“Are you, uhh, are you really sure about this?” Shiori asked awhile later as the two of us followed Purin up out of the Elvis docking bay (or whatever it was called) back in the Meregan base/ship. We had raced back even faster than the trip out there, Purin seeming to trust that we knew how to drive the boulder-vehicle well enough that he pushed his own harder than he had before. It had been a wild ride.
“Because this,” Shiori continued in a quiet murmur, “seems like a plan that could go wrong really fast.”
Unable to deny that, I nodded. “You’re right, it could go wrong. It could backfire spectacularly. But if we’re gonna rescue those kids, we’re gonna need them.” Pausing then, I added, “And they’re my team.”
The girl paused briefly, a visible flinch crossing her face. “Right,” her voice faltered. “Your team.”
We were in the doorway between the vehicle garage and the corridor, and I turned to Shiori. My hand found hers almost instinctively. “Hey, I… I’m sorry, that was really insensitive. I know, you’d rather have your team here too. I’m going on about wanting my team here, and you… you… I’m sorry.”
At first, Shiori’s gaze turned down and to the side, toward the floor. Then the girl set her shoulders and physically straightened. Her eyes found mine while she shook her head. “No more sulking, remember? Yeah, it sucks that I can’t t-tell them about what I am. But… but I’m not gonna brood about it anymore.”
Her face twisted a little in thought then before she added, “Besides, do you even know how you’re gonna get Columbus and the others here anyway? Because I’m pretty sure they won’t be past the shield and out on the beach like we were. Especially in the middle of the night. It’s like four in the morning.”
“Avalon’ll be down for exercise in another hour,” I assured her. “I know her schedule like the back of my hand. She goes running on the beach at five thirty.” Looking toward Purin, who had paused to watch, I asked, “Is there any way to send a message instead of just teleporting them without warning? I’d kind of like to tell my friends what’s going on and let them choose to come help if they want.”
The big man’s head bobbed immediately. “This is being very possible to have been done, Friend-Flick.”
“That still leaves an hour and a half before she’s on the beach,” Shiori pointed out. “What do we do until then? And are we sure that this umm, Nicholas guy won’t send an even bigger army before then?”
Wincing at the thought, I started to shake my head. Before I could say anything, however, Gavant spoke up while approaching from further down the corridor. “We will being moving, Friend-Shiori. Enemy-Nicholas Petan is having a large army, yes. But he is not having large enough to be finding us.”
“Wait, so, the spaceship is ready to move?” I asked, giving a quick. nervous glance around the corridor.
Gavant winced a little before shaking his head. “Our vessel is not being space-worthy yet. More repairs are being needed. But it is being less difficult to be moving on planet. That moving we can be done.”
“Right,” I nodded. “Probably a good idea to move then, before we get any more unwanted guests.” Hesitating then, I took a breath before looking at Shiori. “As for what we’re gonna do until Avalon’s up, I’ve got an idea.” My eyes met hers while I spoke quietly. “Asenath. We can ask Asenath for help.”
The suggestion made Shiori’s eyes widen. “Asenath,” she breathed out in surprise. “You mean…”
“Yeah,” I confirmed while squeezing her hand upon realizing I was still holding it. “Your sister.”
For a second, I saw the hope in the girl’s eyes. I saw the expression of a child that only wanted to know her real family, and where she had come from. Then it clouded over with worry, like a storm crossing a bright, sunny day. “But what if she, I mean what if I… wh-what if they…” Shiori started to babble.
I responded by lifting her hand, then grabbing the other one. Interlacing our fingers together, I met her gaze while holding our hands up above our heads that way. “Hey,” I replied quietly, “it’s okay. We don’t have to tell any of the others that you guys are related if you don’t want to. Or anything else about you. I mean, I think you should tell Columbus the truth because he’s your brother and he’s been worried as hell. But that’s up to you, and no one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to. All right?”
Looking down at the floor at first, then back up again to meet my gaze, Shiori nodded. “Okay.” Her voice was quiet, yet a little hope had crept back into it. “And I would like to meet this… Asenath.”
“I know she’d like to meet you too,” I confirmed before looking back toward Gavant and Purin. “Can we do that? If I give you a um, I don’t know, an address or whatever, can you reach someone else?”
“We are not understanding what is this ‘address,’” Gavant responded with a slight frown. “But if Friend-Flick is be telling us all of who this sister of Friend-Shiori is, we can be finding her then.”
“Right, right,” I realized aloud. “It’s like you were saying about how the beacon caught me instead of my mom. It looks for similar genetics, mindsets, actions, memories, personality. You just need me to… what, talk about what I know about Asenath and then your beacon can lock onto her just like that?”
“That is being true,” he confirmed. “If it is being narrowed down to one world, it is being easier. Our beacon was been already used on your world. That will being easier than one whole new world.”
Releasing Shiori, I started to say something else, but the sound of jogging footsteps caught my attention. Not that it was hard to know who was coming, since there was only one other person in the whole ship who could run without it sounding like rumbling thunder echoing around us. “Tristan?”
Sure enough, the boy came running up, skidding to a stop. Excitement shown on his face. “They’re about to start up the engines!” He called, clearly beside himself. “They’re gonna start the ship!”
Despite the urgency of the situation, I felt a flutter of excitement and more than a little awe. I was in a spaceship, a real spaceship, and they were about to start the engines. Part of me wished there was time to bask in how amazing that was, how unbelievable, and how jealous Dad would have been if he knew.
Actually, that raised an interesting question. How would the Bystander effect work when someone was brought onto a working spaceship and taken to another world? Would they just think they were driving in a car or… going on a ship? Or would they fully process it while they were experiencing it, then forget immediately as soon as it was over? The latter seemed more likely given what I knew about the effect.
Shaking off those thoughts, I smiled in spite of myself. The boy’s obvious excitement was infectious. “I guess we better work on getting those reinforcements here then, if the ship’s already ready to take off.”
The boy looked nervous all of a sudden, kicking at the floor with his foot. “Do uhh, do you mind if I…”
Realizing what he was asking, my eyes widened. I suddenly felt like a bitch. He obviously wanted to stay around us. We were the first humans that had been here with him for years, and we’d run out with barely a word right after meeting him. “You wanna hang out while we work on getting our friends?”
Tristan’s head bobbed rapidly, his perfect blonde hair flying with the motion. Seriously, the kid would have given any of those famously cute little boy actors a run for their money without even trying that much. When he got a little bit older, he was going to end up being the subject of a ton of crushes. I had to wonder how much of that had to do with whatever his ‘other half’ besides human was. Not to mention my thoughts of whether the boy had been magically banished because of something to do with the Heretics refusal to accept that there could be human-alter hybrids.
In the end, I just gave the boy a thumbs up. “Cool.” Then I looked to Gavant. “How do we get started?”
The big man pointed down the corridor. “Explore-Master Purin will being take you to beacon room while ship is prepared for launch. It should not be interrupting your work. Meregan beacon will being unhindered by ship movements and activity unless we are being in live combat situation.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” I murmured before nodding. “All right, Purin, let’s get to it.”
The other Meregan man made that salute or prayer gesture with his left hand again, where he pressed it sideways against his chest with the ring and middle fingers stretched out while the rest were pushed back against his palm. He thumped his hand against his chest that way while facing Gavant. Speaking quickly in their own language for a moment, he gave what sounded like an agreement before turning. “Come, Friends-Flick, Shiori, and Tristan. We must be hurry if we are to be finding your other people.”
The four of us jogged down the corridor, hurrying past several other Meregan who were all hard at work effecting repairs and maintenance on the ship to make sure everything was ready. As we jogged, I looked down at the boy. “So you really don’t remember anything about your family or anything?”
Tristan shook his head. “Nuh uh. They tried everything to send me back or help me remember, but it, uh, like I said, it just sends me right back.” Making a face then, he added, “I wish I could remember.”
Despite myself, I reached out to ruffle his hair as we ran. “Hey, don’t worry. We’re not just gonna run off back home and forget all about you when this is over, I promise. We’ll figure something out.”
The boy looked a bit doubtful, but nodded while remaining silent. Before I could say anything else, the jog brought us to a circular platform of some kind, with a safety rail around it that was taller than I was.
Once we were all in the circle, it started to descend, sinking deeper into the tomb-like ship. I had to wonder why so much of the Meregan technology seemed to be centered around things like rocks and rough masonry. Sure there was smooth metal in certain places, but a lot of the exterior things were very different. There was no aerodynamic structure or anything a modern human would design. Their spaceship looked more like a building than a vehicle, and their scouting vehicles looked like boulders.
As if to add to that, as the elevator stopped and a large set of doors opened in front of us, we saw what looked an awful lot like a cave in front of us. It was almost as large as the cafeteria at Crossroads. There were multicolored crystals lining the walls that fluctuated between red, blue, and green randomly. The floor was marble, and there was a wading pool in the middle of the circular chamber. In the middle of the pool there was a small fountain that shot up at least a good ten feet. And to the side, I could see one of the other Meregan, a woman with long green hair, fiddling with one of the crystals.
Shaking off my surprise at the sight, I stepped into the cavern. “Okay, so um, how does this work?”
“Oh, and we better make sure that it brings them here and not outside like we did,” Shiori added.
Pointing at her, I nodded emphatically toward Purin. “Yeah, what she said. Why did we end up out there instead of in this place anyway? Seems like that could have saved a lot of, you know, confusion.”
The Meregan woman who had already been in the cavern looked embarrassed while speaking up. “That is being my fault, Friends-Flick and Shiori. I am being Alecra, and the mistake was been mine.”
She approached, leaving the crystals behind while continuing to explain. “The beacon was been set to transport Friend-Joselyn Atherby here into this room location. But I was made mistake by not changing location to be matching new coordinates after Binsayeac was been hidden under ground from intruders.”
Quickly, Tristan murmured, “Binsayeac’s the name of the ship. They said it means, umm, Friend-Finder.” His lips were pursed a little, the anger in even his young voice apparent. “They named their ship Friend-Finder. They wanted to go out in space and find other people to talk to, other… friends. They just wanted to help and make a big intergalactic community. They never wanted to hurt anybody.”
I flinched at the thought that this race of explorers, who had gone so far as to name their spaceship after the idea of community and friendship, had been almost completely wiped out. This ship that they had made for the purpose of extending a hand of solidarity to worlds beyond their own had become the home of pretty much their entire species. And if we didn’t save their children, it might all end here.
Forcing that thought aside rather than let myself dwell on the idea of failing, I focused on what Alecra had explained, parsing it for a moment before getting it. “Oh, you set the coordinates for this room, but then they hid this ship to stay away from the bad guys, but you forgot to change the coordinates. So where we showed up would have been where the ship was before you guys took it underground.”
“That is being correct, Friend-Flick,” the tall, green-haired woman confirmed. “If we are to be bring your Friends-People here to help, we will being move the coordinates to bringing them to here.”
After making that clear, she extended a hand. “You will must come being in water if the beacon is to being correct in its search. Lord-March Gavant was said that you was to look for Friend-Shiori’s sister?”
I nodded. “She’s never met her though. Asenath’s her half-sister, but I’m the only one that knows her.”
“Then you must being both in water,” Alecra explained patiently. “The beacon will being scan Friend-Flick’s memories and will being scan Friend-Shiori’s blood and body to being make accurate location.”
With a brief glance toward the other girl, I let out a breath. “All right, let’s do it then. Wait, I can send her a message, right? We locate her and send a message first. I don’t want to just snatch her without warning. That, you know, might be bad.” I coughed, wincing at the thought of both a startled Asenath showing up here with no idea of what was going on, and Twister being left alone, equally clueless.
Beside me, Shiori got that mischievous look again, even as she tried to keep a straight face. “Yeah,” she intoned with clearly false solemness. “Pulling in a vampire without warning them ahead of time would definitely be rued.”
I blinked, blinked again, mouthed her words to myself while she just watched me with obvious amusement and self-satisfaction. Then I got it. “You spelled it r-u-e-d, didn’t—yeah you did.” Groaning while the other girl giggled, I found myself smiling anyway. Especially when Tristan apparently got it abruptly and started to snicker as well.
Finally, I looked back at the two Meregan. “Shiori’s puns aside, what about that warning?”
“Yes, Friend-Flick,” Alecra confirmed with a simple nod. “There will being a chance for conversation.”
With that, Shiori and I both started down into the pool. It was clearly meant to come up to about the knees of a full grown Meregan, which meant it was all the way up past our waists.
Alecra had us each stand on either side of the fountain, then told us to put our hands in the spray. “As the water is being hitting your skin, you are to being speaking of the person you are to being looking for.”
Meeting Shiori’s curious, obviously eager gaze, I smiled. “All right. Let me talk about what I saw when I first met Asenath, how she saved my life. Let me describe what I felt when I realized what she was, and what she did for other people. Let me tell you how grateful I am to her for everything she’s done. And how much I trust her to protect my dad.”
I’d already talked about this with the other girl, but now I went into greater detail. I described the feeling of Asenath saving me at the last second from whatever torture Ammon had had in mind. I openly admitted my own skepticism, and how the vampire had won me over, and how it had felt to see that she had stopped my father from becoming a murderer. I talked about seeing the determination in Asenath’s eyes, and the incredible compassion that had come while she was helping me process what I found out about Fossor and my mother.
Finally, I finished with a quiet, “So if certain people refuse to consider Asenath to be human, then we can’t use the word humanity to mean compassion, kindness, and just… plain caring about other people anymore. Because I’ve never met anyone in my life who embodies those concepts more than Asenath. She’s a vampire, but she’s not a threat. She’s not a monster. She’s my friend. She saved my life.
“She’s a hero.”
Alecra’s quiet voice spoke into the resulting silence. “It is been done.”
With that, the spray of water between us opened up, spreading apart to show empty space that abruptly filled with the image of Asenath herself. The vampire girl was standing on the roof of my house, looking both ways down the street. She didn’t seem to be alarmed or anything, just… watching.
Through the semi-translucent image, I could see Shiori’s face. There were tears streaming down it as she stared, lost in the image. “My…. sister…?”
“That’s her,” I confirmed quietly before looking back toward Alecra. “How do I…?”
“You are to be touching the image and speaking,” the Meregan explained. “She will be hearing your voice.”
I nodded at that, then reached up to put my hand against the image. It felt like touching silly putty that had been stretched out a long ways, yet didn’t break. “Asenath, it’s Flick.”
In the image, the girl jolted a little, turning around before frowning. I quickly went on. “I’m not there. But uhh, it is really me, I swear. Um, when we met, you said Mr. Raphardy was either racist or sexist or both, because he charged you ‘about three times what that piece of shit was worth.’”
She relaxed marginally then, and I heard her voice as she spoke. “Where are you? How are you talking like this?”
I hesitated before starting to explain. “I uh, I’m not on the planet. This other race called the Meregan pulled me and… Shiori here. Listen, there’s a lot to talk about. A lot. But we need your help. The Meregan children are in a lot of danger and… and we um, we can’t really help them without you. Can you… uhh… would you…”
“Bring me,” the vampire spoke calmly, her voice quiet yet confident. “You don’t have to ask, Flick. It’s children. Give me a minute to warn Twister.”
I wanted to tell her about Shiori, but figured that was something best talked about in person. With a glance toward the other girl, I nodded. “Okay, they’ll bring you through as soon as you’re ready.”
I turned to Shiori then, as Asenath moved to tell her partner in bodyguard-duty that she was leaving for (hopefully) a short trip. “Are you ready for this?”
Her nod was emphatic, the tears still evident. “Yes,” she replied in a quiet, barely audible voice.
“I’m ready to meet my sister.”