The next few days passed relatively uneventfully, aside from the funeral for Tribald Kine. A funeral which made me feel even worse for the fact that I hadn’t been able to bring his ghost along with us. I still couldn’t understand that. I had felt other dead people there, so why couldn’t I feel him? My only speculation was still that his ghost had been taken or left before I could get to him, which…
In any case, Mom showed up for that, taking time away from her mission to say goodbye to her friend. She spent a little time with me as well, apologizing for not being there. I could tell just how torn up she was. The guilt at the fact that she hadn’t been there to help her old friend… yeah, it was bad. And if she felt bad about not being there, I couldn’t even imagine how bad Deveron felt considering he had been there and still couldn’t save him.
With that thought in mind, I made sure that Mom spent most of the time she had here with him, as well as the Dornans. They were the ones who needed her at the moment. Tribald had been their friend for a long time. They needed each other. Dad understood that too, and left them alone after having just a little bit of reunion time with Mom as well. We were both there for the funeral, but other than that, we let Mom, Deveron, and the others from that time mostly just be with one another. They could reminisce, focus on the good times they’d had with their friend. It wasn’t exactly fun, but it felt like remembering why they cared about him was more important than focusing on the fact that he was gone. And as my mother put it, this was not the first long-time friend they had lost.
In any case, she stayed as long as she could before the situation in Peru forced her to go back there. Lillian too. Both of them apologized for not being able to stay longer. Yet when they left, they had company. Deveron and the Dornans were going with them, apparently against both Mom and Lillian’s objections. But the guys insisted that they needed to keep themselves busy.
So they were busy with all that. Meanwhile, I spent the rest of the weekend resting and doing a bit of studying for classes so my parents and Abigail wouldn’t completely freak out about me missing out on school. It was kind of nice not having anything immediately demanding my attention. Not that there wasn’t plenty of stuff to worry about, between the regular Alter-rescuing missions, fights against Loyalists, and so on. Hell, that wasn’t even counting the big things like trying to find Tiras’s second family, figuring out what was going on with that prisoner camp and the monster they had been feeding, and everything to do with the Whispers. Yes, there were a lot of things I could be focused on. But between the things I couldn’t do anything about right then and the ones I had been specifically told to leave alone for the moment, I had no choice but to relax and focus on school. Honestly, I wasn’t going to complain too much. Taking a little break felt like the right thing, after that whole thing we had just been through. Which, sure, a large portion of the time had been spent sitting in that truck not really doing anything, but it was far from relaxing. Not when we could have been discovered and attacked at any point, on the way there and back. To say nothing of the actual fighting we had done once we arrived.
The point was, being able to sit around for a few days without much in the way of responsibility or terrifying panic was good. Especially considering I could spend a lot of it with Shiori and Avalon. Even Valley toned down the obsessive need to train a little bit. Not completely, of course. She was still herself. But that whole mission had taken a lot out of her too.
Between those two and spending time with my dad, Tabbris, and my grandparents, that was basically how my weekend went. I even had Monday off because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Which didn’t mean all that much to anyone who had grown up in other countries, let alone other worlds (like all of Athena’s people), but they certainly understood the concept of celebrating the life of a man who had wanted everyone to get along and have the same rights. So I had a three-day weekend, which was pretty well-timed given how much I needed it.
By the time Tuesday rolled around, I felt ready to sit in class just quietly listen to the teacher. Who, in this case, was Rovon Reinswield, the guy I’d met the first time I’d visited this station way out in Seosten space, who had once been a loyal Eden’s Garden Heretic before he’d objected to the recruitment of an innocent little girl and had thus been thrown out onto the frontlines of the Fomorian war as a flesh-suit for a Seosten. Athena and her people eventually rescued him, and he had been helping teach the children they brought in ever since.
Seeing the man sitting there at the desk after I walked into history class, I paused and tilted my head. “Don’t you usually teach the younger classes?” I knew for a fact that Tabbris enjoyed every lesson she had with him.
Giving me a somewhat distracted smile, the scruffy-looking man with short blond hair and round glasses nodded once. “Normally, yes. Unfortunately, your ordinary teacher for this class is a bit indisposed at the moment. As is his substitute. The sad reality of having teachers who double up as soldiers in this war. So, I volunteered to step in for the day. With any luck, I’ll avoid passing out in the middle of the lesson.” Reaching out, he picked up his mug of coffee and gestured with it. “Well, luck and a little bit of magical help.” That said, he took a sip of it and murmured appreciatively. “Mmm, abracadabra.”
By that point, others had to started to file in, and I wished the man luck before going to find a seat next to Koren and just in front of Shiloh, the girl who had been on Harper/Gwen’s team last year, and whom I had gone through that underwater mission in Sinbad’s class with a little while back, where we had searched for treasure on that sunken spaceship.
As I sat down, the girl behind me spoke up. “Hey, you guys found a bunch of Alters who were trapped in that prison place, right?” Brushing shaggy brown hair out of her eyes, she watched until I nodded before pressing on. “I was just wondering if you found any trolls while you were there. Two trolls, specifically. Brother and sister.”
“I uhh, I don’t know if they’re brother and sister, or even what sex either of them are,” I admitted. “But yeah, we found a couple of trolls. They call them Two and Three, but I’m pretty sure that’s not their actual names. I think they’re still going through intake with Athena’s people so they can explain the situation. Which is uhh, taking a bit because the trolls don’t speak English or Latin. Why?”
“We’ve got some people looking for them,” Koren put in. “From one of the rescue missions we went on a few months ago, while you were… you know.”
Yeah, I knew. While I was trapped with Fossor. The memory made me grimace before giving a slight nod. “You rescued some people who were looking for a couple missing trolls?”
“They heard about your mission,” Shiloh explained, shifting a little in her seat. “So they came to find us and said they had a couple troll friends who were taken to some Eden’s Garden work camp that sounded, you know, similar. I’m pretty sure they said their friends only spoke Troll and umm, what was the other one?”
“Akkadian,” Koren answered, giving a nod my way. “They speak Troll and Akkadian. You know, from ancient Mesopotamia. If Athena’s people have anyone who can understand either of those.”
“I’m pretty sure they can drag somebody up,” I agreed with a small smile. “Last I heard, they were having Buddy System from Wonderland talk to them. But if these people who were asking about them are around, having them up there would probably help a lot too. Especially if they’re friends. From what I could understand, I think those two have been… eager to help. They’re really friendly. Can’t understand a word I’m saying, or vice versa, but still really friendly. They smile a lot, and wave. They like waving. Shiori taught them to do a thumbs up if they like something or a thumbs down if they don’t. They like doing that a lot.”
We talked a little bit more about that, and the other two promised to go find the people who had been asking about the trolls, so they could take them up to meet the pair and find out if they were the right ones. Shiloh sent a message to them through her wrist computer. Which literally involved her typing on the screen until a small glowing envelope appeared in the air like a hologram before it flew off. Apparently the thing would go straight to the nearest of the people they had talked to, and when that person touched it, the message to meet after our classes were over for the day would appear in the air in front of them. Which was a pretty neat trick, to be honest. Shiloh’s wrist computer seemed cooler every time I saw what she could do with it.
Other than that, we focused on class. Despite his words about being tired, Mr. Reinswield seemed to have plenty of energy once we actually got started. Apparently the coffee had reinvigorated him, because he paced throughout the entire class, gesturing a lot while he told a story about the ancient Mayans fighting off an invasion of off-world sapient bear creatures with the help of magic and these flying snake things (not Rattlejacks). Between that and the fact that the alien bears apparently used mechs, the whole story really should’ve been made into a movie. I definitely would’ve paid money to see it, at least. And judging by the way everyone else was staring in rapt silence through the entire story, I was pretty sure the rest of the class would have too.
Eventually, however, that class was over and I made my way to the next one for the day. Specifically, the very same Calculus class I had been studying for with Vanessa and Tristan. Between working with them and the studying I’d done during the trip, I at least felt like I hadn’t been completely left behind. Still, the teacher had me take a little ungraded quiz through the first fifteen minutes to see if I was still good to stay with the class or if I needed some extra help. Apparently I did well enough, because she gestured for me to take my normal seat before getting back to the lesson. So I was definitely going to have to let Vanessa and Tristan know that their help had paid off.
Eventually, however, that class ended as well. As did the third and final class of the day. Well, final for everyone else. I still had some make-up to do in the afternoon, along with the others who had gone on that mission. For the moment, however, I headed for the cafeteria to meet up with Tabbris and her newly-reunited siblings so we could have lunch together.
It only took me a moment of looking around at the entrance before I saw the girl in question standing up on her chair to wave at me from a corner of the room. As I waved back and made my way through the crowd, I eventually found the trio sitting around a table that was heavily-laden with bits of machinery, tools, and what looked like blueprints.
“Boy,” I remarked, “doesn’t this all look positively scrumptious?” I made a show of rubbing my hands together while looking over all that stuff. “I hardly know where to start. Hmm. Oooh, I heard socket wrenches are always a good way to start off a balanced meal.” With that, I started to reach out for the tool in question as it lay on the edge of the table.
Omni–no, he was mostly going by Jehoel now, his real name. The pale boy with shaggy brown hair quickly gave a laugh while reaching out to cover the wrench with both hands. “You can’t eat that!” he blurted, only to immediately flush guiltily, instinctively moving his hands as he withdrew as though a snake had hissed at him. “I–I mean… I mean…” It was obvious that he’d had a flash of memory about how bad it was for him to tell anyone they couldn’t do something. Let alone actually reach out to physically stop them.
Tabbris looked like she was going to say something, but held off as I spoke up instead. “It’s okay, Jehoel. You’re right, we’re not supposed to eat tools like that. Especially not tools that belong to other people.” Offering him a little smile, I held my hand out. I didn’t just take his hand, given how important it was to convince the boy, and the other Seosten like him, that it was not only okay to touch other people, but also okay to not want to be touched as well. It was up to them to decide what they were comfortable with.
After a brief hesitation, the boy accepted my hand and squeezed it a little while giving me a hesitant smile in return. He had been working hard on being able to touch people without accidentally turning into a younger version of them. It still ended up happening sometimes when he got overly-excited about something, but he was getting a lot better about that. Still, it felt funny whenever I ended up facing the eight-year-old version of myself. But not nearly as funny as it had been to see the child version of my father. Yeah, that was a real trip.
“So it looks like you guys have been pretty busy,” I noted as I looked over the table once more. “You mind if I ask what all this stuff is? You know, considering I’m not allowed to eat it.” I added that bit with a wink toward Jehoel, making the boy giggle once more.
Spark was sitting on the far side of the table. Well, she appeared to be sitting there, anyway. The holographic projection of herself was here, while the real girl was still trapped inside Puriel. Sariel was good, but she wasn’t quite good enough to solve that entire situation in a month. It was going to take a bit more time for them to figure out how to extract the girl without hurting Puriel himself. But if anyone could do it, I was sure Sariel could. Especially when you added in Puriel’s power and the level of resources they were able to throw at the problem. There was no doubt in my mind that Spark would eventually be separated from Puriel.
Regardless, the black-and-blonde haired girl was sitting next to some sort of radio-looking device with a tiny screwdriver in one hand, adjusting something on the machine. When I asked what they were working on, she sat up a bit, put the tool down, and focused on me. “It’s a secret project to help trap the Whispers when they show up again. A cage.”
Tabbris gave a quick, eager nod. “Uh huh, uh huh. I asked Spark if she had any ideas, and she didn’t at first, but then Jehoel said something about throwing a net over them.”
“It happened in Scooby-Doo,” the boy put in, his own face brightening as he mentioned what had apparently become his favorite thing to watch as soon as Popser had introduced it to him. Actually, I remembered my grandfather introducing me to Scooby as well, back when I was even younger than Jehoel. The image of the boy sitting on my grandfather’s lap watching the antics of Mystery Incorporated had been enough to bring a flood of nostalgic memories from those days. I was really glad Popser had someone else to share that with. And that judging by the way he had been smiling the entire time, he was too.
“Oh, it has the Scooby seal of approval, huh?” Grinning, I gave the boy a thumbs up. “In that case, we’re in good hands.”
“Especially with Spark designing it,” Tabbris added, practically bouncing in her seat. “She’s got a lot of good ideas now.”
“I… am better with designing buildings and ships,” the girl in question insisted with a look of embarrassment as she squirmed. “But I think I can do something with this. It’s just the programming work that is… intimidating.”
“Well, I know a few people who would love to help out,” I replied while taking a seat. “Actually, I was just talking to this girl Shiloh earlier, And I’m pretty sure programming is one of her big things. She was in the Development course last year. Uses a wrist computer and everything. If you’d like, I could ask if she’d come talk it over with you.”
For her part, Spark only hesitated for a moment before nodding. “That would be nice, thank you. I didn’t want to interrupt our mother’s work to ask for her help with something else. She is… very busy.”
“I’m pretty sure she’d never be too busy to help out with anything you asked for,” I assured her, with a glance toward the other two. “Or anything any of you asked for. But yeah, let’s let her keep working on that. I’ll see if Shiloh’s interested in helping out with this Whisper cage.”
They agreed, and we cleaned off the table before ordering actual food. For the next twenty minutes, I ate with my sister and her siblings. Well, Spark didn’t actually eat per se. But she did create a sort of holographic meal and act like she was eating just so she wouldn’t be completely left out. Which, judging from the looks that the other two were giving when they thought she wasn’t looking, I was pretty sure made them feel even more determined to help the girl separate from Puriel and get her own body back. Something told me nobody in that family was going to fully rest until that situation was taken care of. Which obviously only involved changing something that had been a thing for hundreds of thousands of years. Clearly no big deal.
Actually, as it turned out, Sariel wasn’t even on the station at the moment. Apparently, she’d gotten a lead about some spell or something that might have a clue about dealing with the Puriel-Spark situation. So she was out chasing that down. It wasn’t the first lead she’d gotten, and it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last. According to the kids, some of those leads paid off and others didn’t. None held the full answer, of course. If it was that easy, someone would have handled the whole thing by now. It wasn’t like the Seosten didn’t have people working on it. Most of them much better at the science part of things than Kushiel had been. As far as I knew, solving that whole thing was one of their most important projects, alongside their general population problem. Which, come to think of it, was another thing that Kushiel had failed at solving. It seemed like the real takeaway here was that that psycho bitch never should have been put in charge of any project. She shouldn’t have been given authority over a science fair potato clock, let alone that whole thing.
We were almost done with our meals when a disturbance near the entrance made me turn in my chair to look that way. There were people standing up, a large crowd forming there. I couldn’t see what they were looking at, but obviously something was going on. Everyone was talking at once, too fast and too scattered for me to pick out much in the way of specifics other than how big someone was.
Frowning a bit, I rose from my seat while murmuring, “What in the…” It looked like people in the crowd were parting, getting out of the way. Or being pushed, I wasn’t sure which. They pulled apart closer and closer to where we were sitting. Tabbris had already moved to stand at my side, with Spark and Jehoel right behind her.
I caught a glimpse of long black hair through the crowd, barely visible over the heads of a couple tall juvenile orcs. Then Athena appeared, sliding out of the other side of the crowd to put herself in the way. Her voice was a bit exasperated. “I asked you to wait in the other room until we could contact Sariel.”
“I did wait,” came the heavy, deep male retort. “Then I got bored.”
He was already pushing his way forward, and as the pair of orcs slid to either side, an enormous Seosten man appeared. He was just over seven feet in height, and wore no shirt at all. The man looked like a barbarian, with black hair that went clear to the middle of his back, muscles upon muscles upon muscles, and a sword tattoo across the entire front of his torso, from his navel all the way up nearly to his throat. “Besides,” he continued in that deep voice, “how long am I supposed to sit around before I get to meet…” His eyes fell on Tabbris as she stood next to me, and a broad smile leapt to his face.