“And That Story Is That I Was Basically On Vacation For 3 Weeks While You Guys Worried Yourselves Sick About Me. Isn’t That Funny‚ Guys? … Guys?”

Gathering Force 33-01

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Please note that there was a mini-interlude focusing on Lincoln posted a couple days ago. If you haven’t read that yet, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above. 

“You realize that there is a very important conversation that we need to have,” Athena carefully spoke on the way through the corridor. “More to the point, there is a decision to be made.”

I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew what she was talking about. “You mean about whether the others should know about Tabbris or not, the ones who don’t know already.” We’d had the conversation about which of them knew and which didn’t. What it really came down to was that we had to decide if we trusted Jazz and Gordon enough to tell them this huge secret.

When Athena nodded, I sighed long and low. “I’ve been thinking about that pretty much ever since we got here, and you made it clear that all these people know about Tabbris.”

The woman gave me a brief, sympathetic look before replying, “And yet, you are no closer to making a decision on that.”

I coughed, shaking my head again. “If anything, I’m even further away from a decision. At first I thought absolutely no way, but how do we let them see all of this, and not let them see Tabbris?”

It’s okay, the girl in question put in from inside me. They don’t have to know me at all. Her voice was soft and somehow even more uncertain that before. I can go back to hiding.

I didn’t want to point out the fact that it would be harder for her to hide when the people who were already here knew about her. All it would take was one person coming up and asking where she was while one of the others was around. I didn’t want to point that out, but I knew that the moment I thought passed through my mind, the other girl would pick it up.

“There is another potential option,” Athena pointed out mildly, while turning to look at me. When I blinked in confusion, she continued. “Your biggest fear is that people will judge her as the person who has been possessing you, before they actually know her. Well,” she amended, “your biggest fear beyond them being forced to reveal that information under duress or possession, that is. Correct?”

I nodded slowly at that. “Well, yeah. I mean, it’s bad enough worrying that they’re going to be tortured or possessed giving her up. I don’t want to put them, or her in that position. But, I guess you’re right, the second main problem is that they’re going to look at her and just see one of the other Seosten, one that’s been possessing me all the time. They’re going to judge her.” Realizing who I was talking to, I added a quick, “No offense.”

The woman gave me a brief look. Her head shook. “Our people deserve to be judged for a great many things that we have done wrong,” she intoned gravely. “But you are correct, she deserves to be known as a person. They should know her enough to understand that she is a person who deserves the kind of trust that you are extending her. They should know who she is before being confronted with that kind of revelation.”

In my head, Tabbris asked, Wait, is she saying-

“You want her to meet them as herself?” I quickly blurted as realization came to me. “You mean she should meet them outside of me, like…” I trailed off for a moment. My eyes widened. “Meet them here as if she’s been here? As if I just met her here?”

Athena gave a single nod. “At least long enough for them to get to know her for who she is, rather than as your possessor. Allow them to come to their own conclusions about her character and you decide based on those reactions whether you want to trust them to know the rest of it.”

I definitely wasn’t sure about that. It felt a little too close to lying by omission. It felt like one of the things that could blow up in my face if it came out wrong, and the others thought I wasn’t trusting them. But, on the other hand, this was about Tabbris and her safety. It wasn’t just about me. It was about both of us. I had to think about that.

“Besides,” Athena added, “if I were them, and you came back this way and asked us to come with you and another Seosten such as myself, I would want proof that you were not possessed.”

“Right…” Trailing off, I directed my thoughts inwardly. What do you think, partner? This is more about you than it is me.

It’s about both of us, she corrected quickly. But, um. I dunno. I’m scared. What if they find out later that I’m possessing you, and then they don’t trust us after that?

I smiled a little at that. We won’t let it get that far. We’ll just let them get to know you a little bit, then decide if it’s a good idea to tell them the truth. We won’t let it stretch on for too long. Just enough so that they understand that you weren’t possessing me when they met you, so you couldn’t have been influencing my reaction.

There was a few seconds of indecision from the other girl, before I felt her agreement. Okay, she replied quietly.

A moment later, she appeared beside me, stepping out in that glowing form before turning to me. Hesitantly, she asked in a tentative voice, “Is it okay if I hold your hand until we get there?”

Barely resisting the urge to pick the girl up and hug her right there, I gave a quick nod. Extending my hand, I took hers and held it tightly. “Partner,” I announced, “you can hold my hand whenever you want.”

She smiled, and together the two of us held hands while following Athena down the corridor. As we walked, she informed us that the rest of the station would be informed to behave as though Tabbris had been there the entire time, adding that if there was one thing that the people here were quite good at, it was keeping secrets. They would keep our secret for as long as we wanted them to.

The Seosten woman led us back to the human habitat. I saw several of our neighbors out and about. The man who lived next-door to us, a Natural Heretic who had been bonded to a Wendigo, waved while he worked on trimming his hedges with the enormous claws that he could grow at will. “Good morning, Lady Athena,” he greeted before adding amicably to Tabbris and me, “Heading out for more training, kids?”

“Not today, Mr. Pentsecol,” I replied. “Time to go get the rest of our friends, I guess. The ones that are out here anyway.” I’d talked with the man a little bit here and there, mostly at night while I was up and he was on his back porch.

“Finally found them, huh?” he replied before giving Athena a brief nod. “Good work, as always.”

“Tell us that when we get them back here safely,” the woman replied simply before gesturing to the two of us. “I thought it would be best to do this in your backyard. For familiarity.“

I agreed, and the three of us went into the backyard. On the way to the house, Athena sent a message to another part of the station. As we stepped into the backyard, a small pink portal opened up, and a being stepped through. He was about three feet tall, with bright purple skin, outrageously red hair that was styled like Einstein, and four long pointy ears. His hands had three fingers on them plus a thumb, and they hung all the way down to the ground. His eyes were extraordinarily large, covering about a quarter of his entire head, and were compound, like a fly’s. Only when I looked a little closer, I could see dozens of different scenes and locations within each of the tiny parts of the eyes. In one tiny part, I could see what looked like a park somewhere. In another I could see a volcanic world. On another I could see an ocean. And in yet another I could see a busy city. It was like he was seeing hundreds of places all at once. And in the very center of his eyes, I could see myself staring at him.

“Ladies Felicity and Tabbris,” Athena intoned, “may I introduce you to Lord Yup.”

Blinking at that, I echoed, “Lord Yup?” Beside me, Tabbris looked just as confused.

The little purple man gave us a broad smile, while confirming brightly, “Yup.” He sounded utterly amused by our reactions.

Athena explained, “Like Miss Handsy, Lord Yup’s true name is impossible for those outside of his species to pronounce. Rather than force others to quite possibly damage their own throats in the attempt, he has chosen to take a much more easily pronounced name.”

Still grinning, the man nodded once again. “Yyyyyeeessss indeed,” he intoned slowly before barking a laugh. “Ha, bet you thought I was gonna say yup again, didn’t you?” He stepped forward, offering his hand to me for shaking it firmly once I accepted. “Hi, good to meet you. I tell you, I’ve been looking all over the place for those friends of yours this whole time. They have been a right pain in the ass to find.”

Athena explained, while the man shook Tabbris’s hand. “Lord Yup is one of the last surviving members of a race known as the Tseuckaviel. They are capable of seeing through the eyes of any being, intelligent or not, that they have ever laid eyes on in their lifetimes. You may see how this can add up very quickly. And they are also capable of simultaneously processing the images from hundreds of different viewpoints at once. Lord Yup is several thousand years old, by Seosten reckoning. Between that and his powerful clairvoyant magic, you may see why he was the most logical choice to search for your allies.”

My mouth open and shop a couple times, before I manage a weak, “Uh yeah. I’m surprised you guys could remain hidden this long, if the bad guys could just possess one of his people.”

“We can’t be possessed,” Lord Yup replied flatly. “Something about our bodies is incompatible with the Seosten. When they try it, both beings… disintegrate. It is, I have been told, an extremely painful experience. Not that it stopped them from trying many times. There is a reason that the lovely Lady Athena introduced me as one of the last of my people. Between the Seosten experiments, and the Fomorian assault on our world to harvest what they could of us, my people did not fare well. Not very well at all.”

Well that was really freaking dark. I flinched, floundering a little before offering a weak, “I’m really sorry.” Belatedly, I added a quick, “Wait, does that mean that you can spy on all the Seosten than that you’ve seen?”

It was Athena who answered, “No, one of the genetic modifications that our people have built into ourselves, along with our extended age and enhanced physical abilities, is an immunity to such things. We cannot be viewed through his eyes, nor can he see through the eyes of any being who is currently looking at one of us directly.”

Yup nodded. “That and there are other ways to block it, yes. But fortunately, your people don’t know any of them. Or they just haven’t been using them. Because it took a while, but I finally found them. They are at a border world, searching for where they believe Radueriel has you imprisoned.”

Looking toward Athena, I asked, “Did you get a message to them?”

“I tried,” Lord Yup answered for her. “But they’re a little skittish. So, we thought that it would be better if the message came in the form of you.”

“Right.” Nodding to that, I looked between the two of them. “So, how do we get them? Can you make a portal to where they are?”

“I can do that,” Lord Yup confirmed. “Or nearby anyway. Don’t want to draw too much attention to them. Spies everywhere, after all. Plus, there’s that whole not startling them thing. You’ll have to approach them yourselves. But they’ll be close. I— oh, they split up.”

“We’ll get to all of them,” I replied. “Let’s just get over there first. Err, please?”

He winked, his four ears twitching. “Your wish…” as he spoke, Lord Yup extended his hand. Another portal appeared in the air there.

Tabbris squeezed my hand, and we stepped through right behind Athena, who led the way. Lord Yup brought up the rear, his portal closing behind him.

We were in what looked like an alley right behind a busy marketplace. Straight ahead, I could hear dozens or possibly hundreds of voices all shouting for attention. It didn’t sound like there was anything bad going on, more like everyone had something to sell and wanted everyone else to know about it. It was crazy. I felt like I was standing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Turning to the others, I raised my voice to shout, “Are you sure we can find them in all this?!”

Lord Yup grinned at that, tapping the side of his head. “Still got eyes on a couple of them,” he replied easily before pointing. “That way.”

Following his directions, we headed out into the crowded market. Wow, if I thought it was busy while standing in the alley, being in the middle of it was absolutely insane. We had to push and shove our way through. No one was paying any attention to who they were bumping into, because all of their attention was on the sales coming from the various booths in the open air market. It was almost like a do just to stay with Athena and Yup, while Tabbris clung tightly to my hand.

Then I saw them, standing just ahead of us, with their heads turned slightly to the side, Sands, Larissa, and Roxa were watching one of the salesmen.

For a moment, I had the absurd urge to walk up behind Sands, cover her eyes, and play the ‘guess who’ game. But I was pretty damn sure that wouldn’t go over very well.

Instead, I approached close enough that they would be able to hear me over the sound of the crowd, and called, “You guys looking for somebody in particular?!”

All three spun around so fast that they very nearly fell over in unison. I saw their eyes widen, and Sands was the first to blurt, “Flick!”

She threw herself at me, and I was suddenly grabbed up in an incredibly tight hug. It felt even tighter than I had thought that she was capable of. Sands had gotten noticeably stronger since I had seen her last.

“You’re alive! You’re safe, you’re not being dissected, you’re not a prisoner, you’re not a-wait.” Her eyes darted over to Tabbris, widening in even greater confusion.

Then the other two were there. The older woman plucked a surprised Tabbris up off the ground and embraced her tightly, tears in her eyes. You’re okay,” she murmured, voice shaking. You’re both okay.” Then she looked back-and-forth between us, seeming to register the fact we were separated for the first time. “Wait…”

“It’s alright,” I informed her. “We just thought it would be best if we approached separate like this, and introduced Tabbris as a new friend, until we could explain things.”

Tabbris, for her part, clung tightly to the woman. “Aunt Larissa! I was worried about you!”

That made the woman cough, her smile brightening as she regard to the girl in her arms. “You were worried about me? I…” She trailed off then, choosing just to hug the girl even tighter.

“Are you okay?” That was Roxa. She was close, and I could tell that she wanted to hug me too. But she hung back, eyes narrowed as she watched us. “I mean, are you really okay?”

“I’m not possessed,” I replied. “And I wasn’t taken prisoner. It’s a long story, but I was rescued by…” Turning, I gestured to the other two, who had stepped interview by that point. “Uh, may I introduce—”

“A friend,” Athena interrupted, before adding, “Perhaps more personal introductions later, once we are away from prying ears and make it somewhere a bit more private.”

“You— I—“ Larissa looked a bit lost while she held Tabbris tightly. “We’ve been looking for you.”

I nodded. “Yeah, we’ve been looking for you too. Like I said, it’s a long story. One that we should really tell somewhere safe. Preferably with the others. The others are all here, right?”

“Wait.” Roxa took a step forward, extending a hand to me. She held it up and waited expectantly. I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to take her hand so that she could use the choker to prove to herself that I really wasn’t possessed.

I did so without hesitation, taking her hand and squeezing it. The blonde girl looked me up and down, let out an audible sigh of relief, and finally embraced me. Her voice was a whisper, “I thought they had you. I thought they were taking you apart.”

“Not this time,” I assured the girl. “But really, story later. Trust me, it’s a doozy. Totally worth the wait.”

“Of course.” Larissa glanced to Athena and Yup. “I don’t know who you are, but thank you for taking care of them. The others are spread out, looking for information about Radueriel’s prison. We—” she swallowed, looking to me seriously. “We thought the worst.”

“Guess I’m a little luckier than that,” I replied, unable to keep my voice from shaking just a little at the thought of what would have happened to me if Athena hadn’t actually shown up. “So let’s go find the others, and I’ll tell you all about it back at our house.”

“Your house?” Sands echoed.

I grinned at her. “Like I said… it’s a long story.”

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