Tennyo's Easter (Chapter 4)
A Whateley novel
Home again, Home again Lickity Split
I took the liberty to make sure we didn’t head right for Earth. It took longer but I really didn’t want anyone following me home either. A few hours later, with the help of Yuki’s navigation and advice we were finally approaching Earth.
“Captain. I suggest we approach carefully and move me back to where I was originally parked. I can easily conceal myself there and it’s highly unlikely anyone has noticed a difference during the short time we were gone.”
“Are you sure Yuki? Won’t that take a bit longer?”
“Better safe than sorry I think the saying is. Besides, I don’t believe an hour or two will make that much of a difference now. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, it will allow you to arrive at your destination in the early morning. Would this not be advantageous?”
I was struggling to suppress my emotions by practicing some of the meditation techniques they’d been trying to teach me at school. Some of them actually seemed to be working. At least until I thought about what I was going back to. Then I’d have to start all over again.
“Okay Yuki. Whatever you think will work. Just let me know when we’re there.”
“Yes Captain. I’ll let you know.”
It seemed moments later when I jumped awake with a start. I hadn’t realized I was so tired.
“Captain. Captain. We are now back where we started. What are your orders?”
“Yes Captain. What do you need me to do?”
“Can you just observe what’s going on around Earth and be ready if I need you? Especially if it looks like someone has come looking for me?”
“Yes Captain. If you insist. Now that your people have developed better communications it is easier to monitor them and study the history and information. I may also be able to study some of this anime you have spoken of.”
“Um. Yes. Do that. Say, you couldn’t record it when you do could you?”
“If it is your wish.”
“It is. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to visit but it might be nice to have something to watch if I do.”
“Yes Captain. May I ask how you intend to return to your school?”
I’d given it some thought.
“I think I’ll teleport down to somewhere above it and then fly down. It’ll set off a few alarms and I’ll have to figure out some kind of explanation as to where I’ve been but I think it’ll be okay with all the other students coming back too.”
“Are you leaving now?”
I remembered how long the last time had been for Yuki and figured he had a good reason to not like the idea. I figured I better give him more specific orders than last time.
“Yes. Might as well get it done. But I want you to promise me you won’t just stay parked here forever if I don’t get back to you. If it’s been too long, and I mean something like a year or so you can come looking for me and if I’m no longer around you have my permission to go off on your own and find a new master or whatever. Don’t just sit here like a rock. And try to keep a low profile okay? I really don’t want to have to explain you to anyone if I can help it.”
“It will be as you wish Captain.”
“Thank you. You’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine Captain. I’m no longer alone. And I have more fuel than I’ve had in a very long time. It will make it easier to observe what is happening. You had best be going.”
“Thank you Yuki. I’ll drop back by as soon as I can.”
With that I tried to picture the Earth and a place high above the North American continent.
I found myself a bit disoriented and in space. It took a few moments to reorient myself. I could see the Earth and The Moon a little ways away and realized I’d somehow ended up farther away than when I’d been on the Moon.
Suppressing a small feeling of panic I thought about what I’d done. I hadn’t had any problems getting to the Moon. What had been different? Fortunately I didn’t have any problems existing in space but if this kept happening I was going to have a hard time flying home. I tried an experiment and to my relief it worked.
I was still in mental contact with Yuki. At least I wasn’t all on my own.
“Uh. I seem to have a bit of a small problem.”
“What is it Captain?”
“I seem to have missed Earth.”
“That might be a problem. Don’t you have a reference point you can relate to there? A vivid mental picture of something that isn’t likely to have changed in your absence. Or possibly a connection like you share with me?”
“I’ll have to think about that. I thought I was picturing a place just above Whateley. I’ve been up pretty high before.”
“It may not be a clear enough point to work from unless there is a good unchanging landmark you can focus on. I must warn you that experimenting with unclear landmarks at great distances involves great risks due to varying relative velocities.”
“That a real problem?”
“Yes. It can be devastating to you and whatever you hit.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?”
“You seemed so good at it I didn’t realize you didn’t know about the dangers of teleporting.”
“Great! Just what I need.”
Apparently this ability to teleport had a few bugs to work out before I could use it safely. But now I had to figure a way to get back without ending up lost in space or trying to occupy the same place as a planet or some space junk.
“Can you explain why I didn’t have this problem when I came to the Moon?”
“Most likely explanation is that you had a fix on me. Like a beacon to follow. If you have something like that you don’t need to worry about the other problems. Since you already have a focus that you can use to determine local conditions.”
“Oh. Well how do I get back to Earth then? You aren’t there.”
At least I should be able to get back to Yuki if I needed to and he could probably get me back to Earth. But I didn’t want to risk someone discovering him if I could help it. Teleporting would be so much easier. But I couldn’t go to any spots I remembered well. There was too good a chance of someone seeing it and my secret would be out. Even assuming it would work that way. There had to be another way. But until then I’d better see if Yuki was right about him being a beacon. Concentrating on him and trying to picture myself several hundred yards above his position I tried teleporting again.
Instantly I found myself hanging above the lunar surface. Looking down I recognized the place as where Yuki was hiding.
“It’s good to have you back Captain.”
“Well. It’s good to be back. But I’ve really got to get going. Any bright ideas? Or are you going to have to fly me back?”
“I suspect as long as you don’t have a focus I might very well have to take you. But are you sure you don’t have a good mental picture of somewhere near where you want to be? Or another focus?”
“Not one I’d trust I’m afraid. Why can’t I just look at where I want to go and go that way?”
“You can for shorter distances. Relative speeds will not vary that much and you can see where it is you want to go. Line of sight works well for shorter distances. Not so well for longer ones unless you have a way to get a closer view of what you are seeing.”
The memory surfaced of the time when I’d remembered some of my past in the Grove. I’d had televised, real time pictures to use going ship to ship and ship to planet. Maybe if I had a really good telescopic device? And what exactly could I use as a focus anyway? I spent a few minutes thinking on that and then I tried to see if I could feel another focus besides Yuki.
To my surprise I found several. But they were all much further away. I could picture the container I’d seen and opened in Gardenar. And I realized I might actually be able to use it or some of the other containers that started to come to mind when I thought on it. But none of these were going to do me any good. I needed something a lot closer to home and then it popped into my mind like a bright light.
It took a few moments to sort out what I’d become aware of.
For some reason if I thought about her I got the same kind of feeling I got from Yuki and the other things that seemed connected to me. I reached out and it seemed I could actually tell where she was right then.
“I… I think I’ve found it!”
Yuki seemed confused.
“A focus! A focus I can use to get back to Earth! It’s Jade!”
“The little girl you’ve told me about? Your roommate?”
“Yes! I seem to have some kind of connection to her. I think I can use her as a focus!”
“That will be a big help if it’s true. Are you going to test your theory or should I prepare to take you back?”
“I’ll try this first. I’ll let you know how it comes out.”
There had been a small break in our communications for a moment but I found myself hovering over Whateley about what I figured to be a mile up.
“It worked Yuki! I’m over Whateley right now. I’ll contact you later. Or give me a buzz if something significant happens. Okay?”
“It will be as you say Captain.”
“Thanks Yuki! For everything!”
“Thank you Captain. Don’t be gone too long please.”
“I won’t. See you in a bit.”
I broke off communications and flew towards the school. I covered the distance quickly and landed on Poe with no problems. I got a few odd glances from the very few people out and about in the early morning but no one said anything as I made my way to my room.
Quickly entering, the door was unlocked, I turned to find myself facing something I hadn’t expected.
Jade was awake. She was sitting on her bed facing the door. And the look of sadness and betrayal on her face tore at my heart.
She didn’t say a thing so I moved closer. She was breathing and her eyes tracked me unblinkingly. But besides that there was no movement. Kneeling down next to her bed and tentatively reached towards her. I stopped when I noticed her leaning away from the touch. Something was wrong but I didn’t have a clue as to what it was.
“Jade. Did… Did someone hurt you?”
Nothing. I was starting to wonder if I was going to have to go and see if anyone in Team Kimba could tell me what was wrong when I heard something. It was coming from Jade. Almost like a low growl. Leaning closer I found it was discernible. What I heard hurt more than being shot.
“You. You went away.”
“But… You knew I was going away to visit Colorado. You seemed cool with it.”
“You didn’t go to Colorado.”
She’d been holding something close to her stomach. Now she extended it out to where I could see it. It was the note my mother had sent to me.
“Oh. You’re right. I couldn’t go. But… Well. Something happened to me. I didn’t have time to tell anyone.”
To say I was starting to feel a little relieved when Jade started to open up would be a great understatement. But now I was going to have to walk a tight wire with someone who probably knew me better than anyone. I couldn’t lie but there were a few things I really wanted to keep to myself too.
“I… I know it will be hard to believe but after I got the note I was so upset I had to get away and find someplace quiet to think it out.”
I left an opening for a comment but Jade didn’t even blink. So I continued. I didn’t know how much anyone would know of my movements but at least one person had seen me at the library so I figured I’d start there.
“I tried the library first but that didn’t work. Then the most amazing thing happened.”
I gave Jade another chance but she just kept her eyes on me and said nothing. So I continued.
“I was contacted by someone from outer space. Would you believe it? Outer space!”
“What did they want?”
Jade was finally coming out of her funk a bit. She still wasn’t happy but at least I had her attention.
“They needed my help. They were stuck here but I could help them. So they took me to the Moon where the ship was.”
Okay. It maybe wasn’t the exact truth but it was the truth of sorts at the same time and my hopes to keep a few secrets hinged on this.
“Yeah. That’s where the ship was stuck. Apparently I’m able to do certain things for this kind of ship. Like free up its controls and the like. Maybe it’s something to do with my past. But to make a long story short I was able to get Yukinojo going again and as a reward I got a ride out into space.”
Jade was actually blinking now. But she’s also a lot more aware of stuff around her than people think.
“Uh. Oh yeah. I gave the ship a name and that was what came to mind.”
“It didn’t already have a name?”
“Yeah. It did. But it wasn’t using that anymore so I got to come up with a new one.”
“It wasn’t using its name anymore?”
“Apparently, whoever reactivates the control system gets to name the ship. I’m not sure I understand all the details of that.”
Jade got quiet again and I wondered what I’d done now.
“So you went into space.”
“Yeah. I thought it’d only be a short trip and then I’d be back here.”
“But… But you didn’t take me.”
Jade said that in a flat monotone with a nearly expressionless face. But somehow it was filled with pain and panic to the point I couldn’t help myself. I joined her on the bed and wrapped my arms around her in a tight hug. She resisted for a moment and then grabbed me in a desperate hug of her own. And let out what was a very quiet and heart wrenching wail.
“You… You went away!”
Okay. That made me feel like the galaxy’s worst heel ever.
“Jade! I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to. I thought it was just a short trip and then I’d be back. But we ran out of gas and I had to find more to get us back and it took so long. I’m really, really sorry! I promise. I’ll never do it again.”
She stiffened and pulled away a bit. Her next question caught me totally off guard.
“You ran out of gas!? What did he… you do!?”
It took me several moments to figure out what she was talking about and then I felt myself blush horribly as I realized what she was saying.
“No! No! It wasn’t like that! And Yuki didn’t really run out of gas. He just ran so short of fuel we couldn’t get back here as quickly as we went out. It would’ve taken years! So I helped him find fuel so we could get back. That’s all!”
Special Agent Gibbs could learn a thing or two about how to stare a person down and get them to confess from Jade. The look she gave me had me considering all my sins for the last few years. And trust her not to drop the subject either.
“Yuki? Was he on the ship?”
“Yuki is the ship. Short for Yukinojo.”
“Who else was there?”
“No one! You don’t have to worry about me. I was all alone on the ship.”
“Then who contacted you to help free Yukinojo?”
Okay. I was going to have to go into more details. Who would’ve figured Jade had connections with the Inquisition?
“Yuki did. I found an old communications device in an old book in the Library. It got me into communication with Yuki who asked me to help him.”
“If he was stuck on the Moon then how did you get there?”
She doesn’t miss a thing when she latches on to something she wants to know.
“Uh. Yuki arranged to teleport me there.”
“Uh. Yeah. That’s where he’d been parked. Actually just a few miles away from Armstrong Base.”
“You teleported there?”
I hated this. But it was a secret I really wanted to keep to myself.
“Yuki helped me. He was able to do that. Now I’d really appreciate not discussing that further if you don’t mind. Let’s just say that after I got there I was able to help Yuki get his control systems operational again and we ended up taking a fast flight out to the rim of the galaxy. But we ran short of fuel and I spent most of the rest of the week getting more fuel so we could get back here before everyone else died of old age.”
Jade blinked for a moment and then went back to her glaring funk.
“You still left me.”
Back to the guilt trip. Boy that girl has an ability to grab something and worry it to death. I was surprised she’d dropped the running out of gas and teleport questions. Sighing deeply I hugged her tight.
“I’m really sorry Jade. I didn’t mean to. It just happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to tell you anything about it. Please. I promise not to do it again if I can possibly help it.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die. I mean it. If I’d known it would hurt you like this I wouldn’t have done it.”
She didn’t say anything but she didn’t relax either. I racked my brains for something else to do. I was still wearing the robes Yuki had made for me. The only thing that was mine that survived the trip was my old wallet. I had that in one of the concealed pockets and I wondered if there was something in it I could use to help. Patting the pocket to make sure it was there I realized there was something else there. I reached in and when I touched it my hearts nearly stopped.
It was Princess Arlon’s tiara. I must have put it in my pocket without thinking about it instead of putting it back into the container. Pulling it out I took a better look at it. Then I realized Jade was starring at it too.
“What is that?”
“This? I found it on my trip.”
I tried to be nonchalant but she wasn’t going to give me a break.
“What is it?”
For some reason I had a hard time saying it but after a short struggle I got it out.
“It… It’s Princess Arlon’s tiara.”
A wave of shame and sadness came over me as I remembered the details of how I’d originally gotten it. And it must have been several moments before I became aware of Jade hugging me tightly and whispering to me.
“It’s okay Billie! I forgive you! It’s okay. Really!”
Without thinking I simply handed it to Jade and then started to cry again.
“Y… you… You keep it. I… I think she would’ve wanted you to have it.”
Jade’s look of wonder as she clutched it to her made up for a lot of my misgivings.
“I… It’s mine?”
“All yours. And if anyone wants to take it they’ll have to deal with me.”
And it wouldn’t end well for them if they did.
Jade seemed to be having a crisis of emotions for a few moments and then leaped forward and hugged me tightly.
“Thank you Onee-sama! I’ll cherish it forever!”
Seeing her happy was worth just about anything at that moment. Then the door burst open and I had to sharply suppress a violent reaction as Toni, Nikki, and Hank stepped quickly in followed closely by Ayla and Chou. The room was getting crowded but the door was quickly shut and barriers erected before anything was said. Nikki by some unspoken agreement became the spokesperson for the obviously anxious group.
“What the hell have you been up to Billie!?”
It would appear my absence had been noted by more than Jade. And everyone seemed a bit upset with me. A worry started to form about what Delarose and the others might do to me for running off like that. But for now I had to deal with my friends. I felt a little bad holding some secrets back but I just wasn’t ready to share some of them just yet. I figured a bolder front and a grin would be necessary.
“Uh. Hi guys! It’s good to be back. Miss me?”
Nikki got all stern and dignified. A young girl shouldn’t be able to do it that well but I suspected she was getting some help with it.
“Just answer the question Billie. Poor Jade here was just about at wit’s end when she found out you’d taken off like that. Aren’t we your friends? Couldn’t you at least try to tell us what was going on? We had to cover for you and if it wasn’t for Jade insisting we keep it a secret I’d have had Delarose after you in an instant!”
My hearts almost stopped! They’d covered for me? How?
“You covered for me?”
“Yeah. Between Beltane and the J-crew we were able to pretend you were still around and making occasional but sulky appearances. Even Delarose didn’t question it much when he heard about you being stuck here and he left you alone. I think he had more than enough other worries that it was a relief you weren’t getting into trouble.”
Her tone changed and I could see that Jade wasn’t the only one who’d worried.
“Please tell me you stayed out of trouble and we won’t spend the rest of our lives trying to explain our actions to the Powers That Be?”
The heavy silence that followed that question allowed me a moment to collect my thoughts so I was able to give an honest but slightly inaccurate answer. I raised my palm to a swearing gesture.
“Uh. Sure Nikki. I can say with complete honesty I didn’t do anything that anyone I know of on Earth would have to be upset over.”
Nikki seemed to think there was something fishy about my answer but in a moment a look of confusion also appeared. She shared a glance with the others and then shrugged.
“She’s… She’s telling the truth.”
The sigh from the group was audible. Some people might find the fact that Nikki was checking for the truth a bit upsetting but I knew for a fact she couldn’t help it. With her empathic abilities it was second nature. And since it helped me establish some credibility I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. She obviously wasn’t completely satisfied but she couldn’t argue with my answer either. Still, she obviously wanted more answers.
“So. You mind telling us how you managed to leave for a week and not create some kind of havoc?”
I put on some dignity myself.
“And why can’t I just go off and sulk a bit without it being a disaster?”
Nikki raised a superior eyebrow and stated as if saying the obvious.
“Cause you’re you.”
Deadpan and uncomfortably accurate as of the last months of my life since I’d found myself turned into an odd superpowered girl. They deserved some answers. But I wasn’t sure what I could tell them when Jade spoke up in that terrifyingly cute and energetic way of hers.
“Onee-sama went into space!”
Everyone I could see blinked a few times as they absorbed the knowledge. Then Nikki looked at Jade.
“Yep! Onee-sama told me all about it! Someone with a spaceship contacted her and asked for help. She couldn’t just say no so she did. Then they ran out of gas way out in the galaxy and she helped them get more so they could get back here.”
I groaned and winced as all of them looked at me and said together.
“You ran out of gas?”
I HAD to be blushing and that wasn’t helping at all.
“It’s not like that! Yuki was just so excited I could help him he just lost track of what was going on. And it wasn’t like he totally ran out of gas. Just enough so we couldn’t get back here in any time soon. So I helped him get some and we came back as soon as I could. No real big deal.”
“Uh. That’s the name I gave him. He… He wouldn’t give me a name so I made one up for him.
Nikki had another question that was obviously bothering her.
“You ‘helped’ him get gas?”
I was glad to get off the first subject but suddenly discovered this one was almost as uncomfortable as I thought through the implications.
“I… I don’t think there was anything wrong with what I did. Uh… The people I helped who in turn helped us get gas were officials of that station. I’m pretty sure it was okay for me to help them and get paid for it in fuel.”
Sort of the truth. After all, it had been an inside job and while the people doing it probably weren’t going about it in an honest fashion they were officials of the company so to speak. And I’d acted in good faith. They were the ones who’d blown the station.
Nikki obviously wasn’t totally satisfied and I’m sure the others had questions too but at that moment there was a knock on the door and someone, it sounded like one of the older boys who often worked as a type hall monitor, yelled through the door.
“Security wants to talk to Tennyo right away. They’ve sent some men to escort you. Hurry up and get downstairs. Okay?”
Saved by the bell.
“Yeah! Tell them I’ll be right down! I’ve got to get dressed!”
“Need any help?”
His laughter could be heard receding down the hall.
The others all looked like they were going to burst with questions but I had a reprieve and I wasn’t afraid to use it.
“Uh guys? You covered for me?”
I didn’t want to say something really stupid in front of Delarose and ruin everything and it was clear they understood too. Nikki nodded at Jade.
“Give her and Belle the credit. You know what Belle can do. And Jade’s really amazing when she wants to be.”
I looked at Jade who was blushing.
“Uh. Well. You see. We’ve been practicing a bit and… Well… Maybe it would be easier to show you.”
She reached over to my bed and I noticed one of my school uniforms had been laid out on it. Jade touched a lump in the center and in moments I was looking at a replica of myself sitting on the bed. She grinned and made a small wave with her hand.
I knew who it was but I was pretty sure someone else would have a hard time telling the difference between us.
“Yep! In the flesh!”
She sounded like me too. I looked at the others as a thought crashed into my mind.
“This… This is incredible! Do you guys know what this means?”
Just then there was a hard knock on the door. A hard male voice followed the knock.
“Security! The Chief needs to see you right now!”
“Uh, guys? Did I do anything while I was gone?”
For a moment it was obvious they were trying to think of something embarrassing but there was another hard knock.
Nikki shook her head.
“No. You just made appearances for meals and told everyone you were sulking and didn’t want to speak to anyone. The real trick was getting rid of all the food they ate for you. We can go into details later. Right?”
They weren’t going to let this go and I couldn’t blame them but it could wait for now. For now I had to come up with a good excuse for why Security saw me coming back but didn’t see me going out. Or at least I hoped that was the problem.
There was much harder knock and I whipped the door open.
“I’m coming! I’m coming! Can’t a girl dressed before some guy comes… Oh. It’s you.”
It was Everheart. She must have disguised her voice to sound like some guy. Trust her to pull a joke like that.
“Come on, Billie. The Chief doesn’t have all day. There’s more than enough trouble today without you causing more by parading around in some costume. By the way. You’re not considering that as your new costume are you? Cause I’ve just got to say it doesn’t suit you at all.”
I’d forgotten I was still wearing the bodysuit cloak arrangement Yuki had made for me.
“Uh. You think so? I… I guess I have to agree with you there. Actually, I was thinking of a different theme entirely now that you mention it.”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve worked out some of the details. Uh, do I have time to change or do I have to go now?”
She seemed to debate it a moment and then turned her attention back to me.
“You’ve got five minutes. Starting now.”
With that she moved into the already crowded room.
“Don’t the rest of you have things to do?”
Everyone except Jade immediately left but Everheart showed no signs of leaving. I looked at her but she simply stood there waiting. Even Jade’s glare didn’t faze her in the least. Realizing she wasn’t going to let me out of her sight I quickly changed into a clean uniform. I’d have liked to shower but I didn’t have time. I was ready to go with time to spare.
Everheart shook her head.
“You really were a guy before, weren’t you?”
“A girl would’ve taken all the time I gave her and then as much more as she could get.”
“But didn’t the Chief need to see me now?”
“Yeah. But a girl’s got priorities. Keep that in mind.”
“Doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“You’ll learn. Has to do with hierarchies of priorities. Now let’s get going.”
Jade and I exchanged a glance, shrugged at each other, and prepared to leave. Everheart made a motion to exclude Jade but she ignored it.
“You don’t need to come along young lady.”
Jade put on her ‘I’m more stubborn than anyone’ look.
“For all we know this is just a way to get Billie away from us. You might not even be who you seem to be. I’m going along as insurance.”
“You’re way too paranoid.”
“Just ‘cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. Better safe than sorry.”
“You’re not going to change your mind are you?”
Everheart shrugged. “Very well. Let’s get going. The Chief is a busy man.”
With that we trooped off to Security. Me behind Everheart and Jade behind me looking around carefully like someone would jump us any moment. As soon as we got there Chief Delarose waved us in. His desk was piled with papers of all kinds. It looked like he’d been busy while I was gone. Everheart gave a casual salute.
“Here she is. Her roommate insisted on coming along for security.”
The Chief casually returned the salute.
“Thanks Sam. Could you please look into the Chain Gang issue? Seems someone from Homeland Security is trying to confiscate his bike. Even though he was transporting it legally by semi. I need someone who can knock some sense into their thick skulls.”
“And you don’t mind if they get a headache when I do it?”
“I’d prefer it if they did. I’ve got headaches enough without some jerk trying to mess with things just because they can.”
“I’m on it. Don’t be too rough with the girls.”
Everheart winked at us and waved as she left the office. Delarose turned his, ‘I know you’ve been up to something so you might as well tell me now and make it easier on you’, look on us. But we’d grown much more competent at dealing with it over the months and neither of us flinched. It didn’t take long for him to sigh and lean back in his chair.
“You’re probably wondering why I called you over here.”
Before I came here I’d probably have admitted to all sorts of things I’d done but I’d learned better and allowed him to tell me what was on his mind.
“Sorry Chief. Why did you?”
“You left school grounds.”
What did he know? I had to be cautious.
“Mind telling me where you went?”
It was easy to put some bitterness into my voice.
“Not home if that’s what you’re asking.”
He had the grace to look uncomfortable for a moment before answering.
“I didn’t mean to imply anything. I understand how tough this must be for you but you need to realize that ever since Christmas we’ve been responsible for keeping an eye on you. If we can’t prove that we can do this someone else will be given the job and that’s likely to be ARC. Do you understand?”
I gave him my best ‘Just let them try’ look but didn’t say it. Instead after a few moments I sighed and dropped my eyes.
“I know. But I needed to get away for a while and blow off some steam. I figured going up was the best way to do it. Anywhere else would’ve been risking running into someone. I didn’t realize you’d track me and worry.”
“We weren’t tracking you. Someone just picked you up on the short range radar when you came in. It’s a hit or miss kind of thing. Normally in a case like yours I’d put one of the psychics to watching out for you but it seems you have some kind of psychic repellent going on and I can’t do that. Am I going to have you start wearing some kind of tracker or will you behave yourself?”
One of the things he’d said stuck in my mind.
He looked chagrined for a moment when he realized I hadn’t known and then he sighed.
“The doctors haven’t told you? I was under the impression they had.”
“Told me what?”
He thought it over for a moment and took a deep breath.
“I won’t go into details. But when I asked Fubar about it after I was told he said there’s some kind of feeling around you that gets all the psychics upset if they look too closely. It’s not unheard of but it makes following you constantly that way pretty much impossible. So we have to rely on more traditional tracking methods.”
“There’s other people who do the same thing?”
“Yes. But I’m not at liberty to tell you anymore than I could tell them about you. So don’t bother asking.”
Had to be another student then. I wondered who. Delarose cleared his throat.
“So. I haven’t heard anything so I have to assume you kept out of trouble. That idea of going up seems to have worked. Just as long as you don’t bring hordes of ravening space fleets down on our heads I don’t see the problem with it. But I want you to promise me you’ll tell me before you head out, set a return time, and check back in when you come back. It’s that or I’ll have you fit with a tracking cuff.”
He’d bought it! I took a moment to sigh in relief and then nodded in consent to his rules. It would make things a little harder but might actually work out well for me in the end.
My relief must have tweaked his ‘something’s wrong with this’ sense but since he had nothing to go on he let it drop after a few moments. But he still had to have the last word.
“I can’t let this go unpunished though. It would be a bad precedent. I’m giving you a week of detention in Hawthorne. Report to Ms. Cantrel there tomorrow. Got it?”
I had the good sense to look like I was upset as I nodded. Jade looked like she was going to say something but he switched his ‘do you want some of the same’ glare to her and she shut up.
“Good! Now get out of here and don’t forget to report to Ms. Cantrel.”
I came to attention, saluted, and dodged out before he could say anything more. I could feel his glare following me all the way out. Jade was right beside me.
“Are you really upset?”
“Hmmmm. Not really. He does have to punish me and it makes for a real good cover story. I couldn’t have made a better one myself. I want to thank you for covering for me. If you hadn’t I’d be in real deep kimchi right now.”
She smiled as if I’d just given her the best toy in the world and I couldn’t help putting an arm around her shoulder and pulling her close as we walked.
“Now. Let’s go back and get the others up to speed. We don’t want anyone coming up with something different and getting people curious do we?”
She leaned her head against me and sniffed.
“I was really worried about you.”
Talk about guilt.
“I know. I promise. It won’t happen again.”
The look she gave me was full of happiness and sunshine and I knew I’d keep my word if it was humanly possible to do so. So I gave her a small hug with my arm and got down to thinking out exactly what I was going to tell the others. I figured they didn’t need all the details like how I’d gotten into a firefight with another space ship and helped a bunch of pirates. And I wanted to talk to Sara before I mentioned too much about what had happened at Gardenar. How does one handle finding out someone’s made them into a deity while they were away? Then there was the fact that Yuki was still up there on the Moon. And my teleporting. Those were two secrets I wasn’t about to tell anyone just yet. It was going to take some very special editing to make it work but I was sure I could do it.
It had taken the rest of the evening to convince everyone she didn’t have any more for them. No one was completely happy with Billie’s story but they seemed to recognize that she wasn’t going to say more at this time. Billie had finally gotten some time to herself and she was going to use it.
The ways underground to Hawthorne from Poe if you didn’t want to take the Hawthorne tunnel were somewhat convoluted but Billie had been making use of some of her free time to grow familiar with these paths. Her memory was good enough now she was fairly certain she could navigate them in complete darkness if she had to. Not that she couldn’t see in the dark but Sensei Ito was always harping about things not always going the way you thought they would.
Billie had been growing a bit complacent about her ability to see in the dark and Ito had taken to having her wear masks or helmets that limited her senses so she had to use others to compensate. It was hard and frustrating but she could actually see the sense in that approach so she kept her complaints to a minimum. Besides, complaining to Ito usually led to even worse problems. It was better to go along and learn.
Still, the side tunnels made a good way to sneak around if you knew where you were going. And Billie needed to talk in private about this. It was something that had been bothering her ever since she’d become aware of it. And the only person she felt she could trust on the subject lived in Hawthorne most of the time. It might have been possible to arrange entrance from Poe but she didn’t see how it would be possible without most everyone knowing she’d done it and they both had enough problems without adding more fuel to the fire.
Of course, if someone was watching either of them it still might raise some questions but she’d take her chances on it for now.
Soon she was in front of the strange door that had all the odd writing on it. Depending on the way you looked at it, it said “Go Away”, “Come In”, “You Don’t See This Door “, “This Is Not The Door You’re Looking For”, or some other such saying. Billie found it fairly amusing. Right now it was saying, “The God Is In”. Taking this as a good sign Billie tapped on the door.
Each tap produced a small, bright flash of light and a sound much louder than she expected. It nearly made her jump out of her skin and reflexively look around to see if someone had noticed. But the hallway remained empty and Billie took a deep breath. Then Sara’s voice spoke out of the air and Billie nearly jumped again.
Sara’s amusement was plain in her voice.
“Who else would it be?”
“Uh, could I please talk to you? In… In private?”
Sara’s voice dropped an octave and became incredibly suggestive.
“Of course! You just have to ask.”
Billie felt like she must be blushing hot enough to light up the hallway.
“N-not like that! I… I just…”
Sara’s laugh no longer had the teasing tone to it and Billie found herself still blushing but not feeling as uncomfortable as before. Sara’s next words made her feel better too.
“It’s okay Billie. I’m just teasing. I can’t help myself sometimes.”
“Yes. Yes I know. But…”
“You’re right to be cautious though Billie. Dealing with gods can be treacherous at the best of times. What can I do for you?”
“I… I have some questions. Questions about gods. And… And I don’t want other people knowing about it.”
“Well. I’m not exactly in the business of telling secrets but if it’s not something I can’t reveal I’m willing to tell you what I can.”
“Thank you! I… I hope I… Umm, I’ll try not to take too much time.”
“That’s okay. And don’t thank me too soon. I don’t know if I can answer your questions yet or not. Come on in and we’ll see.”
The door slowly opened and Billie found herself walking into a room right out of some movie sets she’d seen. It was the perfect sorcerer’s den. Dark hanging drapes. Odd mementos scattered around and an ancient small round table with an oddly flashing crystal ball floating over the center of it located in the center of the room. Sara, dressed in a standard Whateley uniform, was sitting at the table on the far side of Billie. There was another chair facing her.
Sara waved at the empty chair. “Might as well make yourself at home.”
Billie slowly approached while looking around. “Uh, it’s a little over done isn’t it?”
A brief expression of irritation crossed Sara’s face before it was replaced with a more mischievous one.
“A little. But I didn’t choose it. This room has its own sense of humor at times. I suspect my father might have had something to do with it.”
Billie carefully sat down, halfway expecting the chair to shift by itself or vanish.
“He… He’s certainly got a way with decorations.”
“Yeah. That’s one way of putting it. Now. What can I do for you?”
“Uh. I’m not sure where to start.”
“How’s about you start where you took off to over the break?”
“You knew about that?”
“Billie. Anyone with the proper senses knew you’d taken off to places far away. Most of them don’t have the necessary information to put together what happened but they were certainly aware that something happened. My father and I’ve had no small headache making sure that anyone looking into it came to the wrong conclusions. Though I must add that Jade and your other friends did a good job of directing attention away from you. That being said I’d appreciate a bit more warning if you’re going to do it again. The people we’re misdirecting aren’t all fools and they’ll catch on quickly enough given the chance.”
“You make it sound like the world is watching me.”
“No. They’re not. And we want to keep it that way. Look Billie. My Dad and I are a lot more willing to accept you as you are. We’ve had enough experience with bad reps. But there are a lot out there who wouldn’t understand who and what you are. Or wouldn’t take the time to find out. This could cause a lot more trouble than any of us want to consider, so for all our sakes I’m asking you to be a bit more careful.”
Billie blinked a few times in perplexity and then blurted out, “What I am?”
Sara managed to look a bit uncomfortable for a moment. Then she cleared her throat. “Uh. Let me put it a little differently. What I meant to say was that some of your abilities wouldn’t sit too well with some of the Powers That Be. Not all or even most of them. But enough to cause a bit of trouble for everyone involved and maybe even just near you. Dad and I are trying to keep a lid on it until you can establish yourself well enough to put down any rumors that might get started if people looked too closely.”
“What am I then? Or what are those abilities you mentioned that could get me into trouble?”
Sara sighed but put a stern look on that brooked no questions. “I’m not at liberty to say.”
She held up a hand to stop my protest.
“And it’s not ‘cause I don’t want to tell you. It’s because you need to find out about them yourself or you may never be able to control or use them properly. There are… Uh… Rules about this kind of thing. Having someone tell you only jinxes it. Don’t ask me why. I’m not entirely sure myself. Just take my word for it that it’s better for everyone concerned if you learn about this on your own.”
“And how am I supposed to avoid messing things up if I don’t know what it is I’m doing that gets everyone’s shorts in a twist?”
Sara shrugged. “Like I said. For some reason it works out better if I don’t tell you. It’s some kind of natural law. Kind of like Murphy’s Law. Not a lot of fun, but it’s still there and I’m not going to go against it. There’s too much at stake. Just take my word for it. You’ll learn as you go and because you learn it on your own it’ll work better for you.”
Billie tried to stew for a bit but couldn’t find it in herself to get too irritated. Obviously Sara seemed to believe it to be true, or was a good enough liar to be convincing, and wasn’t likely to change her mind anytime soon. Besides, when she thought about what she’d just been learning about herself she wasn’t all that sure she needed more on top of that right now. After some quiet consideration she nodded her head. “Okay. You’re off the hook for now. But I still may need answers fast later.”
Sara smiled. “Thank you Billie! I’ll help whenever I can. You know that. I just don’t want to ruin your chances to learn more.”
“Oh. Okay then. Uh… should we get on with what I came over to talk about?”
Sara nodded. “That might be a good idea.”
Billie started to look uncomfortable again.
Sara looked more interested. “You didn’t get into any trouble over break did you?”
“Uh. Noooo. Not really.”
Billie proceeded to give the edited version of her trip. Sara didn’t say a thing until she was certain Billie had stopped. “Sooooo. Let me guess. You have some questions about what it means to suddenly find out that people are worshiping you?”
Billie looked uncomfortable and sheepish. “Uh. Yeah. And how the real gods would react to it.”
Sara laughed and it was several moments before she could get it back under control. By that time Billie was blushing and looking very uncomfortable. Sara said, “Don’t get me wrong Billie. Really. I… I realize it’s a serious question. It’s just… just that when I thought of the look on their faces when you actually showed up I couldn’t help myself.”
“The gods of that planet of course. Having another god drop in unexpectedly like that.”
“But I’m not a god!”
“Well. No. I guess you aren’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t become one if you want.”
“I don’t want to be one!”
“Don’t sign off on that too fast Billie. You might find that you like it.”
“I don’t want everyone expecting me to help them with stuff! I’ve got enough of my own problems. I don’t need a lot of people following me around expecting me to tell them when to wipe their noses and go to the bathroom!”
Sara nodded. “You just said a mouthful sister. No one in their right minds wants that. And who’d want followers who couldn’t take care of themselves at least most of the time? I could wish more of my followers were like yours. Your priests are really successful fences? They pretty much take care of themselves? Right?”
“Uh. Yeah. I kind of got the feeling I was just getting in the way there for the most part.”
“Yeah. That tends to happen. Everyone falling over their feet because they don’t know why you just picked that time to drop by. Little guilty consciences, all of them.”
“Y-yeah. I guess you’re right. But what about the other gods? The real ones?”
“Eh? I wouldn’t worry about them Billie. Most of them are probably little whiny bastards anyway. And those who aren’t usually know how to hitch their wagons to yours. The whiny ones will keep out of your way and the others won’t want to rock the boat. I’d be really surprised if you ever meet any of them face to face.”
“If… If you’re sure then.”
“I am! Don’t fret about it any. They’re a long ways away anyway. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. Your followers have been taking care of themselves for ages. That’s not going to change just because you dropped in unexpectedly for once.”
“Trust me Billie. If they really needed you it would be obvious. I suspect some other god is just taking advantage of the fact you aren’t around and siphoning off what they need. If it doesn’t bother you I wouldn’t worry about it. Who or whatever they are they’re obviously doing a good job. No need to rock the boat. Unless you’re certain you want to take control. Then all I can say is go for it girl! Show em what you’re made of!”
“I… I really don’t want to Sara. It’s just… Just really hard to imagine that anyone would be expecting ME to come around and help them. After all I’ve done.”
“Still trying to deal with your past huh?”
“Yeah. Just a little.”
“Lots of memories still?”
“Any idea how long?”
“You can tell me Billie. I’ll keep it secret but knowing where and when you came from will help a lot if you should ever need my help.”
“I… I’m not totally sure. But. If Yuki is right probably… uh… over eight billion years or so?”
“Yuki thinks I look a lot like the Isokist and if he’s right they were the first inter-universal race to explore it all. The universe I mean.”
“I know who the Isokist are Billie. It’s just hard to imagine that you’ve been around that long. You realize you’re probably at least two thirds as old as the universe don’t you?”
“That’s older than a lot of the galaxies and stuff.”
“That means you’re a really OLD woman! You’re literally older than dirt!”
“Sara! That’s not funny!”
Sara giggled a bit and made placating gestures.
“Sorry Billie. I just couldn’t help myself. But it is kind of funny. You’re literally older than the hills. You’re probably older than Gaia.”
“You’re not helping any.”
“But really Billie. There’s a planet where they determine godhood and rank by who’s oldest. Some old biddies have the top spot fixed because they’re a bit older than the others. They even have a throne that won’t let any who isn’t the oldest sit in it. Can you imagine how funny it would be to bring you there during one of their planning sessions?”
Sara was obviously having a hard time repressing her chuckles as she thought of that particular scenario and I wondered what they’d done to deserve her attention like that. But it was clear I’d have to come to terms with my problems in this area on my own. What Sara had told me helped a bit. Apparently I wasn’t stuck with the job just because someone set it up that way. I was going to have to come to terms with it someday but for now it wasn’t a pressing problem.
“Uh. I better be going now. Thanks for the advice. I’ll think on it.”
Sara smiled. “Glad to be of assistance. Feel free to drop back in anytime. It’s kind of lonely being a god. Having someone you can just sit down with and discuss things with is a rare treat.”
The mischievous look in her eyes almost got me giggling so I headed for the door. “Okay. Glad I could entertain you. But we must be closer to supper than I thought. I’m getting really hungry all of a sudden.”
Sara lost some of her gaiety.
“Oh? Then you better get over there right away. We can’t have you getting all hungry now can we?”
In moments Billie was out the door and heading for Poe. She really was getting hungry and getting that taken care of took on a much greater importance for the moment than old memories and the politics of godhood.
Back in the Lovecraft Room
Sara stood, looking at the door for several moments. Then she directed her attention to a corner of the room.
“Did you get all that, Father?”
Gothmog faded into existence.
“I did. It’s beginning to make more sense now. The Openers of the Darkness. The Isokist. They WOULD have some part to do with this. I hadn’t realized the girl looks like them though. Most interesting.”
Sara looked intrigued.
“You know something?”
Gothmog got a troubled look for a moment.
“Just an old, old fable. Or maybe not a fable after all.”
“Care to enlighten me?”
“In the fable there was a time before the Great Old Ones could enter the Universe. It was too well protected. No outside force could breach the barriers. But inside the barriers was another matter. The Isokist were said to be the rulers of the newer and smaller Universe. Masters of all. But they grew bored and sought to learn what was outside the barriers. They made a Gate. The largest ever constructed in this universe. And when it was opened the outside Great Darkness found its way in. Destroying the proud Isokist and their main star systems. The whole of the universe might have perished then but another force came forward and using about a noticeable fraction of the available energy of the universe at that time the invaders where ripped apart or forced out. A full quarter of the universe died then. But the Great Darkness was mostly forced out and the Gate sealed. But some parts of the Darkness remained. And these spread out to all remaining parts of the universe, eventually trying to open more gates or being assimilated by the hardier and more adaptable lifeforms.”
“Do you want to hear the rest of the fable?”
“Please. Don’t mind my interruptions. Please continue.”
“Very well. Now, as the fable has it the power that originally forced the Greater Darkness out had broken some important rules to do so. That’s why a quarter of the current universe died that day. While the leaders of whoever it was who stood up to the original invasion considered how to punish their errant member that member supposedly took upon themselves an even greater sin. They’re said to have made a weapon which could destroy the universe if used unwisely. So dangerous only the insane would consider even making one, much less using it. Breaking even more rules and laws to do so.”
Gothmog paused to see what effect his story was having but all he got was a raised eyebrow.
“Well, needless to say. The lawbreaker was caught. And when the true scope of their plans were understood the only punishment that could answer for it was banishment. A sentence quickly carried out despite some protests. In the end they were left with what was apparently an incomplete weapon. But one with some utility. It is said that in time some other weapons similar to but without the pesky strategic considerations would be built but this would occur only after these mysterious Others had mostly faded from the universe or at least from our awareness. Though there were still rumors of the weapon or weapons showing up in various places so one has to assume some of the Others are still around.”
Sara finally broke in. “So you think Billie is tied in some way to this weapon?”
Gothmog shook his head. “No. I’m afraid your friend IS the weapon. Somehow activated and given a soul. I’m afraid your friend may be an Unlimited Universal Ender that has somehow been given a conscience and soul. Probably not the original intention of whoever made her. Though with the insane, one never knows for sure.”
“So Billie might be UUE. That would explain why she’d be effective against the Great Old Ones. Nothing would frighten them more than the thought their endless existences could be snuffed out. But couldn’t she be a more limited type?”
Gothmog nodded. “Most immortals wouldn’t like this idea very much either way. More so the very great ones. A weapon that doesn’t absorb, assimilate, corrupt, or do any of the other things that allow for a continued existence. Just gone with no chance of recovery. And yes. It is possible she isn’t a UUE and just a limited form of one.”
“So she can feed on what anchors our spirits to the physical universe and when that’s gone…”
“No deposit, no return. Gone. Finished. Kaput. You get the idea. And your little friend can apparently do that to anyone, or maybe anything. The perfect strategic weapon. Except for the fact it can now think for itself. Brings back memories of Dark Star doesn’t it?”
“You read that?”
“And saw the movie. Some of the better writing by this race in my opinion. Certainly more entertaining than most.”
“But there have been other enders before. I suspect the Artifacer could make one. Probably has if I remember right.”
“All greatly limited and those who made them or had them made have never fared so well either. There’s a lot that can happen to someone if enough movers and shakers get upset with you.”
Sara was obviously troubled. “This… doesn’t bode well.”
Gothmog shrugged. “No. It doesn’t. But there are still a lot of wild cards out there. It is too soon to give up just now. And one wonders about the timing of all this. Too many coincidences if you ask me. Someone up there is stirring the pot.”
“And turning up the heat?”
“That too. Now. How’s my little girl doing in school?”
“Father! This is serious!”
“Yes. I know. That’s why I’m taking the time to see how my daughter is doing. More parents should be involved in their children’s lives.”
The argument would continue for some time.
A Few Days Later
It had been hard finding time to get away to get some samples of Siridian Silk from Yuki and then get into town but if I was ever going to get anything done with it I’d have to work with Miss Rogers. Besides, I’d promised Mother of Three I’d do this and the sooner I did the better.
Miss Rogers was in the back when I came in but it looked like I’d picked a good time since no one else seemed to be in the store. Shrugging my day pack off I waited for her to acknowledge me. The door chime would’ve alerted her but she might be in the middle of some project that she couldn’t put down immediately. I’d learned to be patient and wait for her to come and get me in these circumstances. I was pretty sure the shop had some protections that weren’t obvious and I had no inclination to find out what they might be. Especially if it would get Miss Rogers mad at me.
Soon enough I heard someone approaching the front and Miss Rogers, dressed in her working apron came striding out. As soon as she saw me she smiled.
“Hi Billie! Need a new uniform? Or need one repaired?”
Now that I was here I wasn’t exactly sure how I should approach the subject but I needed to reply anyway.
“Uh, no. I mean I haven’t damaged any recently. I…”
Realizing I was hesitating she immediately moved forward and took my hand. A look of deep concern on her face.
“You’re not in some kind of trouble are you? Charlie mentioned you were pretty upset about not getting to go home over the holidays.”
“Oh! Oh no Miss Rogers! It’s not that. I mean I’m still a little upset but it’s nothing I can’t get over. I… I had something else I needed to talk to you about. Actually, I… I managed to get hold of some fabric that I was hoping you might be able to make some clothes for my friends with.”
She let go of my hand with a sigh of relief. “Well, in that case we should head in back and discuss what you would like me to make for them. And call me Cece.” She pronounced it like cease-e. “We’re friends after all and all of you calling me Miss Rogers is making me feel a bit old.”
“Sure Mi… I mean Cece. I just didn’t want to be disrespectful to you.”
“The only way you would be disrespectful is if you refuse to lighten up a bit. I get more than enough respect. It’s nice to have friends over though. And a lot more relaxed.” She motioned me over to her desk and had me sit in a chair in front of it. She then moved to her own chair.
“Now. Down to business. You do know that not all cloth is made the same and that there can be limits to what can be done with it.”
She cut me f with a gesture before I could say anything.
“I’m just saying this because I do get people in occasionally who see something they like or think someone else will and bring it to me with the idea I can do anything with it. That’s just not the case. So please don’t be too disappointed if I can’t do something you had your heart set on. If it won’t work that way it’s not the end of the world. We’ll simply have to come up with another solution. Got it?”
I nodded. “Yes Ma’am.”
The look she gave me reminded me of our earlier talk.
“Uh, I mean Cece.”
“Good. Now, do you have the material you got and what do you want to do with it? Keep in mind that if you want body armor there are much better qualified people at the school for that.”
“Uh. I didn’t bring the material with me. It would’ve been kind of bulky. The ones I bought it from also gave me some samples to show you. I can get the rest when you need it.”
“Sounds like whoever you were dealing with know their business.”
“Oh yes! They do. They also wanted to meet you but they’re kind of far away and I didn’t think it would be possible. They were very concerned that whoever I had work with their material would be good enough for it. I had to promise that if it wasn’t handled with the proper respect I had to bring it back to them. I’m also going to need a small project or two that I can take with me the next time I’m out that way so they can see how good your work is. You don’t have to worry though. I’ve seen your work and I’m sure they won’t mind me letting you work with it.”
She stared at me for a few moments and then shook her head.
“They’re concerned about people misusing their material?”
I nodded again. “They put a lot of themselves into it. They don’t want just anyone working with it. They’ve got really high standards and I had to promise them I’d make sure only the right people would handle it.”
“Where did you get it? Though I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to recognize who made it if they’re that concerned about who works with it. I can only think of a short handful who would. And to be honest, most of them are out of the country and not inclined to travel much. So I’ll need details as to how you got this material and whether or not it might be stolen property.”
“It’s not stolen! I bought it directly from the makers. And… Uh. Oh Crap! I didn’t think this through. Miss… I mean Cece. Please don’t tell anyone about this! It could get my friends into trouble. They covered for me while I was gone so no one knows I took off in a huff because I couldn’t go home. I ended up traveling a bit and met the people who make this cloth. It’s such good cloth I was sure you could do something with it. But I really don’t want to get my friends in trouble over it.”
“Won’t you get into trouble?”
“Oh yeah. A little. But what would they do? Send me home? I can handle anything they throw at me but I don’t want my friends to get into trouble.”
“Well then. How’s this? I won’t tell anyone if I think no one will be put into danger by not telling. How’s that? I refuse to make a more specific promise where I don’t have all the information.”
Billie thought about it for a few moments and then slowly nodded.
“Okay. That sounds fair. Uh, I’ll skip some of the beginning. It’s too long a story otherwise. To make a long story shorter let’s just say I ended up traveling a bit and one of the places I visited had a people known as Siridians and they make some of the best cloth and clothing in the universe. I was able to get several yards in the hope of making some cool clothes for my friends and maybe even start an import-export business if it catches on.”
Cecelia seemed stunned for a few moments after that revelation and then she got that look all adults seem to get when they think a kid hasn’t thought through what they’re doing. I could feel the lecture coming and almost flinched.
“Billie. Are you aware that there are very strict laws about importing exotic materials and the like into this country? I might be mistaken but it sounds like you weren’t in the States when you bought this.”
I had to admit this hadn’t occurred to me.
“Uh… No. I didn’t think about that. After all, this is just cloth. Not a weapon or food or anything.”
Miss Rogers managed to look exasperated.
“Billie! Haven’t you ever heard of quarantine before? Things coming from outside the country can have all sorts of surprises. Not to mention those coming from other planets or dimensions. Specialists have to examine it and determine if there’s any danger to it or something that might be with it. I’ve heard of objects brought back from different dimensions that drove people who looked at them insane! You just don’t know for sure until someone checks them out in the proper way. You can’t just go throwing them onto the open market. It’s too dangerous. You haven’t given this to anyone else have you?”
This obviously wasn’t going to plan. I was probably going to have to see that all of it got taken back to Mother of Three. And I’d so hoped to be able to surprise the others with it. But Miss Rogers was right and it wouldn’t be fair of me to get her into trouble over it either.
“I… I’m sorry Miss Rogers. I haven’t shown this to anyone else. I was hoping to make it a surprise. I’ll just take it back to where I got it when I can. Sorry to have bothered you.”
She leaned across her desk and grabbed my arm before I could do more than stand up.
“You can’t just leave. We have to determine if you’ve been infected or hurt in any way. As much as I hate to do it we’ll probably have to quarantine the shop and anywhere else you’ve been and stored it until we’re sure it’s safe anyway.”
I didn’t pull away. I was afraid I might hurt her if I tried too hard but I couldn’t let it get out of hand either. If this got out everyone would be in big trouble. Besides, I was pretty sure that Yuki would’ve found anything wrong with this stuff a long time ago. I’d have to convince Miss Rogers of that first though.
“I… I don’t think that will be necessary Miss Rogers. Really. The rest of it is in a really safe place right now and I’ve only got the samples with me. I’ve been in contact with all this stuff for a while now but this is the first chance I’ve had to get the samples out so there shouldn’t be a problem with it. I can just get it out of here and it won’t be a problem.”
Miss Rogers got very stern. “Billie! Sit down now! We have to make sure about this. I’m sorry but we can’t take any chances. You have no idea the kind of trouble you and anyone who comes in contact with it can get into. I mean it. I’m not joking. How do you think Charlie and I met? It was a situation where someone brought a suit of clothes from another dimension. Unfortunately, it was possessed by a malignant spirit. It killed several people before Charlie caught on and he needed my help to track it down because it would hide itself in stores and such until it could find a victim to drain of life. I was able to single it out for him and he destroyed it. It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. And I’ve got a lot of experiences to draw from. Please. Sit down. We’ll work this out together but don’t run off. If you did I’d have to call Charlie and anyone else I could to stop you. I don’t want to do that but you’ll leave me no choice if you run off now.”
Her demeanor softened her grip loosened a bit and her next words were more of a plea than a demand.
“Please Billie. I don’t want anyone to get into trouble but I’ve seen first hand some of the things that make it necessary to be careful. Just sit down and we’ll find a way to work through this.”
I wanted to run. I really hadn’t anticipated her reaction. But I was pretty sure things would only get worse if I ran. I didn’t know what to do but maybe we could work something out. I could always run later. So I sat down.
“What can we do? You’ve already made it clear what needs to be done. I don’t see how this will work.”
Miss Rogers sighed in relief when I sat down and asked for her advice.
“Okay. Good. Now we’re able to think this through. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
I nodded. Even this short moment had helped me get a grip on what I was feeling and what I somehow was sure was the case.
“You’re afraid that something I brought back with me could be dangerous. I understand that. I don’t know how to tell you I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything dangerous about what I have.”
“Billie. You can’t know for sure…”
“Please Miss Rogers. I know it’s hard not to assume otherwise when I say this but I KNOW Mother of Three would never endanger anyone like that. And yes. If there was some kind of evil possessing it and me I’d probably say these same things but that’s just not the case. This is stuff the Siridians sell all over the universe. They’re very careful about such things. I… I can’t explain how I know this but I’m certain it’s the case. If you’re sure I can’t use this then I’ll just take it back to them when I have the chance but I can’t let it be confiscated or anything like that. The Siridians would just come and take it back as soon as they found out and I’m sure that wouldn’t make anyone happy. And they’d be angry at me too. They’re really serious about this kind of thing.”
The look Miss Rogers was giving me made me wonder how many crazy people she had to deal with on a regular basis. I had to do more or we wouldn’t get anywhere.
“Look. I know why you’re being cautious and I even agree with you. But isn’t there some way to at least check it out before we call in the Marines? Isn’t there some way you could test this so I could at least just take it back?”
It was obvious she really didn’t want to have to go to the extremes she’d been proposing. Of course, a totally cautious person wouldn’t be swayed by such persuasions but I had a little hope that Miss Rogers would at least be willing to try before we went to all the trouble that would erupt if people found out what I’d been doing over Easter Break. I did my best to stay quiet after that and give her my best puppy dog eyes. I wasn’t anywhere near as good as Jade at such things but it worked for her. I might as well try it now. It’s not like I had anything to lose by trying.
She held out for a few more moments and then sighed. “Awww… Damn!”
I was a little shocked as I’d never heard her swear before.
Cece threw her hands into the air.
“Okay. I know it’s stupid but I really don’t want to go through the Hell we’re likely to if this gets out. Don’t!” She held a finger up in my direction. “Think you’re getting away easily on this! You’re putting me in a real bind right now and I’m not happy. We’re going to do this my way and I don’t want any guff from you. I’m taking way too many chances as is. Now stay right here. Don’t move. I’m going to prepare a few things. After I’ve done that I’m going to have you help me. You do EXACTLY what I tell you. Okay?”
I nodded vigorously. “Yes’m!”
With that she headed back further into the rear of the store. I could hear her doing a number of things I couldn’t be sure of but seemed to involve moving stuff around a great deal. Eventually that stopped and it was quiet for a while. Then I heard her coming back. She moved to where I could see her and then she beckoned me to come back. When I got into the backmost room I could see she’d moved everything away from the center. In the middle of the now cleared room was what looked like a very old fifteen by fifteen foot carpet rug with a series of concentric circles and runes and the like woven into it. At one time it might have been white and the circles and runes red. But now it was greyish and the rest looked almost black.
Miss Rogers moved to a small sitting pad located at the middle of the far side and sat in tailor fashion. She then leaned forward and put her fingers on the outer most circle.
“Billie. Move your pack to the center circle.”
I moved the pack to the center circle and stood back. For several minutes Miss Rogers seemed to be doing nothing but eventually she sat back and looked at me.
“I can’t detect any malign indications. I strongly suspect there aren’t any interdimensional aspects to what you are carrying.”
I sighed with relief and she glared at me.
“But. That doesn’t clear it yet. There are a lot of other possibilities and I’m not certain I can properly check for them. But if I call in anyone it will only complicate matters.”
She continued to glare at me and my pack for a few more moments and then sighed again.
“I’ve done what I can. Please open the pack and show me what you have.”
I opened my pack and carefully pulled out the three small packages I had my samples in. One was of the stuff I’d been assured would be suitable for undergarments. One was for skirts and blouses. And the last was for slacks or maybe light coats. I knelt down and placed them on the carpet. I looked up at Miss Rogers and almost panicked.
I had never seen anyone as obviously stunned by what they were looking at and for a moment I doubted my belief that there was nothing wrong with my materials.
“Miss… Miss Rogers?” She started and looked at me. “Are… Are you okay?”
She blinked and then nodded. “Yes. Yes Billie. I’m okay. It’s just… Just that I didn’t expect something like this. You… You actually KNOW where this came from?”
“Uh. Yeah. I got it from the people who made it.”
“Co… Could you please bring one of those over to me? I have to be sure.”
“Sure about what?”
She shook herself like she was waking up and then got a far away look in her eyes.
“After I met Charlie he put me in contact with some Weavers who kept themselves isolated from the world on an island I won’t reveal the location of. But they taught me a lot I hadn’t already learned. One of them, Lockittee, was an old woman who had collected samples of fabrics and weaving from all over the world. One of them was a sample of fabric very much like this but incredibly old. It was so fragile it had to be kept very carefully and only higher initiates were even allowed to see it much less touch it.”
A look of sadness on her face made me break in.
She paused for several moments as if thinking things through and then nodded.
“You may be aware that some people collect very old or odd things. Some of them are simply collectors but others have more nefarious plans for them. One such was a sorcerer who heard about the sample and thought he could use it in some of his spells. He attempted to steal it. It wouldn’t be the first time but he had some inside information and was very well prepared. He managed to get to it and in the process killed Lokittee. But she managed to curse him with her dying breath. After that he became the target of all the rest of the island. He never made it off but in the battle the sample was destroyed. Along with many of the other samples. It was a very sad thing. Now Edelay is trying to re-gather another set of samples.”
Her voice trailed off for a moment and then she focused on me again.
“No one had any idea where that particular sample came from. But there’s no mistaking it. It has some very unique properties. It’s not exactly the same but close enough so I’m sure whoever made what you have has some connection with the one which was destroyed. Can… Can you tell me where you got this?”
“I’d… Uh… I’d really rather not say right now. I’d want to get their permission before I did.”
We locked eyes for a few moments and then she broke off and nodded. “Okay. I can appreciate that. But if you can I’d really like a chance to meet with at least one of them.”
“Yeah. I think they’d like to meet you too. I promise to get you together with them if I can.”
It was a safe promise since I’d essentially told Mother of Three the same thing. If I could I would. Now to see if I was off the hook.
“Wi… Will we need to quarantine it?”
The look of shock on her face had me worrying again for a moment. Then she hurried to reassure me.
“No! We don’t dare do that! This isn’t something I could trust anyone except a very few people with! Please don’t tell anyone else about this. Really! The knowledge that these samples exist could get people killed!”
She was serious! I could tell and I couldn’t help feeling a bit frustrated. I’d really thought I had a good chance to get a possible business started. A kind of import/export kind of thing. Maybe Ayla was wearing off on me or something. But it seemed all my plans were doomed to fall prey to legal hassles of one sort or another. Or sometimes not so legal hassles. How did Ayla get past all these obstacles and turn this stuff into cash?
“Billie! Billie! Pay attention!”
I realized my thoughts had wandered and I concentrated on what Cece was saying. Now that she was sure she had my attention she got back to explaining what she wanted to do.
“I know you had big plans for this and I think in the next few years if we can establish a way of getting this material reliably without drawing the wrong attention to ourselves we can do very well with it. But for now we can’t afford to let anyone know where it came from. Believe me when I say there are people who would kill to get that kind of information.”
“Fat lot of good it’d do them.”
“What do you mean?”
“They have to get to where they can get it first. Good luck with that. Then they have to deal with the Siridians. THAT takes special skills!”
I couldn’t help but smile when I thought of what some of the people who might want to steal this from us would have to go through to have even a small chance of beating me out in getting supplies of material and pre-made items from the Siridians. I was sure that as soon as the Siridians were convinced that I wouldn’t let anyone unworthy touch their silks then I could just about shut anyone else out. The ones who thought they could just buy the silks would be getting a rude awakening if they tried.
My thoughts had wandered again. As soon as she was sure I was paying attention again Cece had something to say. “Billie. The more I think about it the more I’m certain this material might be a lot harder to obtain than just a casual trip to somewhere exotic. I and the others who know about the scrap Lockittee had knew it was organic in nature and assumed the animals that produced the silk had become extinct and were no longer available. But this material is new. Can I ask where it came from? And… And was it of this Earth?”
“I… I really don’t want to reveal that just now Cece. I hope you understand.”
She sat and thought about it for a few long moments and then nodded.
“I think I see what you’re saying. Maybe it’s for the best. Though we will have to be careful if this comes from as far away or from as strange a place as I’m thinking of now. I won’t ask more. It’ll probably be safer that way. Even if someone tracks it to me they won’t get more than that. Still…”
The sound of longing in her voice brought me to a realization that I’d been right about her and Mother of Three getting along. In many ways they were very alike. I could just see the two of them huddling together and geeking out about different thread counts and garment designs.
“I promise Cece. If I can I’ll get you in contact with the people who made these fabrics. But it might take a while. They’re pretty far away and it will take some special arrangements.”
She gave a wry smile.
“I bet. Still. Just how much of this fabric do you have?”
“Ummm. I figure about a hundred pounds. It’s really not much. I didn’t have enough money for more at the time. Uh. Is something wrong? Did I say that right? I’m afraid I don’t know much about such things and the correct terminology…”
Cece shook her head as if to clear it and then smiled.
“No! Not at all! Though there are terms for it. I won’t bore you with the details. It’s just that it is such a rare material and to be told there’s suddenly several large bolts available. And more where those came from. It’s. It’s just a little overwhelming is all.”
“Oh. Okay. I have some time next Saturday. I was hoping I might be able to bring the rolls by then. If you think it’s a good idea that is. If you don’t I can leave them where they are. I’m sure they’ll be safe there.”
“Bring them by then. Just give me a heads up before you do so I can be ready for them.”
“Okay. I’ll do that. I’ll leave these samples with you if that’s alright?”
“That’s fine dear. I’d like a chance to look them over and decide on how they could best be used. Did you have something in particular in mind for them?”
“I wrote a few ideas down. I thought I’d give this list to you and let you get back to me on what you thought of them.”
“That sounds like a plan. Did you want to discuss them now?”
I handed her the list I’d made. “No. Not right now. I’ve got to hurry to get back. I just wanted to show these to you and let you know what I was thinking of and if it was possible. I’m sorry if I was any trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it Billie. It was a bit of a surprise. But a nice one. Not a bad one. I’m looking forward to seeing what you brought back with you.”
“Okay. I’m glad you’re not upset. I’ll see you as soon as I can get the fabric to you. Thanks for all your help. I really hadn’t thought some of this through. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome Billie. Better get along now. I’d better get this cleaned up before someone shows up for something else. Remember. It’s best to keep very quiet about this. Got that?”
“Yes Ma’am! I mean yes Cece.”
“Good! I’ll be looking forward to seeing you Friday night for dance then.”
“I’ll be there!”
With that final comment I was out the door and headed to where the shuttle back could pick me up. It was looking like some of this was coming together. Now I just had to find a way to approach Ayla about the possibility of starting a business importing and exporting stuff. She’d know the necessary details. Of course, I could just try to look them up on the Internet. But I really wasn’t sure where to start. Ayla would know. I just had to decide just how much I could tell her to get her advice.
I was still thinking it through when the shuttle pulled up. I’d just have to keep thinking about it until I had a chance for a private talk.
My stomach growled. Uh-oh! Time for lunch. If the shuttle didn’t dawdle too much I’d be back just in time.