“WHOA!!” Meska had been groggy moments before, but the experience of teleporting was more than enough to wake her up. “DADDY! What happened?! Where’d Ana’s ‘partment go?!”
“It’s still exactly where it was, sweetie. We’re the ones who went somewhere.”
“You’re on my ship, Meska. I’d love to give you a tour, but we’re in a bit of a hurry.” Analas took heart at the wonder and excitement in Meska’s eyes, noting the total lack of fear as she squirmed to get down. As much as she hadn’t wanted to bring Finn along, his presence was more than likely the only reason she didn’t have to sedate Meska right now. “I put your things in the crew cabins since I don’t actually have a crew.”
Finn hugged his daughter tighter, startled by a sudden alarm-like beeping.
“There are ships approaching,” Analas gripped Finn’s elbow to drag him toward the bridge. “We need to get out of here.”
She all but ran down a corridor to the front of the ship and motioned to the copilot seat as she dropped into the helm. “There’s a jump seat behind yours, Finn. You’ll want to strap Meska in, and yourself.” Finn took the advice to heart since he was already quite dizzy from teleporting.
Analas had parked the ship on the dark side of the moon to avoid detection by Humans, but the Praski had found it and left its ship in a crater nearby. After a quick scan for life signs, Analas docked it to one of the hatches on her ship’s belly, then launched them on a heading away from Earth.
“Aren’t you afraid that the Praski’s ship will have a tracking device or something? That it’ll lead the others straight to us?”
“Assass – ” She caught herself, glancing at Meska to make sure the girl was too absorbed in her new surroundings to have noticed. “People who do what the Praski did,” she euphemized, “work alone, and I need the ship. I lost my shuttle on the way here and haven’t had a chance to replace it. I’ll trade the Praski’s ship along with some of the cargo when we get to Pafra. Ah, there they are!”
“The ships I detected while we were on your moon. See?” She pointed to the screen that displayed the readings from the ship’s scanners. “They were close enough to Earth that they saw us leave, but they’re just now catching up. There were three, but now there are only two. They must’ve squabbled over who got to follow us, and the third one lost. Lucky us, your solar system has a field of asteroids around it.”
“Lucky because it means we can do this!” She tapped away at the control panel to lay in a course, then held her breath as the other ships began to catch up.
“THIS.” She engaged the Faster-Than-Light drive as soon as she was sure she wouldn’t plow into one of the asteroids. The ship shot away into the black, arced sharply back toward the asteroid field, then came out of FTL out of the scanner ranges of their pursuers. Then she found a large asteroid to land on and shut down all the nonessential systems.
Finn, unable to read the scanners or understand the maneuver, looked at Analas as she sighed and relaxed into her seat. “So, what exactly was…THIS?”
“THIS,” she explained calmly, “was getting just out of range of their scanners, then riding an asteroid back into range so we can see if they’ve left or not. It’ll take several hours for us to get close enough to sweep the area, but if they’re still there, at least we’ll see them long before they see us.”
“If it works, sure. If it doesn’t…” She shrugged and spun in her seat, happy to finally be back on her ship. After so many years of searching for Viskally, it was more of a home than any building on Fril had ever been. “While we’re waiting, let me give you that tour.” Finn unstrapped himself and Meska, then followed Analas down the corridor back to the hold, a large open disk in the center of the ship. “There are three corridors off this end, and three off the other end. That one,” she pointed to her right, “leads to my quarters. This one opposite leads to the common areas.” She led them down the left corridor to a small lounge area then turned right into a galley kitchen and food storage area. “The emergency rations and fresh food are stored here, but most of our meals will come from the replication unit. The menu is visual, and I started adding Earth foods as soon as I realized that Meska was Viskally’s daughter.”
Meska screwed her face up in confusion. “Daddy, you said mom’s name was Ally.”
“She called herself Ally, sweetie, but apparently her full name was Viskally. Just like my full name is Griffin, but people call me Finn.”
“This corridor,” Analas said as they exited the other end of the kitchen, “leads back to the hold. The corridor on the other side leads to the medical bay and a storage room where I keep the robots.”
Meska snapped to attention. “Robots?! Can we play with them?”
“They’re not toys, sweetie,” Finn said. “They’re tools for keeping the ship running. Right, Ana?”
“Right,” Analas said, “but I can show you how to use them, Meska. We’ll take a few down to the hold and build something with them.” She winked at Finn as Meska’s face lit up, and he smiled for the first time since the park. “I’ll take you both to the medical bay later and show you how to operate the equipment, but first I’ll let you get settled.”
She led them down the aft central corridor to two cabins directly across from one another. “The engine room is through the door at the end, and there are a couple of androids who never leave it unless there’s an emergency or I ask them to help out here. I’ll tell them not to bother you, but I wanted you to know they were here in case you see them wandering around. These are your cabins. I’m not sure which container got put in which room, but I’m sure you can sort it out. The rooms are exactly the same: sonic showers, a desk and chair, and a bunk. Sorry they’re not more comfortable, but they were intended for the engine crew if one were hired. If the mattresses are too hard, I can use the big replicator in the hold to make new ones. Just let me know.”
“Wait…” Meska’s face crinkled as Finn opened one of the containers and she saw her clothes and toys inside it. “Daddy, aren’t we going home?”
“Meska, sweetie,” he said, kneeling in front of her, “I’m afraid this is going to have to be home for a while. Do you remember that lady at the park? The one in white?”
Meska nodded. “She was loud and kept saying words I’m not allowed to say.”
“Yes, her. Well, she tried to hurt us and Ana stopped her. That’s why we ran from the park. She’s not able to hurt us anymore, but there are others who still want to.”
Finn simply stared at her, helpless, unable to explain what he could barely understand himself.
Analas sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Meska toward her, pointing to the markings on her arm. “You know these pretty green spots you’ve been getting? Well, I have them too. You can’t see them right now for the same reason that yours went away for a long time, but they’re going to come back. The place where I’m from, everyone has green spots. Your mom had them, and so did everyone you’re related to, except for your daddy. Finn is Human, so he doesn’t have them.”
“You’re not Human?”
“No, I’m Fril. Soon you’ll see my spots starting to come back, and there’s more. Do you want to see something really neat?” Meska nodded and watched with big eyes as Analas unbuttoned her pants then stood to push them down onto her hips. With an arch of her back, her tail rose from the waistband and waved around as she enjoyed a moment of freedom from the confines of Human clothing. Meska was mesmerized by the tuft of curly, dark green hair at the tip. Finn, however, couldn’t tear his eyes away from the curve of her back.
“You have a TAIL?!?” Meska’s jaw was on the floor as she followed the tuft of fur with her eyes.
“Actually, sweetie,” Finn said, finally snapped from his reverie by Meska’s outburst, “you had one, too, when you were born.”
Meska turned toward him, still agape. “I had a TAIL?!”
“I thought I dreamed it, but it seems that it was real after all. Your mom gave you some sort of serum that made your tail and spots go away. It just recently began to wear off, and that’s why you have spots again.”
“So am I gonna grow a tail, too??” her expression could have been one of either terror or excitement, so Finn played it safe and hedged.
“We’re not sure. It’s possible, but…”
“If I grow a tail, will it have green hair like yours, Ana?” The ambiguity was gone now; all that remained was excitement. Growing a tail, it seemed, was Meska’s dream come true.
“I don’t think so,” Analas said, sitting again to get closer to Meska’s eye level. “You see, your hair is naturally golden like your mother’s. Mine is naturally green, like the tuft on my tail. I dyed the hair on my head so I wouldn’t stand out on Earth. I needed people to think I was Human, and Humans don’t have green hair.”
“Sure they do!” Meska rolled her eyes, giggling at Analas’s lack of worldliness. “The girl at the grocery store has green streaks in her hair, and my friend Jessie’s big sister dyed her hair green when she turned sixteen!”
“Don’t be a smart aleck,” Finn scolded. “You know green isn’t a natural hair color.”
“Sorry,” Meska said with a mischievous grin. “So I’m a Fril, but I’m also a Human?”
“Yes. We call them ‘hybrids.’”
“Like a labradoodle is a mix of a Labrador and a poodle?”
Finn burst out laughing and pulled her into a tight hug. “Yes, exactly.”
“Is that why people want to hurt us?”
A lump rose in Finn’s throat, but this time he was at least able to plead for help, catching Analas’s eye.
She gave him a small smile of reassurance. “You’re a special little girl, Meska. Your mom was a very special woman, and you’re extra special because you have two daddies.”
A frown wrinkled Meska’s brow and she looked questioningly at Finn. “You have a boyfriend?”
“No, sweetie, that’s not what she meant by two daddies. She meant that your mom…well, instead of a mommy and a daddy, sometimes special Fril babies have a mommy and two daddies. It turns out that you’re one of the special babies, but I didn’t know about your other daddy until earlier today. All this time I thought I was your only daddy.”
“Where’s my other daddy now? Are we going to meet him?”
“No, sweetie, he died before you were born.”
“Are we going to mommy, then?” Meska’s face lit up with hope. “Did you find her?”
Finn hated to crush the dream she’d cherished since the day she realized that a mommy was something other kids – something normal kids – had. “No, sweetie. Right now we’re just trying to stay safe from the people who want to hurt us.”
Meska screwed up her face, trying not to cry over the disappointing news. “I still don’t understand why they want to hurt us.”
“Your other daddy,” Analas explained, “was a very important person. He was the Friles. That’s like the emperor or king of the Fril system.”
“So my other daddy was a king? OH!!” Meska’s eyes flew open, the implication dawning on her. “Oh, does that make me a princess?! Am I a princess, Ana?”
“Yes, actually, you are.”
Meska’s chin dropped again, and she sank onto the floor. “Princess Meska…” she whispered at last. “I don’t mind having green spots if I get to grow a tail and be a princess!”
Finn laughed aloud at that, his tension finally easing. He rose to put her things away in the storage bays while Analas began unloading the menagerie on to the bed.
“Actually, Princess Meska,” she said, “your official title is Frileta Pata Meska. That means Meska, daughter of Friles Pata.”
“Frileta Pata Meska,” the little girl breathed, grinning. “What’s Pata mean?”
“That’s your other daddy’s name.”
“I wish I could have met him.” Meska sighed a wistful little sigh. “I wish I could meet mommy, too.”
“I think you might meet her someday,” Analas said, “if we can get you back to Fril.”
“How long is that going to take?”
“Quite a while, I’m afraid. We have to be careful to avoid those people who want to hurt you. Eventually, I want to get you to the priestesses for your education and training. They might actually know where your mother is, since she was one of them. At least they might have a good idea of where to start looking.” Analas placed the last stuffed animal and closed the cargo container to teleport it to the hold. When she turned around, Meska was curled up on the bunk with Benny bear and her favorite blanket. “You’re starting to droop,” Analas laughed. “After that nap you had at my apartment, I would have thought you’d be raring to go again!”
“I only slept a little bit,” Meska said into her bear. “I mostly just cried because I was scared.”
“I’m sorry you were scared, sweetie,” Finn said, stooping to kiss her on the forehead. “Are you scared now?”
“No, but I might get scared in the dark…”
“Well, then,” Analas declared, “we won’t let it get dark.” She tapped the control panel by the door until the lights were dim, but no scary shadows lurked in any corners. “If you need anything and your daddy doesn’t hear you call for him, just touch this blue button on the door panel, okay?”
“Okay.” Meska lay down in her nest of familiar animal friends.
Finn had thought for a brief moment about packing more of his own clothes instead of the menagerie, but clothes were much easier to replace than a child’s stuffed toys could ever be. Seeing her snuggled in with all of them just as though she was at home in her own bed, he knew he’d made the right choice. “Goodnight, sweetie.” He kissed her forehead again and received a sleepy peck on the cheek in return.
“Ana? Can I kiss you goodnight?” Analas stepped over to the bed and pressed her lips to Meska’s cheek as the little girl hugged her neck. A big, wet smooch on her own cheek made Analas grin as she went out into the corridor.
“That girl…” She said after Finn closed the door, shaking her head and touching her face where Meska had kissed it. “She’s not like any Fril child I’ve ever met.”
“That’s because she’s not a Fril child,” he laughed. “She’s been raised as a Human.”
“I’m glad I didn’t leave you behind.”
“Yeah, you’d have your hands full right now if I weren’t here.”
“Well, that too, but…” She shook her head, trying to make sense of her thoughts. “I’ve seen you with her so many times, but the two of you were always over there and I was over here. I wasn’t a part of it. I liked you, and I admired you so much; but I never really understood either of you. I don’t, even now. The way you interact is so different from how Fril parents and children interact. I enjoy getting to be a part of it.” She asked, almost shyly, “We worked well together in there, tag teaming the difficult bits, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did!” He suddenly realized that she was closer than she’d ever been, aside from the night he discovered that she was keeping a file on Meska. Perhaps she’d only moved in close so she could speak quietly and still be heard, but he was enjoying it for far less practical reasons. The memory of the kiss she planted on him that night had tormented him when he’d been certain that he could never trust her again. Now it seemed she was the only person in the galaxy that he could trust.
Her eyes had always intrigued him, changing from one shade to another depending on the color of her clothes and the lighting in the room. Standing so close, he could see the flecks of bright green that seemed to sparkle in the dim lighting of the corridor. “I guess we get to have that dinner, after all.”
She lowered her eyelids and looked away, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth sooner, but I had no way of knowing how you would react. Even if you hadn’t found out I was spying on you, I probably wouldn’t have come to dinner. I was afraid of getting too close to you. I was afraid I’d let something slip, or you’d figure out I wasn’t Human.”
“Well, the only thing that doesn’t look Human about you at the moment is your tail, and I wouldn’t have seen that unless…” Her eyes caught his again, and his breath stopped.
“Unless…” She was even closer now, so close he could feel her breath on his skin. He didn’t know if she’d moved closer, or if he had, or if they had both drifted toward one another unconsciously. But here they were, and she wanted him to kiss her because she couldn’t be the one to make that move…not after that awful night and the long weeks of mistrust. Dense as he was about picking up on such things, he could tell that she wanted him. It was his move; all he had to do was make it. His lips just barely touched hers, then his hands were in her hair. Moments later they were on his bunk with a trail of clothes between it and the door.
Exploring her body made him feel even more naïve than he had as a virginal teenager fumbling with his first girlfriend’s bra clasp. At least then he’d had the advantage of a basic knowledge of biology and his older cousin’s stash of porn magazines to help him out, but he had no such leg up on female Fril anatomy.
What had started out as a passionate tumble quickly devolved into an awkward stumble as they negotiated alien terrain. She had assured him just a couple hours before that Human and Fril females were similar enough for mating purposes, but it quickly became apparent that they were different enough that Viskally had faked every gasp and sigh in their brief encounter. Eventually, with much guidance and patience on both their parts, Finn and Analas lost their hesitation and found themselves happily back in the passionate tumble where they’d begun.