "I'm going to suggest something to you, and I'd like you to remember that I'm not real familiar with all of the customs and beliefs of your world before you disembowel me." She was still crying, but I had her attention.
"There is no way for me to be the father of your children. I swore an oath though to be AS a father to them and I'll swear it again if needed." The crying had stopped, and I wasn't sure that was a good thing. "I will consider any child you bring into this universe to be mine in every way possible."
"You understand what you have just suggested?"
"Yes. You want a child, and I can't give you one. A male of your own race that was a member of the family, could."
My nose was sore for a week where she broke it.
Goblet, Goblin, Goggle... Sorry, no entry for God located
"I have a call coming in from Steve. Do you want to take it, or hand it off to someone else?"
I looked over the sensor arrays that were monitoring the cooling mass of metal that was to become the Sunbeam II. "Who's on duty tonight?" I kept scanning the instruments, looking for signs of developing flaws. I'd sung the raw materials into hull metal and shaped it, but the shear amount of material had dictated that it would have to cool naturally.
"Ficus was scheduled, but I don't see him in the ready room."
"I'll take it here then. Keep an eye on that while we talk." I nodded at the visual monitors that were still overloading because of the waste heat bleeding from the incandescent mass in the construction bay.
"You're kidding right? I don't think I'd like a leaky house any more than you'd like to try that a second time."
"No thanks, once was quite enough." I brushed back the worst of my sweaty hair and clipped it in place. "Engage the link please." A section of the holotank sectioned itself from the rest and shaped itself into an image of my cousin. Where he sat in his front room, a small replica of me sitting in my chair appeared above the comm matrix.
"What's up oh scuzzy cuzzy?"
Steve laughed. "Same old jokes I see. Getting senile in your old age?"
"Yeah. The whole mind can vanish in six months. See what you have to look forward to?"
"Nothing that bad. My side of the family got all the good gene's."
I glanced over at the monitors for a second. "So what's up? Has Uncle Ron calmed down yet?"
"Not yet, he's still yelling about you taking off. Your mom has been calling him twice a day to see if he's heard from you."
"Well, at least it's a change from asking how to program her VCR. He'll get over it eventually. That can't be why you called though. We both expected this to happen."
"No, it isn't why I called." I could see he was either worried or nervous about something, but I waited for him to get to the point. "Uh, how good is that translator I have access to?"
"That translator is Penny, and if she can't figure it out, it's hopeless. What's the problem?"
"I have been talking to your wife..."
"Mate" I interrupted. "Kalindra is my mate. The word wife implies a human being and she doesn't qualify. Likewise, Penny will usually edit any other gender term that usually denotes a human as she translates for you."
Steve thought about it for a second. "Ok, I've been talking to your mate while you were busy. You just said Penny would edit the translation. Does that include censoring it?"
"No, it doesn't. Everyone around here gets treated as an adult. If you don't want to talk or hear about certain subjects, don't ask. What makes you think Penny would censor your conversations with Kalindra?"
"Because she refuses to translate anything I say about our Father in Heaven or the church. She just tells me she can't and asks me to change the subject."
Hummm, even sooner then I figured. "Steve, I hate to break the news to you, but Penny is right. If you try to discuss religion or anything of that nature with a Velan, your wasting your time. They don't believe in God, or anything remotely like him. They don't even have the words to discuss the subject. About the closest you could get would be mythology, and they don't have a lot of that either."
"That can't be!" he yelled. "And God said, In my house..."
"There are many mansions. Yeah, I remember all those Sunday School lessons all too well." It's amazing to me sometimes, the kind of scruff that remains from being dragged to church every Sunday by my Grandfather. "It doesn't change the fact that the Velan race has no concept of God, or anything relating to religious superstition. They just never developed the need to explain their surroundings using the supernatural."
He thought about that for a moment, then I saw his expression change. "Then you have to leave them alone. Close that Gate or whatever it is before you contaminate them any further."
"Huh? Keep in mind that someone on that world is my mate, and run that by me again."
"If they don't know about God, then you have no right to introduce human sin into their world."
The look of horror on his face as I started laughing just made it worse. I was almost tempted to tell him the story behind Kal's tail bell, but decided not to. "Cuz, the Velan's are about as innocent as a politician." I swung my chair around and searched through one of the book cases by my desk. "Penny, where is that book of Velan history that we made for Bob when he first joined the group?"
"Third case over, second shelf, eighth from the left."
"Ah, thanks." I swung my chair back and stared at the hologram for a second. The book vanished and appeared about a foot off the foot at Steve's feet. "Steve, start reading that and then let me know how innocent you think the Velan's are. Some of the wars in their early history make us look like kids fighting in the playground. Even today, a Velan female will kill any idiot stupid enough to threaten her family, without a second thought."
Steve just stared at the book that had landed at his feet. "You aren't going to make this easy for me are you."
"Sorry, but no I'm not. You changed a great deal after having to deal with Cathy and her antics. The cousin that stood in my home and wondered how he could have been fooled like that, is not the same cousin that spent two years in England as a missionary. I half hoped you would never bring the subject up."
"It was too good a chance to verify that what I believe is true. If your wife... Sorry, if your mate and her world had also believed, it would have been a confirmation."
"Yeah, I expect so, but not with the Velan's. You might try talking to Jab though. I've never asked what his race believes."
"Yeah, talk to the cat..." He was thumbing through the index in the history book I'd sent him as he muttered to himself. "I believe I owe Penny an apology. I thought she was doing it on purpose." He looked up at me, but didn't say anything.
"I'm listening..." came Penny's voice over the link.
"Oh..." he stammered. "I'm sorry for not believing you."
"Accepted" she answered. "And thank you for treating me as a person."
"She sometimes has trouble with people who can't imagine that a glowing hunk of crystal can be a living, feeling person" I said as Steve tried to figure it out.
"People don't bother to apologize to a machine" added Penny.
Steve nodded, and went back to thumbing through the book. "So, do you want to read, or do you have something else you'd like to talk about? I'd guess that you don't have much on your schedule for tonight."
"Not much" he answered. "I think I'll call it an evening. You can go get ready for bed and get your beauty sleep. You need it at your age."
Now that was the cousin I knew. "Actually, it's mid-morning here. Though it does get hard to tell sometimes with the sun overhead like that all the time."
"All the time? Where are you?"
"Hummm... You've never seen my home have you. It's about 9PM in Spokane now, isn't it?"
"About 10 actually. Where in the world are you?"
I snickered. "Wrong noun, I'm sitting on the backside of the Earth's moon."
"You're kidding..." I just sat there and smiled. "Your not kidding?"
"Nope, want a tour of the place?"
"No problem. Just don't get to fond of the place. One member of the family bouncing around the galaxy is enough. Your mom would skin me alive if you moved out also."
"Yeah, she would. I've been meaning to ask you though, what happened to your nose?"
I reached up and gently touched the sides of my nose. "I didn't duck fast enough after telling Kalindra something she wasn't expecting."
"She hit you?"
"Something like that... It was an improvement over spliting me open from crotch to neck like the last time." Steve eye's were wide in horror as he listened to me.
"I think you can forget the station-wagon with the mortgage in the glove box..."
"and the kids and the dogs in the back" he finished. "Should I get you a first aid kit for your birthday?"
"A nose mitten might be more useful" I muttered as I massaged my poor nose. "I'm going to have a few things to say to my loving mate when she starts talking to me again."
"So, uh, how do I get there?" Steve was looking around his front room as if searching for something. "I don't seem to have a spaceship handy at the moment."
"Grab a light jacket and I'll be down to get you in a second. Just leave the area in front of the door clear." I double checked the sensor readings again and was pleased to see the hull cooling nicely. "Can you keep an eye on things for a few minutes?"
"Are you going to introduce us properly?"
"Are you going to try to scare him shitless?"
"Awww, you take all the fun out it" she giggled as I focused for the 'port. "I was just going to introduce him to Silver..."
"Yeah... Getting buzzed by a miniature dragon riding an egg is just what he needs about now."
"He has to learn sometime how weird this crew is."
"The two of us grew up together, remember? He is well aware of how odd I can be."
"You said it, not me" she laughed as I vanished.