I had hoped to hand this letter to you myself, but circumstance got in the way. I wove this parchment myself and encoded it so the words would only appear to someone who shares my genetic make-up. You aren’t safe. I cannot say who for I do not yet know, but someone is trying to kill us both. I came to make sure you were alive. I wish I could have come sooner, I really do, but it took me so long to find you. I have to wait until you have reached your eighteenth turn to see you again. I am going to ask you to come with me when I do. The details as to why cannot be explained through a simple letter so I will have to tell you in person when I return on your turnrote. All I can tell you is you will have to make an important decision other than coming with me. That, too, will be discussed further in person.
I know you have some questions, but I cannot help you with all of them yet. Know this: Wilvaroks are not as evil as your ‘mother’ is making them sound. Yes, in our culture children are abandoned, but it is at force of our governmental system and is based on a high chance of them becoming traitors. There are two tyrannical political groups feuding for power in the Wilvarokan star systems and anyone born of parents who support opposing groups are taken by Galactic Enforcement Council Officers. The officers are bound by lifelink against killing innocents, but that doesn’t stop them from leaving them to die on their own. Please do not think it is an action we all support.
My ship which your father was so infatuated with is a design I created. Where you were born with the capability of supreme clairvoyance, I was gifted with supreme intelligence. The design is too dangerous to ever share with anybody of government, so I destroyed the plans after it was created. I named her “Veasha”.
The blood used to write the first two messages was Wilvarokan blood and was shed by my own blade. Our mother was not the first to experiment with the creation of an evolutionarily advanced child. Her mother had tried similar projects and had given birth to eight children. Six of the eight were killed by her own hands after birth because they were ‘failed experiments’ but the seventh and eighth seemed to have promise. Our mother was not a bad person, she was just determined. When she reached clairvoyance, her emotional disposition was true light. She had no dark emotional tendencies whatsoever. In fact, she was not even capable of going through metamorphosis voluntarily. Realizing she was an abomination, she killed herself to give birth to us.
Her sister had the opposite experience. With nothing but darkness fueling her, once she had her metamorphose she never returned to a relaxed state. Her skin turned as black as space itself and her eyes glowed red. She had the same capabilities you had, but spent many turns toning her abilities to something beyond anything I could imagine. She spent these turns in hiding and planned to overthrow the GEC itself. Her blood composed the messages.
I am sure you are wondering how I found you, how I know all of this, and why I want you to come with me, but all of that will have to be discussed in person. The only details I can tell you about the information I received is this: do not trust your ‘mother’. You may have already caught a glimpse of her subconscious, but it may take a long time for those abilities to come to full culmination. Her name appeared numerous times in my research and none of it was good. She isn’t to be trusted, but she knows I will destroy your entire station if any harm comes to you. Just do not trust her with ANY information.
I did a little research on some of the other Tilverhans there at 000402 and found nothing negative. Your father checks out to be a good person, please do not tell him any of this though. He will endanger you by telling your ‘mother’ and I cannot allow that. The Tilverhan who found you has been following you. I could sense it when we met. He did not seem alarming, probably just fascinated by you, but do be careful.
I gave your father a beautiful and rare necklace made of crystalized prism silk. When a Wilvarok dies, their silk gland turns to a solid stone, petrifying any silk inside. When I severed the last root binding us to our past, she happened to be prisming at the time. I carved the stone into a pair horns and encoded a tracking device into it. Ask your father for it. I told him it was a turnrote gift for you, but if you ask him now I know he will give it to you.
My time at your station is nearing its end. They only allowed me five hours dock time, and I still need to go back by your chambers to drop this letter off. Please be careful Sha’ayr. I know you have not met me, but know I love you and I will, if you allow me, protect you. Strange to think that you are almost eighteen turns old and are just now finding out you have a sister, and a twin at that! I will see you soon, try to put all of this out of your mind and enjoy yourself. I promise you that you will be safe once you get that necklace from your father. It has…other surprises as well. Once you do, do NOT take it off for any reason. Not even sleep.
As I read the last words of her letter, I slowly pressed the silk against my chest and smiled contently. Even with everything that has happened, is happening, and is inevitably about to unfold, I felt a tranquility overcome me. I had a sister who loved me and cared about me. I had discovered something inside me I did not know existed, a dormant well of emotion I had never felt; a biological bond that surpassed in intensity any contrived or developed feelings. I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and absorbed the true fervor of the moment.
As I exhaled a conclusive breath and opened my eyes, I immediately realized the importance of the final statement in Vea’ayr’s letter: I had to get that necklace. A new and well warranted fear of my mother took a strong hold of me, but I decided to fight through it and put my trust in Vea’ayr that upon getting my necklace I would be safe. I could feel my throat drying up from the anxiety and swallowed hard hoping to force my worries to the pit of my stomach where they would stay. It helped, but I knew it would not last long. I went to the sink, splashed some water into my face, and cupped my hands taking a long drink from my webs.
It took all the willpower I had to step outside the door of our chambers, not knowing what to expect on the other side. Though Fortitude was the same station it had always been, it seemed as though overnight it had been transformed into an alien station. If my own mother was not who she seemed to be, what of everyone else? Brindel, my father, and the elders were the only ones I felt I could trust: the elders because they had always been up front about their disdain for my kind, my father because he truly did love me and I loved him, and Brindel because, well, honestly I do not know why. I just had this feeling in me that he could be trusted, and I rarely ignore my intuition.
As I took a look around, it was clearly midlight. Tilverhans galloped at full speed down the ground level halls, leaped quickly into the air, latching onto the jump pads on the walls and rocketing themselves to the upper levels. I always had to move carefully as to not get trampled. Though the Tilverhans had become accustomed to my presence it was still hard to avoid stepping on something half your size when you were in such a hurry.
Over the turns I had found that if I hold up my hand and whistle then loudly declare my destination a friendly Tilverhan would pick me up, place me on his or her back, and take me there promptly. I only used this to get to the upper levels since I was incapable of jumping more than a few hands from the ground. I stepped out to the center of the passageway and extended my hand. Letting out a surprisingly audible and shrill whistle, I shouted “The Upper Pipes!” and soon a strong, familiar hand whisked me up and onto his back.
“Going to see your dad, I presume?” I could feel myself blushing white. “Hey Brindel. Don’t you have, I don’t know, classes or responsibilities or work or something you have to attend to? Surely the council doesn’t allow you to just follow around alien girls all rotation long, right?” He leapt forcefully from the ground, a good fifty hands into the air, gripped a jump pad, and sprang off again and continued in such a manner until, in mere moments, we were at the upper pipes.
His upper hands reached over his back and grabbed a hold of my waist. He stood me abruptly in front of him and had a surprisingly serious but friendly look on his face. “Sha’ayr, I am actually not at liberty to discuss my affairs in the company of others, but if you would like to talk about it tonight, I know a place we can chat.” I do not know if it is an adapted trait from being around my father with his scientific affinity or if it is an innate Wilvarokan trait, but my curiosity will overcome my good sense and better judgment every time. I smiled giddily and shouted “That sounds perfect!” Realizing I was acting the part of an enamored schoolgirl, I quickly pulled back my excitement and put on a languid expression. Brindel laughed and went back to his fool-hearty, smarmy persona.
“I actually do not have anything else to do right now, with my carefree lifestyle of alien-stalking and foolish behavior so, um, do you want me to take you the rest of the way to where your dad is working? It is really no trouble at all and a twenty second glide for me, a ten minute walk for you, assuming you know what section he is in. If not, I understand, just thought you might want to save the trouble.”
“Sounds great Brindel,” I said with a smile returning to my face. I honestly was not trying to save the trouble. In fact, normally I would never give up the chance to curl my toes around the cold steel pipes, vibrating softly with the rush of water flowing through. Oddly enough though, I enjoyed the sensation of Brindel’s soft but leathery wings wrapped warmly over my legs even more so than the feel of cold pipes. As he lifted me up and placed me on his back, my smile faded as a thought crossed my mind: I sure hope my draw to him isn’t clouding my instincts. True, he saved my life, but he was only able to do so because he was following me… What am I getting myself in to?
Almost as quickly as my worries took hold of me, their grip released as I felt the wind slice through the thin silk of my headdress and rush across my horns. Suddenly I felt his bottom arms wrap around me, one in front and one behind, grabbing the other lower elbow in each hand to form a sort of harness around my body. His upper hands then reached back and grabbed the respective upper elbows of the lower arms. I had never really thought about how astounding this level of flexibility was until now. “Grab my arms Sha’ayr!” He spoke with authority, much like a parent telling you to strap in when a shuttle takes off. I listened astutely and grabbed a tight hold of his arms.
With a powerful leap higher than any Tilverhan had taken me, he propelled himself at least seventy hands into the air. A loud, feral grunt exhibited just how straining such a feat was. I felt a slight tinge of panic as I felt his wings lift from my legs, but squeezed down with my feet and hands and remembered his arms were securing me to his back. He soared with astonishing speed to a spot in the middle of the pipe works and hooked his back talons around one of the larger pipes, stopping us abruptly.
His top hands released his bottom arms and he grabbed my waist, simultaneously loosening his bottom arms and lifting me over his head to set me in front of him. He bowed and waved his hand in a satirical, knightly gesture. “Milady!” I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. “Brindel my man, I take it you exercised extreme caution whilst gliding my daughter over here in such a manner? I know you are one of the toughest Tilverhans on Fortitude, but I would hate to have to show you just how wet you are behind the wings on a battlefield.” Brindel’s stature quickly went from jest to a pose of fear and respect I never thought him capable of and had never seen toward my father. “Sir, yes sir. I shall stand on the platform and await your signal. Upon your command I will return your daughter to the ground level, safety uncompromised. My sincere apologies if I have offended or demeaned you or your daughter in any way sir.” I looked at my father, somewhat bewildered, and awaited a response. “At ease Brindel, you have done nothing wrong. I appreciate the services you have done for me and my daughter and commend you in your continued efforts to protect. That will be all for now, kindly retire to your previously stated post, I need a word in private with my daughter.” Brindel bowed his head to my father, smiled at me sheepishly, and leapt somewhere entirely out of sight.
A little disconcerted, I looked at my father. “Um, dad? What exactly was that about?” His surprising professionalism faded back to his usual playfulness. “Your old man pulls rank around here. Those younger ones respect me ‘cause they know I am a force to be reckoned with when I have a whip and a couple of swords. What brings you up here anyways, is something wrong?” I could tell he didn’t really want to discuss what actually just happened and was doing a good job of hiding his emotions because I couldn’t sense a thing from him. “Well, Vea’ayr said she made me a beautiful necklace for my turnrote and told me I should ask for it early. She said you had it.” He exhaled in a relieved sigh and hugged me. “Is that all flower, you had me worried.”
As my father let out a complex and shrill pattern of whistles, Brindel reappeared and knelt. “How may I be of service, sir?” My father smacked Brindel on the back jovially and with a hearty laugh exclaimed, “Enough with the formalities Brindel. The necklace I left with you for safekeeping, I trust you still have it?” Brindel reached his hand under his wing and pulled out the most beautiful piece of jewelry I had ever seen. My father smiled and nodded to him approvingly. “If you would please do the honors.” I turned my back to Brindel and waited. His upper hands softly brushed the nape of my neck as he pulled the back of my headdress up and his lower hands slowly and carefully draped the short chain over my collar bones and clasped the necklace in place. I exhaled a heavy breath with a satisfied smile on my face, then remembered whose company I was in and quickly adjusted my expression accordingly.
“Very good. If that is all I will have Brindel take you to the ground level again.” I nodded to father, he nodded to Brindel, and before I could even say goodbye I was standing on the ground level again. “See you tonight Sha’ayr. Now that you have your necklace on I must attend to other duties.” My curiosity was uncontainable. “Brindel, what is going on?” He sighed, searched for the right words, and carefully said, “Listen, all I can tell you right now is this: I know just how important that necklace is to you.” He looked deep into my eyes and I could tell he was trying to get me to read him. I also know even more than you about what it does. We will discuss it tonight. I gave him a single nod, acknowledging that I had received his message, and turned to walk away.
Oddly enough, just wearing the necklace made me feel completely at ease with the entire situation. I had assumed I would need to convince myself to trust Vea’ayr and that any safe feeling would be a convincing façade at best, but I truly did feel safe with the necklace on. It felt like she was here with me, protecting me in person.
The necklace was spectacular to behold. The stone was a very glossy swirl of every imaginable color, none of which seemed to blend or mix in an aesthetically displeasing fashion. The chain was a shiny, silver pitrinium alloy, thin-knitted with another even thinner chain wrapping around it like a vine up a tree trunk. In the middle of the horns was a small red stone, held by the middle of the horns to form an H, almost mirroring the insignia Vea’ayr used. I assumed the red stone is what held the tracking device linked to her, but what other mysteries did the necklace hold? What else could a necklace, even one as beautiful as this, really do? Why did father give it to Brindel instead of keeping it himself? I had to get to my classes, so I figured between that and working on my knitting I could keep myself occupied until tonight when my questions could be answered. Besides, I was starting to prism and needed to make that bandana for the Doctor, so I shouldn’t waste any time on getting started.
When I arrived at class I sat in my assigned seat, got out my multi-board, and loaded our study books along with my homework. As soon as everything was prepared on my screen I pulled the knitting needles from my headdress and began knitting the bandana. Normally they did not allow me to knit during class time, but when I was prisming they allowed it. Otherwise I would suffer a severe deficit in my and my family’s income. As I knitted I paid little attention to what the teacher was saying and thought instead about how excited I was to be going out with Brindel tonight.
I wonder where he is going to take me. There are quite a few nice restaurants on the mid-levels, but I did not think that allowed for the seclusion necessary to tell me the distinct secrets of his work and school schedule, or rather lack thereof. Actually, the more I thought about it the more I realized that there was not a single place on the station where complete privacy is possible. Not that I knew of anyway. I guess I would have to wait and find out exactly what his plans are.
“Sha’ayr, what did you get for number thirty two?” I looked down at my multi-board and replied, “I got 78.12 with a margin of error of .04 ma’am.” The teacher nodded and smiled, winking at me over the top frame of her eye monitor. “Very good as always Sha’ayr. As you can see if you take the number of trial runs here…” her voice droned off into the background and I continued my thoughts of what my night could bring.
“Class is over young Tilverhans. Please remember to upload your homework to the primary grading console. Upon doing so, your assignments for tomorrow will be in your multi-board. Failure to do so will result in immediate disciplinary action and a message transmitted to your parents. Enjoy the rest of the light and have a good night.”
I stepped up to the console. “Sha’ayr, assignment upload.” I held my multi-board up to the console. A few beeps later a loud chime occurred and my grades appeared on my multi-board. “100% on all assignments. Well met.” I smiled with a feeling of accomplishment. As of right now I was at the head of the class in every subject and in many cases, especially science and math, knew even more than my teachers. It felt good to know my intelligence surpassed that of my peers, not due to narcissism, but rather because the ability to help anyone and everyone with their classwork helped ease the difficulty of fitting in in an alien environment.
I had a nervous knot tie up in my stomach as I thought about my arrival at my chambers. It had only just then occurred to me that my mother would be home. It felt strange not to trust her now after so many turns of unconditional love and loyalty. It was actually painful to think that these past seventeen turns had been a lie to her. I took my shaky hand and grasped the pendant of my necklace firmly, reflected on the words of Vea’ayr’s letter, took a deep breath, and felt my angst wash away.
I stood at the door going to the chambers for a moment and gathered myself. This is no big deal, just go inside and act normal. Nothing has changed, nothing is different. As long as you do not show her you are scared or upset she will not suspect anything. Just be normal. I sighed and opened the door, taking a confident step forward. “Mom, I am home!” I shouted through the seemingly vacant house as I walked straight to my personal chambers to put my things down on my bed.
As I placed my multi-board on the bed and turned to go to the kitchen, I nearly jumped out of my skin to see my mother standing directly behind me. “Goodness mother, you scared the silk out of me! You sure are sneaky this rote.” She laughed and hugged me. “Oh, stop it. How was class? What did you do this rotation?” I pulled out the bandana I had completed during class and showed her. “All done, now all I need to do is wait until I am not prisming and embroider it for the doctor.” My mother took the bandana from my hand daintily and looked it over. “No knots… no pulled threads… stitching is even on all edges… this is brilliant work! I suppose your mind being at a new stage has improved your stitch-work. Fantastic job sweetie.”
She handed the bandana back to me and I took a close look at it. She was right and I had not even noticed. My stitch-work, technique, and final result had improved drastically. I thanked her, smiled proudly, and filled her in on the boring details of my school rotation. Even though it was all a façade at this point, it felt nice to have someone who would listen to the events of my rote.
“I see your father gave you your necklace already. What beautiful craftsmanship! I wonder how she solidified prism silk like that. I have never seen such a feat. I should have known that he wouldn’t be able to hold onto it until your turnrote. I tried to hold onto it instead, but he insisted and PROMISED me he would not give it to you until the time was appropriate. Oh, he is in for an earful tonight.”
I began feeling uncomfortable so to avoid showing signs of emotional distress I quickly changed the subject. “Speaking of tonight… I have my date with Brindel.” The way her eyes lit up almost made me forget about the insincerity of her excitement. “Oh, I know JUST what you should wear! Remember when you were doing your studies of the plants and animals gathered by DNA probes from far-off star systems? You made a headdress that depicted a field of flowers so beautiful that the Council voted immediately upon seeing it to biologically recreate the seeds and grow roses here on Fortitude. Something which displays such beauty is perfect for a first date.”
I smiled slyly at my mother and sarcastically said, “Why would I want to display something which may try to overshadow MY beauty? I may just wear no headdress and my school robes.” With a disapproving glare she grumbled, “Well smart horns, what did you have in mind?” I went to my closet and pulled out a black bag. Reaching inside I pulled out a hooded shroud and showed my mother. She was entirely speechless for a good minute or so. “That’s… that is the robe that Vea’ayr was wearing! How did you get it? Oh my goodness, it is so beautiful. I never got a chance to look at the embroidery before. I wonder what land she is illustrating here. I have never before seen such magnificently terrifying creatures. And what does the word at the bottom of the picture mean?”
I took the robe back and studied it. I had found the package in my closet the night I got home from the hospital but felt it best not to tell anyone. I only glimpsed inside and didn’t really take the time to look at the robe. It did have a beautiful landscape sewn into it with dyed silks, wrapping around the entirety of the robe. There were gigantic rivers and lakes, huge trees, flowers everywhere, and gigantic, frightening looking tusked creatures as tall as the trees themselves wandering the land. It must have taken entire cycles, possibly even turns to recreate this scene. There are no planets known which permit life forms, so where did she find such a picture?
“Yvarrhiln,” I whispered under my breath as I ran my hand across the word, embroidered in the same prism silk used to fashion the canvas of the dress. “What could it possibly mean?” mother said with a true fascination in her voice I had never heard before. I didn’t want to show too much curiosity, so I shrugged and plainly said, “I don’t know, but I do know one thing. I am going to look GREAT in this dress, and I know it will contour me well, seeing as how it did belong to Vea’ayr.” My mother laughed at my childish dismissal of the significance of the image and smiled. “I have some chores to get caught up on, get your homework done before you go out.” I let out an annoyed huff. “When do I EVER not finish my homework mother?” She wittily replied, “When do you EVER have a date?” I teasingly hit her with my pillow and she left the room, laughing with contentment. As soon as she left I shut and locked the door and began working on my studies.
I finished my schoolwork and told my multi-board to go into clock mode. An effervescent calendar, chart, and digitized time displayed two hands above the surface of my desk. I was shocked to see there were only three hours left until lightfade. I hurriedly began getting ready for my date. I ran to my closet and grabbed the dress to put it on. I wrapped my horns with a plain headdress and slid the dress on quickly. The hood would be covering the headdress anyway, I just didn’t want the horns to pull any threads.
Stumbling to my vanity, I looked through my jewelry to decide what pieces I should wear. I opened my drawer to find a jewelry box I had never seen before. The insignia Vea’ayr had used on her letters was on it. Curiously and carefully, I slowly opened the box.
Inside was a beautiful jewelry set made of prism crystals to match my necklace. The earrings were simple, large teardrops with a single deep red gemstone hanging elegantly from the bottom of each, giving the appearance that the tear itself were shedding a tear. There were two bracelets, each resembling a vine of ivy winding up the forearm with bright prism crystal roses and green gemstone leaves. I put on the bracelets and the earrings then reached in to get my favorite piece of all. It was a choker, about two thumbs wide. The glossy stones were shaped like thorns and alternated between being upward and downward pointing. They were hanging inside what appeared to be two dried stems, going all the way around the neck and enclosing the thorns between them. It fit me perfectly. In the bottom of the box was a hand written note on plain parchment.
Sha’ayr, these were made from the prism crystal left over when I made your pendant and various stones I have collected throughout my travels. I thought they would be appropriate for any occasion momentous enough for you to be searching for jewelry. This and the shroud were left in your room by one of my contacts on Fortitude. Since I discovered your whereabouts I developed connections in secret to some of the higher up members of the council as a way of discretely keeping track of your safety and progress. I hope to see you wearing these and the dress I made on your turnrote. Oh, and these pieces are purely cosmetic, so don’t lose them! No tracking devices to help if you do.
My eyes watered up as I read the last of the letter. I folded it carefully along its creases and put it back in the box. Looking through the floor of my closet, I found a pair of boots to wear with my outfit. I sat on my bed and began loosening the laces. I could get away with going on walks and to classes without shoes, but some of the less tolerant store and restaurant owners thought my webbed feet would be a “cesspool for bacteria.” As I looked down at my feet I reminisced about the feeling of Brindel’s wings pressed firmly against my bare feet and tucked the laces back inside my shoes. Shoes were not actually necessary anyway since Tilverhans didn’t even have them and if we went anywhere where someone is going to be offended, I doubt they would be brave enough to say anything with Brindel right there.
After applying some blue blush and a splash of perfume, I looked at my clock to see I had about twenty minutes to spare before my date. I knew Brindel may show up early but still decided to enjoy a short walk before the date began. I figured, if nothing else he would be gliding through the hallways anyway and would see me near my chambers if I were not back in time.
I stepped outside the chambers and spread my webs, slowly pressing my feet against the cold steel, closing my eyes, and smiling. As I opened my eyes and exhaled I blushed, suddenly realizing it was still light time. People were staring in awe at my dress, sending me to the brink of a panic attack. Whereas most girls would love the attention, I was not most girls. Actually, the fact I am not most girls is what validates my disdain for the spotlight. Nothing makes you feel more like an outcast than having every single eye in view focused in on you. I understood they were staring mostly in admiration of my exquisite dress and jewelry, for most had never seen such pure prism silk woven in such a detailed manner, but regardless of connotation the glares made me feel extremely uneasy. I should have considered this before I chose my outfit.
I looked down at the ground and started breathing rapidly. I could feel each breath entering and burning my lungs, my heart was pounding in my chest so hard that it was rattling my pendant. It took about two minutes, but I finally regulated my breathing and my stomach began to settle again.
When I looked up I saw Brindel standing majestically in front of me. He was wearing a beautiful necklace made of two gigantic talons of a fallen Tilverhan almost coming together in the middle of his chest holding a stone between them oddly similar to a much larger version of the one in my pendant. He seemed rather unimpressed with my outfit but ecstatic to see me nonetheless. Still, it was a little disheartening that every set of eyes but the one I truly wanted had been staring at me in adoration. He turned and looked at the small crowd of people staring and with a simple gesture of his head they took off like startled children. It was odd to see the respect he commanded amongst these Tilverhan and even odder to then consider how my father commanded such respect from him.
His hand brushed the side of my face and his finger gently lifted my chin to look him in the eyes. “My apologies for their lewd behavior.” I smiled a little and nervously responded, “Thank you. Do you, um, do you not like my outfit? You didn’t seem very fond of it.” He looked at me, his eyes more full of sincerity and esteem than I have ever seen in anyone’s eyes. “Sha’ayr, your outfit is magnificent. It just saddens me to think that no one else sees what I see is all.” I turned my head inquisitively and said, “Oh yeah, and exactly what is it you see?”
“I see a woman whose beauty so far surpasses the allure of any cloth, any jewels, or any stones that such trinkets, in comparison, are mere trifles. To be surprised by the splendor of your outfit is to prove that one has never truly noticed you before and that, my dear Sha’ayr, is a true calamity.” I blushed and looked down again, only this time I was not panicked, merely overwhelmed by his words. “I am sorry if I offended you,” he said with a certain despair in his voice, “I assure you it was not my intention.”
I looked up at him with a happy tear in my eye, now cheerful and enthusiastic about our night. “Your words suit me well Brindel, I have just never received such an eloquent compliment before. Thank you for making me feel better.” I held my hands up submissively, waiting for him to hug me. Instead, he swooped me up onto his back, wrapped his lower arms around me, and thrust us both full speed to a level about forty hands above us where all the restaurants were built, lifted me off his back, and placed me in front of him.
“I have a plan for our night together, but we still have a little over two hours until lightfade begins, so where do you want to eat? My treat of course, anywhere in the station.” I responded sheepishly, “I honestly have never been on a date before. Where do you want to go?” He turned his head to face me. “A date? So you consider tonight a date then?” For the third time that night I showed him the top of my hood as I buried my head in embarrassment. “Sorry, I thought that is what we… of course it isn’t a date, why would an attractive Tilverhan ask out an alien anyway? I am such a j’karn idiot.” He quickly realized what he had implied and apologetically stammered, “Oh, no no no, I didn’t mean it like that Sha’ayr, I was just flattered that you wanted this to be a date. I didn’t know what to expect honestly and didn’t really know if you even… well, if you even found Tilverhans to be, um, pleasing, or attractive or whatever. I mean, I know you said I was cute, but lots of things are cute… all sorts of different animals, and even some plants…” My mind quickly settled and I leaned up to peck a kiss on his cheek. “I don’t. I mean, not in such a general sense as finding the entire species attractive. Like anyone, there are men and women I find to be more and less attractive than others. I just find myself smitten with a certain Tilverhan who is as unique amongst his own race as I am. How did you get these beautiful stripes anyway?” I realized I had been inadvertently running my fingers gently up and down the stripes on his side, paused for a slight moment, and decided to continue until I heard an objection.
“That is part of what I will discuss later, can’t really talk about it in the company of others. I am glad you like them, most people view me as unnatural because of it, others think nothing of it, and occasionally I am lucky enough to find a girl who is enamored with me over it.” He smiled and winked at me, causing me to giggle giddily and cover my mouth with my hands. I had always tried to avoid such actions because I wanted to be taken seriously, but I guess I had just never realized how blissful it made you feel to be complimented by someone you are truly fond of. The emotional rush was even more satiating than the physical gratification of cold steel beneath my webs.
“So, you’ve never been out to eat at a fancy place before, eh? Well, I suppose the only gentlemanly thing for me to do is take you to the most excessively pompous restaurant on the station.” He placed me on his back, secured me in place, and leapt up again, gliding toward a very crowded jump pad on the wall adjacent to a magnificent archway with the words “Rivystrrome Reservation Verification” embossed into the banner above. As soon as we hit the jump pad, two Tilverhans about to reach the well-dressed gentleman greeting people at the door and scanning retinas for reservations looked over at us, nodded, and leapt back to the jump pad we were on. With this, Brindel nodded back and took their spot on the platform.
“Ahh, sir Brindel, thank you for gracing us with your presence. I will see to it that you are escorted to your table by our finest staff.” He smiled and replied, “Thank you Grell, we will be sitting by the lightfade peninsula.” Grell took out a multi-board, typed something into it, and nodded to Brindel. “Certainly sir, we just need to verify which table to set. Is this business as usual or are you actually here on pleasure?” Grell laughed and Brindel playfully boxed with him. “Pleasure for once Grell, believe it or not even I can get a date occasionally.” Grell then looked at me, smiled, looked back at Brindel and candidly said, “I must say Brindel, I never suspected you would ever be here on pleasure you mule, and I must say that any man not envious of the beauty of your date is either blind or a bloody fool.” I pulled my head back a little, hiding my face beneath the shadow of my shroud and said, “Thank you sir.”
“No Miss Sha’ayr, thank you. I just got verification, they have loaded your table customized for a pleasure visit onto a hover platform and secured it above the lightfade peninsula.” No sooner had he spoken the words two stunning male Tilverhan and two beautiful females met us to lead us to the table. “So Brindel, you come here often I presume. They didn’t do a retina scan, didn’t ask for a reservation, and have secured you the best seat in the house from what it sounds. Anything you want to tell me?” He sighed and replied, “More than you know Sha’ayr, but later.” Realizing I had struck a chord, I decided to not ask any personal questions until after our date, but he still seemed a bit unsettled.
The restaurant was immaculate and astounding. Instead of waiters or waitresses refilling drinks, anywhere from two to twenty non-sentient robotic fountains hovered in a circle above each table. The cups were small for Tilverhan hands and could hold only enough for two mouthfuls at most, but upon sitting the cup down onto what appeared to be an electronic coaster all the patrons had to do was say what drink they wanted and the corresponding robot would spin down, grab the cup, and hold it underneath one of the streams.
I pointed at the drink fountains and exclaimed, “That is amazing!” Brindle chuckled a little and replied, “Sha’ayr, just wait until you see our table.” I hugged his neck and closed my eyes. “I will not look until we are seated then, I want to be surprised.” He laughed some more and kept walking.
After a couple minute walk, he tapped me on the shoulder. “Hold on tight, this is going to be quite an experience with your eyes closed.” I clinched down and felt the platform we were standing on begin moving upward at a high velocity. An automated voice emanated from the platform. “At the tone, please brace yourself for a gravitational flip.” A few seconds later a loud beep rang out and the platform turned upside down. For a split second I felt us falling and then felt gravity reverse and pin us against the platform. I squeezed down excitedly now aware of where we were.
“Alright, open your eyes.” As I did, I could see that we were in a small bubble contained behind one of the waterfalls in the free fields. The view was magnificent. As the water rushed passed us, mist rolled down the water facing hemisphere of the bubble. In the other direction you could see the life-core beginning to set behind the edge of the free fields. I always thought it stupidly sentimental to design the life-core in such a way that it had the effect of setting much like the suns did on the forbidden planets, but seeing it from this vantage point really brought out a mysticism that I had never been able to appreciate or even realize before.
“It’s…It is perfect Brindel. How did you get such an amazing seat with the restaurant this busy?” He picked me up off his back and sat me in the chair across from him. “And where did you find a chair?” He lay down on the mat on his stomach and smiled. “Those two questions I can only answer vaguely for now. I did not get this seat, it was made for me exclusively and you are not the first Wilvarok to be here. However, this is the first time I have used it for pleasure as opposed to business and must say the accommodations are much more to my liking.” Candles of all different color flame were floating around us sinuously like seeds in a gentle breeze.
“Brindel, I have something I need to say. I think it will make things easier.” He looked at me, surprised and somewhat taken back by my statement. I continued, “I don’t want you to feel uneasy about anything around me, and I may have inadvertently discovered I can read into more than just immediate thoughts. As of now this is involuntary but I believe I can find a way to control it. What I am getting at is I want to promise you now that I will never intentionally read you, be it on a conscious or subconscious level. I trust you and know you would never keep anything from me that I really needed to know. It is unfair of me to read you like that and I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”
He smiled and seemed extremely relieved. “Thank you Sha’ayr, but may I ask you something? What prompted this?” I reached across the table and took hold of his hand. “I like you a lot Brindel. I have since you rescued me, and not just because you saved my life. You are not like any Tilverhan I have met here and I am not sure what it is yet, but I know that us meeting is the start of something significant. I feel like I already kind of knew you, it is strange. Even if it is just a close friendship, which frankly I hope it is more, I want to be honest with you and I want you to be able to trust me.” He placed another hand on top of mine and smiled. “You know, most girls aren’t so upfront about being interested in someone.” I laughed and pushed my hood back a little with my other hand so he could see my face clearly. “Well, if you haven’t noticed I am not quite like other girls and am extremely inexperienced in this field so you will have to overlook my blatant unprofessionalism.”
“Oh, I suppose I can do that,” he chuckled, “but only if you agree to overlook my ambiguous statements about my personal life and temporary evasions of any topic relating to such.”
We ate and talked mostly of my upbringing, my life, my feelings of loneliness even in rooms of people, and pretty much every other detail of what made me who I was. Brindel listened, laughed, and even became legitimately angry with those whom I spoke of wronging me throughout my life. When I told him about the one time I worked up the courage to ask someone out and about how Raschall had called me an ignorant bashakai for thinking he would ever be interested in an alien freak, I thought Brindel was going to go back to the parlor, have him brought to the restaurant, and beat him to death. “That dirty piece of j’karn!” he said furiously, “I will strangle him with his own wings if he ever disrespects you like that again!”
After we were finished with our meal a second hover platform came up with a blanket, two elegant glasses, and an icebox with a very expensive bottle of wine within. We stepped to the platform and the one with our table descended into the long pipeline leading up to our little bubble. The sun had set and you could see the stars and forbidden planets from the sides of the dome and the entire station through the ceiling. We continued to talk about my life for a good two hours as we finished off our bottle of wine and I decided my curiosity could handle no more. “Okay, it is now officially nighttime. So, please let us go to where we can talk about YOU. I have been talking about me for a good four hours now and I have so many questions!” I leaned over the left side of my legs, putting my palms on the blanket beside me, and looked up at him with a pitiful look in my eyes. I stood up, leaned toward his ear, wrapped my hands around his neck petting him softly and whispered in an only half jesting seductive tone, “I can’t wait any longer.”
He grinned mischievously and reached into his satchel pulling out a multi-board. After a few minutes of typing, the multi-board went through an extremely comprehensive security scan and finally chimed. As it chimed, the bubble we were in opened up and I felt the mist of the waterfall against my face. The hover platform, unable to function in the natural gravity of the free fields, fell to the floor below it, comprised of the former top of the bubble, now folded underneath us. We stepped off onto the grounds of the free fields and Brindel grabbed my hands, placing me gently on his back. “Are you sure you are ready for this?” I squeezed his neck tightly and rubbed my feet against his sides then excitedly said “Yes, let’s go!” He wrapped his arms around me and formed handles like he did at the pipes and said, “Hold on, this is going to be a little…different for you.”
He sprang high into the air, sixty hands at least, and spread his wings. We started gliding away from the waterfall and toward the center of the free fields. We were in a steady glide for about twenty seconds when I felt a sudden jolt up and down. I looked over and panicked as I saw his wings flapping about vigorously. “Brindel, are you okay? What’s wrong?” He was too strained to say more than one word. “Watch.”
I looked down to see we were only fifteen hands or so from the ground. As the rocks grew closer, I grew more and more scared, not knowing if we were going to crash into the harsh terrain below. I closed my eyes for about thirty seconds, foreseeing our painful and possibly fatal crash landing. When I opened them again, confused as to how we hadn’t crashed, I looked down to see that the rocks below were now at least fifty hands away, and climbing. We were flying!
No Tilverhan I had met was capable of flight and according to our anatomy studies it was not possible. Their wings are not designed for flight and the muscle structure at the base could not produce the force needed. Furthermore, the vigorous flapping would normally snap the bones of any Tilverhan foolish enough to try. Yet somehow, we were flying and we were soaring higher and higher. As I calmed down, I became very pleasantly aware that the motion of flying not only caused my feet to rub across Brindel’s underwings—the supple patches right before skin transforms to scales—but also the wind produced softly fanned my webs. My body quivered as the intense ecstasy of the sensation pulsed through me. I let my eyelids close and enjoyed the breeze.
My moment of guilty pleasure was abruptly and unexpectedly interrupted by the feeling of us landing. “We’re here.” I opened my eyes and looked over the edge of the surface we were standing on. Upon doing so, I dug my fingers into the side of Brindel’s neck up to the first knuckle, leaving visible indentions. “We are at least a thousand hands from the j’karn ground, how is that even possible? How can you fly? What the stars are we even standing on? And is that a pond beside you? How is there a pond up here? This is impossible. Nothing about this situation makes any sense whatsoever. We died didn’t we? We died and this is some eternal final mind trick of my brain isn’t it?” Dismissing the seriousness of the situation and the dismay in my voice, Brindel laughed and said, “Finally I can answer some questions for you. Where do you want me to start?” I calmed down slowly, stepped off his back and onto the platform, and motioned for him to lie down. When he did, I leaned up against him resting my back on his chest, looked up at him looking down at me, and nervously smiled. As his arms wrapped around me over my shoulders, my fears subsided and I replied, “Start at the beginning.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.