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Intercession Chapter 3: What was once here

What was once here

Recovering the cubes

After a good, long lie-in and breakfast in bed, followed by that short nap, Taylor sat up in bed and pushed away the blanket. She looked over at the computer that her mother had left behind, sitting on top of a stack of crates. It had become covered in dust since the invaders destroyed the communication satellites. It was as useless as the augmented reality glasses and the haptic gloves that sat folded neatly on top of the computer. For once she was actually glad that her mother hadn’t allowed her to get the implants like the other students. They were useful in many lines of work, but they could also become addictive, and she knew a few students who had lost the ability to distinguish between real life and the virtual additions surrounding them, keeping their implants active 24/7. Many of those wore full haptic suits, so they could feel everything going on around them in their augmented surroundings. Well, not exactly feel, but they did have limited sensations where the suits triggered nerve endings – hot, cold and simulated pressure. It was nothing like touching something with your own skin though.

But right now, it was just a tidy pile of useless junk. There were no satellites, no more homework, no way to finish her degree. She just hoped that Calvin had actually transmitted her completed exam back to the university, not that it really mattered anymore. She really didn’t have any use for extra-solar studies or deep space sciences. Aeden said that she was free to leave if she really wanted to – if she had a ship, that is. The hidden warships were off-limits until a system purge or planetary reset was in progress, and she certainly didn’t want that to happen. Nowhere to go, and no-one to call.

Well… technically Aeden told her he could get her in contact with anyone she wanted, but he couldn’t fix the satellites. It would create a lot of questions if anyone ever found out she was communicating without them. Eventually somebody would come back to check on them, and find them missing or in ruins. Questions might eventually lead to the planet’s true purpose, and a full reset of the systems in the experimental zone could follow swiftly. No, it was safer to remain out of contact, although she desperately wanted to talk to her mother.

 

Taylor stretched and stood up. It was time to get to work, which involved walking over to the Elder village after chatting with Daax and Freya just before midday. Although Illiya didn’t exactly run things to a schedule. Late was a human word they rarely used.

Smudge trailed along behind Taylor as she emerged from the forest into the Elder village. Directly ahead of her stood a long platform with seven chairs crafted from webs of small, living trees. Her eyes flicked to the centre chair. Kral’s chair, where the Voice of the Elders sat in court to decide on important matters in council with the rest of the Elders.

Taylor’s first introduction to the Elders was at her trial, but she had been intoxicated from consuming local fruit and remembered very little of it at all. Since then, her meetings with the Elders had been generally held in the long, low hut on the left side of the platform. The Elders had progressed from initially viewing Taylor with distaste to something closer to fondness and affection, but her helping to save the world had something to do with that.

Taylor paused at the bottom of the steps. Smudge looked up at her, ears perked.

“Stay here.”

Smudge lay down beside the step and promptly began chewing a piece of grass. Taylor walked up the steps, then knocked on the living door.

She didn’t have to wait long for Kral to open the door.

“Good day, Taylor, have you eaten?”

Taylor smiled. “Yes, thanks, I just had breakfast in bed a little while ago. I’m taking it easy today.”

Kral raised an eyebrow. “Breakfast-in-bed?

Taylor smiled. “A human custom. Something we do on special occasions, especially for mothers or fathers, or partners who need a little extra attention.”

“Is this a special day? Did I miss something? Your… birthday… was not so long ago, it could not be this. What is it?”

“I’m going to be a mother,” smiled Taylor.

Kral shrugged his wrinkled green shoulders. “We know this already.”

Taylor grinned. “Yeah, well, today is another day where I’m going to be a mum, and so far nobody is trying to kill us. So I think that’s something worth celebrating, don’t you?”

Kral looked Taylor up and down. “I suppose. But if I recall, aren’t human special events normally limited to a single day, or a short series of days?”

Taylor nodded and winked conspiratorially. “That’s right, but don’t tell Char that. I plan to have him serve me breakfast in bed a lot.”

Kral smiled. “I will keep your secret. But there must be something else you wanted to talk with me about, other than to tell me you are making your poor mate work hard for you.”

Taylor took a deep breath. “Well, now that you mention it, I wanted to talk about what the invaders did to Aeden.”

“Why would you want to discuss such things? Painful memories belong in the past, they do not help with today. Aeden is scarred, there is nothing to be done but to let the planet heal over time, just as we will try to heal from our losses with the next Asook cycle.”

Taylor pursed her lips. “Well, of course. But I had a… dream last night. From Aeden. He wants his lost forest back.”

Kral looked at her with surprise. “How could this be? It is lost to the stars.”

Taylor lightly scratched the wood of the stair rail with her fingernail. “Not exactly. Aeden told me, in my dream, that it was coming back home. But we need to help bring it back safely.”

Kral stared at Taylor, forehead wrinkled in confusion. “What? How would this be done?”

“We could use the lander. We could send it up, fetch a few cubes at a time, it will hold up to twenty. Then bring them down low to the ground, push them out, then turn off the stasis fields over the linear lakes. The animals and the forests can be returned, safe and sound. They won’t be exactly back in the same place they were taken from, but I don’t think it will matter much.”

“Ah… you would need someone in suits to help retrieve the cubes, is this correct? There is no… air. But the Illiya are too large for the suits.”

“There are a couple spare Haplander suits on the lander that are more than big enough, if you can ignore the extra pair of arms. And we might find some Arcturan suits lying around, those only have two arms. But the other suits should fit the Aarden. They might be a bit big on them, but they should work. ”

“We have not seen the Aarden for some time,” said Kral. “Now that the crisis is over, I worry that they may… go back to their old ways.”

Taylor frowned. “I don’t think they will. And I believe that Kaz-ur in particular is fond of your sun-baked flat bread and Karm jam. I think it’s time for them to come back for a visit, don’t you? Then we can have a nice breakfast or lunch, whatever, and talk.”

Kral pondered this, his hands moving distractedly in front of him. “Agreed. I will contact Kaz-ur by the wrist-talker and arrange this. Unless you wanted to take the flyer and get them here sooner?”

Taylor shook her head. “I think we will need about ten or so Aarden for this meeting, and the flyer only holds five.”

“But you could do several trips, it would be much quicker.”

Taylor nodded. “I know, but I kind of like not being in a hurry for a change, and it’s a very pretty walk. Oh, and please invite Samook to come.”

Kral raised an eyebrow. “You want her to go back into space?”

Taylor shook her head. “No, I just want to visit. I miss her.”

“Perhaps you could pick her up, then the rest can walk.”

Taylor smiled. “I like that idea. Will you let them know I’m coming?”

Kral frowned. “You know you could do this yourself, spirit-mother. You have a wrist talker as well.”

“Yes, I could, but I like the idea of the Illiya and Aarden working together, and not just when the world needs saving. It’s good to get to know your neighbours, now that they’re not eating you. If I was asking them, they might see it as an order from the spirit-mother or something. I would prefer they see it as a friendly invitation from a kindly neighbour.”

Kral swallowed. “You have a point. Familiarity and regular contact could prevent… reversion to prior activities.”

“That’s the idea,” smiled Taylor as she walked down off the steps onto the grass.

“When shall I tell them you will be arriving?” asked Kral.

Taylor paused, thinking. “Well, I have a foot-rub booked in this afternoon with an Illiya who has particularly talented thumbs… let’s say around dinner-time. Char would be coming too, but we can bring our own fruit, you should always bring something when you visit someone. Oh, and if you could ask them to cook me some Nak, please?”

Kral shivered at the mention of eating meat. “I will do as you request, spirit-mother, and I will invite our neighbours for a social meal and discussion. Is there anything else?”

Taylor grinned. “No, that’s it. And I wanted to thank you for everything. It’s a beautiful day.”

“Everything? Including keeping you here forever?”

Taylor took a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess for that too. Things are working out okay.”

Kral nodded. “I am glad to hear it. We enjoy having you in the village, Taylor. It can be… entertaining, as well as instructive.”

“And having the spirit-mother living next door could be an advantage, the other villages might be a bit jealous.”

“That sounds a bit… cheeky… however, you are correct. We have had more than the normal number of visitors, which is good for sharing news. And many are interested in you.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know. Thanks for your time.”

Kral sighed. “You are very welcome. Now please stay out of trouble.”

“I’ll do my best,” waved Taylor and walked back towards her hut, whistling as she walked. Smudge’s ears twitched at the out of tune notes as she followed along behind.

 

Baby talk

“Taylor, what are human babies like?” asked Char as they walked together through the forest. They had some time before they needed to leave for the Aarden village, and Taylor had tired of lounging around for one day. Smudge walked along beside them, her dark striped Vaseth fur blending into the shadows of the trees, except for the swirls of muted colours on her front half that had earned her the name from Taylor.

“You have a lot of questions,” smiled Taylor. “And all on the same general topic. I thought you were supposed to be my teacher. If you ask so many questions, how am I supposed to learn?”

Char looked at her and frowned. “I am sorry, Taylor. Did you have anything you wanted to know?”

Taylor smiled. “Not today. But you are pretty obsessed with this whole baby thing, especially for a guy. Most human males don’t take that much of an interest, except for getting the ball rolling, that is.”

Char took Taylor’s hand. “I want to learn. I do not want to… make mistakes. What if I hurt them? What if I teach the wrong things?”

Taylor pulled her hand away and placed it on his bare green chest. Illiya wore practically no clothes, summer or winter, just a basic pocket-loincloth arrangement around their waist. They were also completely hairless, leaving the chromatophores in their skin fully exposed and making them extremely effective chameleons when needed. It also helped to explain Char’s ongoing interest in her hair. Taylor often allowed Char to explore all of her other hairs, from head to toe.

Taylor smiled.“You’ll be fine. Don’t worry, you’ll make mistakes, and I will too. But somehow kids mostly end up okay. I mean, look at me, I was pretty messed up after Dad died, but I turned out alright, I think.”

“You seem more… rational than Heather,” Char stroked her hair, tracing a finger from the top of her head to her waist.

She shivered. “Some comparison.”

“But you do act rashly, get upset, you like to eat meat…”

“Okay, compared to most Illiya I suppose I am pretty strange.”

“But I love you anyway.”

“I love you too, and don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Stop stressing, or you might make the babies born stressed.”

Char’s eyes went wide. “This can happen? I do not want to do this. What do I do? What do I not do? Help me, Taylor!”

Taylor looked up at Char. “Just relax. If you stress me out, then that might affect the babies, but just a little, I think. They’re pretty resilient. But if you want to help, there are a few things you can do.”

“How may I help?” asked Char.

“Foot rubs are good, when the baby starts to grow, I will get sore feet, especially near the end when I’m supporting more weight,” Taylor rubbed her forehead. “Oh, and back rubs, those are good anytime, I should have told you that earlier. Stuff like that.”

“I can do that,” Char smiled.

“And when I can’t see my feet, you may need to tie my shoes.”

Char looked at Taylor’s bare feet, confused. “You do not wear shoes anymore.”

“Not right now, but I might want to, the hiking boots have a good supporting insole. Just getting you prepared. You may need to learn to tie shoes.”

“Is that all I need to know?”

Taylor shook her head. “No, there’s probably a thousand or so other things, although we’ll make some stuff up as we go along. But you wanted to know what babies were like, right?”

Char nodded eagerly. “You said the babies will be small when they come out, but how tall will they be?”

“Not tall, long,” Taylor held her hands a short distance apart. “They don’t walk for quite a while. So they’re measured in length at birth. It takes a while for them to be able to crawl. For the first few months they’re pretty helpless, really.”

Char looked at her hands with concern. “But why do they have to be so small? They can do nothing. Illiya, we walk, talk, do everything when we emerge from Asook.”

“Different world, different ways of giving birth. Do the animals here have babies as big as them?”

Char looked around the forest. “No, they are all very small.”

Taylor nodded. “Same principle. But human babies have large heads, then the rest of the body catches up.”

“That sounds… unpleasant.”

“Uh, actually, babies can be pretty ugly to start with, wrinkled up all over. But they grow quickly, get cute, and then the fun begins.”

“Fun?”

“Teaching them, feeding them, changing diapers…”

“What are diapers?”

Taylor explained, then Char made a face. “I will have to do that?”

Taylor nodded. “And they throw up on you, and pee on you, and keep you up at night, crying and hungry…”

Char shook his head with disgust. “Why do you have such things? It sounds horrible!”

Taylor shrugged. “It’s just the way things are. When they become adults, the cycle starts again. They say it’s a worthwhile experience with the good and bad, stress and sorrow, lots of sleepless nights, but fun stuff happens too.”

Char shook his head. “No wonder Aeden births juveniles. So much work, such a long time to develop…”

Taylor stretched up on her tip toes to give Char a kiss. “Just part of being a parent. But don’t worry, you’ll be a great Dad.”

Char sighed and stared off into the forest. Taylor enjoyed half an hour of silence as they walked on through the forest, Smudge stealthily weaving between the trees behind them, looking for something to eat.

“You know what?” Taylor smiled as they approached the village.

“What, Taylor?”

“Did I tell you what a beautiful day this is?”

Char smiled. “A few times.”

“Yeah, maybe I have. But you know the best part?”

“Nobody is trying to kill us today?”

“Well, there is that. But no, the best part is getting to spend time with you.”

Char looked at her with concern. “Have you been eating strong fruit? You seem more… happy than usual.”

Taylor shook her head. “No, I’m just happy. Pregnant females can sometimes have mood swings, the hormones get pretty active when you’re growing a baby from what I’ve heard. Today, I’m happy, but there are lots of reasons for that, so who knows. I think you should just enjoy it. Tomorrow I might be grumpy.”

“If you say so…”

“I do. Now, I’ll race you to that tree, then you can give me that foot rub.”

 

It’s what I really, really want

“That was wonderful,” grinned Taylor as she walked to the flyer with Char, adjusting the leather cord around his neck that bore a single Vaseth ear, marking him as a friend of the Aarden. She rubbed at her neck where the stiff hairs of a red Haplander ear prickled her skin. It was one of many that now hung on her leather cord. Two ears she had cut off a Vaseth that she had killed, but the rest of the ears had been gifts from the Aarden. Every Illiya and Aarden on the planet knew who the spirit-mother was, but Taylor felt it was respectful to wear the cord. It also served as a reminder of their shared bond in saving the planet.

“I enjoyed it also. You have such fine hairs on the top of your feet,” nodded Char. “But now my hands are sore.”

Taylor put a hand on his cheek. “I love you Char, you’re so good to me.”

Char leaned his head into her hand. “I want you to be happy.”

“I want you to be happy too, Char. You were really nice about the breakfast in bed thing, and the foot rub was amazing. But I want to be nice to you too, this isn’t all about me. What can I do that’s nice for you? Pick your favourite fruit? Get you some jam? I could learn how to make it, just say the word. Being a couple works both ways.”

They entered the flyer and Taylor walked up to the pilot seat and sat down, Smudge taking her place on the floor behind Taylor. Char sat in the copilot seat, hunching down slightly to avoid the low ceiling at the front. Char leaned over and whispered into Taylor’s ear.

“What? You’re kidding. You want to do that, for me to be nice to you?”

Char nodded.

Taylor sighed. “Well, that wasn’t exactly what I meant, but okay.”

Taylor closed the doors and lifted off, then headed towards the Aarden village.

Char put a hand on her leg. “Fly slow.”

Taylor sighed and pulled back on the throttle controls, then engaged the auto pilot.

“You’re sure about this?” Taylor turned her seat towards Char.

“I am,” said Char. “It makes me happy.”

“Fine,” Taylor sighed and turned her chair away from Char. “Go ahead.”

Char smiled as he drew his fingers through her hair and began to braid it, weaving a complex pattern with the two thumbs and four fingers on each hand.

“Just so you know, I’m really enjoying this, but it’s supposed to be about you.”

“Shh,” said Char. “I like your hair. This makes me very happy and relaxed.”

“You’re weird,” sighed Taylor as they flew slowly, ever so slowly, towards the Aarden village, Char braiding, un-braiding and then re-braiding her hair all the way.

 

Old friends

Samook was waiting in the small enclosure when they landed. Kaz-ur walked through the opening in the wall and came up to greet them. The smile he gave with his tapered, hairy dog-like head revealed the broken tooth that he had received from  Hap-sook when Kaz-ur had put Char on the fire to cook.

“Welcome, brother in fire,” Kaz-ur growled.

Char nodded, acknowledging the reference to Kaz-ur’s own brief roasting to remind him that not all meat is for eating. As Fusen-ra meat, Taylor and Char belonged to the blood moon, which was just another form of the Aeden bi-part deity. So they were off-limits and off the menu, in other words. That was all before the Aarden and Illiya had worked together with all of the animals, birds, lizards and even the insects of Aeden to try and repel the invaders. A lot had changed since the invasion, but would it be enough to counteract millions of years of Aarden playing the role of hunter and Illiya as prey? Taylor hoped it would be the case.

Char stepped forward and embraced Kaz-ur. “It is good to see you. I trust your scars heal well?”

Kaz-ur waited until Char let him go before he inspected Char’s back. “Almost as good as yours, my friend, but I still have bare spots where the hair has not grown back. It will continue to be a reminder to respect Fusen-ra. Come, we have picked some fruit for you.”

Char held out a small woven bag full of fruit. “We brought some as well.”

Kaz-ur stuck his twitching nose near the top of the woven bag. “Do I smell… Karm?”

Char nodded. “I know you like the jam from this fruit.”

Kaz-ur grinned, his sharp teeth fully visible, but Char no longer reacted to the display. “Yes, but it does not grow well in the mountains. It is a… treat, that I very much appreciate you bringing. Thank you, Char.”

“Kral is preparing some extra jam for your visit.”

Kaz-ur nodded. “I look forward to this. But why should we not talk now? You are here.”

Taylor shook her head. “This is a discussion for both Aarden and Illiya. It involves helping Aeden, who helped us.”

Kaz-ur nodded. “We will wait for the full story if you wish, spirit-mother. And Kral has requested ten Aarden come down for our visit? That is a lot of bread and jam.”

Taylor grinned. “Plus yourself and Samook, of course, so an even dozen. I’m sure they will make enough food. But I think we will need that many to make it work.”

Kaz-ur looked closely at Taylor. “So full of secrets, I can see them in your eyes. But we will help, I could refuse you not. Are we to fight? Go to battle again?”

Taylor shook her head. “No. Just help Aeden, but it will require… dedication.”

Kaz-ur curled his lip.“We are very dedicated to Aeden and Fusen-ra. Smudge looks well, has she found good hunting nearby your village?”

Smudge licked Kaz-ur’s hand, earning an involuntary shudder from the leader of the Aarden tribe. His own assigned Vaseth had returned to the forest after Aeden had destroyed the invaders. “You are lucky she is still with you.”

“She rarely leaves my side, except when I tell her to hunt. She makes a good companion, and she hasn’t scratched anyone even once.”

“When she eventually dies…” began Kaz-ur, tentatively.

“Uh… you want her for the honoured gateway?” asked Taylor.

Kaz-ur nodded slowly. “If it does not trouble you, it would be a great honour for our tribe. She fought bravely with us.”

“What about her ears?” Smudge gave Taylor a sharp look. Perhaps she understands a lot more than we think.

“Your decision, of course.”

“They stay on,” said Taylor, looking into Smudge’s soft brown eyes. The Vaseth sneezed. “It’s what she wants.”

Kaz-ur looked at Smudge, then Taylor. “As she wishes. But only when the time comes, which we hope is a long time from now.”

Smudge licked his hand again. “It is settled. These are important matters best discussed in advance.”

Taylor scratched Smudge behind her ears, which triggered a deep purring sound. “I am sorry to hear about Hap-sook. I really liked him.”

Kaz-ur bowed his head. “He was very old, older than most Aarden ever get. It was almost like he was waiting for something, perhaps it was you.”

Taylor blushed. “Ah, I don’t think so. I was just lucky to meet him.”

Kaz-ur inclined his head. “There is much in this world that is unexplained. It may be that he waited for you, perhaps not, but you are the spirit-mother, without a doubt. So I would like to believe this.”

Taylor bowed her head. “I am honoured.”

Kaz-ur put a furry claw on her shoulder. “The honour is ours, always. You are welcome anytime.”

Taylor looked Kaz-ur in the eyes. “So is he-?”

“On the honoured gateway? Yes. I cut the pole myself, a very long one, he has much honour. His head is held highest of all. I now lead the village, so I got to eat his heart.”

Taylor blinked. “Oh, so who gets to be the voice of the village?”

Samook smiled shyly. “I got the tongue. It is a great honour. I hope I will be able to live up to the task.”

“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” Taylor nodded at Samook.

“You talk well, you will teach well,” said Char, his cheeks yellow-green.

Kaz-ur looked at Samook appraisingly. “She is young, but has proven herself many times over. Six ears and more, well earned on her own. If I did not already have a mate…”

“Kaz-ur!” said Samook as she turned away. “I am too young.”

“Not for long, Samook. You must choose a mate wisely, and you will be ready soon. I only meant to say that if I had not already had a mate, that when the time came, I hope you would have considered me.”

Samook looked at the ground. “I am young and know little.”

“You helped save the world, more than most. Any male must prove his worth to be your mate. They will be barking at your feet. If you like, I can help with the selection.”

Samook looked up, tears in her eyes. “It would be a great honour.”

“The honour is mine,” said Kaz-ur.

Taylor watched the exchange with interest. “She deserves a good mate.”

Kaz-ur turned towards the central clearing and the fire pit. “Well, future mates and further details of secrets can wait. Now, I believe your Nak should be ready.  Did you want a whole one? Does your developing offspring require that much sustenance already? Kral was not specific on quantity.”

Taylor shook her head. “I can share with Samook, and anyone else who wants to. I’m not hungry enough to eat a horse just yet.”

Kaz-ur looked at Taylor. “What is a horse?”

Taylor looked at Samook, then back at Kaz-ur. “A horse is a big Earth mammal, about five or six times the size of a large Urlock, four legs, each with a single large hoof. Long, strong neck.”

Kaz-ur’s eyes opened wide. “And you would eat one of those by yourself? Your growing offspring must be very demanding.”

Taylor laughed. “No, it’s just an expression. I doubt I could ever eat a whole Nak at once.”

Kaz-ur nodded slowly. “Good, because that would be difficult to feed you if that were the case. It is good you come now, when you are not so hungry.”

Taylor smiled. “I’ll be fine. I’ll just have a single leg.”

Kaz-ur looked up at Char. “This must make you uncomfortable, all this talk of meat.”

Char shook his head. “It is… okay, I am getting used to it. In fact, I might have a small taste.”

Taylor looked at him, shocked. “No, Char. Really?”

Char looked at Taylor. “If one of the babies needs a little meat, and I must feed it, then I would not prevent the baby from eating. And if I am feeding the baby, I will get some on my fingers, which I must clean off. I would lick them, rather than make them dirty by wiping them on the grass, the baby should not eat dirt. I should get used to this so the baby is not afraid, in case I reacted badly.”

“Wow,” breathed Taylor. “You’d do that.”

Char nodded. “I would rather get over the discomfort now, if this is likely to be needed.”

“You are definitely getting some more tonight,” said Taylor. “You’d do that for the babies.”

Char nodded. “I will start with the drippings.”

“Then we had better get started,” said Taylor, nodding to Kaz-ur.

Kaz-ur started to lead them out of the enclosure, but Samook pulled on Taylor’s arm and whispered in her ear. “What is he getting tonight?”

Taylor shrugged. “He likes to play with my hair, a lot. I like it, of course, but he really enjoys it.”

“Oh,” frowned Samook. “I thought, seeing as you are mated…”

Taylor touched Samook’s forehead with her own. “So eager to be an adult. Your turn will come, very soon from what Kaz-ur said. But yes, probably that too. He’s been really nice to me today. He’s worried, but I think he’s going to be a great father.”

“That’s good,” grinned Samook. “Now, did you want a mid-leg or a hind leg?”

“Mid-leg please. I know you like the hind leg best. I’m not fussy, but I think the babies will enjoy me having some meat.”

“Babies? Not baby?” frowned Samook. “How do you know?”

Taylor looked at Samook in silence. Char had simply accepted her telling him there would be two babies, but Samook was more insightful.

Samook suddenly smiled. “But of course, Aeden gave you a dream to tell you.”

Taylor nodded quickly. “Of course. Twins, but that’s all I know.”

“Two mouths to feed. You will need a lot of Nak, in time.”

“Well, I know where the best roast Nak in town is, and I may become a regular visitor.”

Samook took Taylor’s hand in her hairy six fingered claw hand as they walked around the roaring fire. “You will always be welcome, no matter how much Nak you need to eat… or horse.”

Taylor smiled as she took a seat on the ground next to Char. He held a half-eaten fruit in one hand and nodded. “I am preparing myself.”

Taylor leaned against him, dragging her long braided hair across his lap. “I’m still amazed you would do this for the babies.”

Char nodded. “I will do what I must. I am ready now.”

Smudge lay on the dirt in front of Taylor. Samook gave her a whole Nak leg, which she began to chew noisily, bones cracking. Samook returned to the fire and came back carrying a steaming Nak leg for Taylor.

“Thanks, Samook.”

Taylor wiped her finger along the ripped edge of the meat and brought it up to Char’s mouth. “You’re sure about this.”

Char leaned forward and gently licked her finger. He gave a small shudder, but his colour stayed green. “A little more, please.”

Taylor took a bite of the Nak and returned her finger to his mouth.

By the time Taylor had finished off most of the Nak leg, Char had eaten one small strip of meat and held it down, in addition to licking Taylor’s finger numerous times.

“I am so proud of you,” sighed Taylor as she wrapped her right arm around him. “My brave Illiya.”

Char nodded and stroked Taylor’s hair. “It is for the babies.”

“You definitely get to play with my hair tonight. As much as you want.”

 

Fur and pillow

“I hope you don’t mind if I bring my furs this time,” said Samook as they walked to the flyer after dinner. Kaz-ur had already bid them good-night, as they had a long walk ahead. Both Aarden and Illiya could see well in the dark, but Aarden eyes were the sharpest. They would have no difficulty in navigating the paths along the river and through the forest, even though neither moon was out tonight. But it would be nearly a day and a half until they would arrive at the Illiyan village, hungry and ready for breakfast.

“That’s fine, Samook. I think the Illiya are used to many things Aarden at this point. The lab has been put back together and is ready for you. Empty, of course.”

Samook nodded. “That will be fine. You two need time alone. I overheard there may be much… braiding of hair tonight.”

“I am looking forward to it,” grinned Char as he sat down on the long bench that ran along the left side of the flyer and strapped in.

Samook went and sat in the copilot seat, then Taylor lowered herself into the pilot’s seat. Smudge sat in her normal position behind Taylor, breathing hot meaty breath on her neck. “Everybody ready?”

Samook and Char nodded. Taylor lifted up out of the enclosure into the deepening night sky and headed for home.


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