Less than a year before, Analas would have laughed at the possibility of explaining her life and world to a Human. But after Finn discovered her files on his daughter, it had taken every bit of self-restraint she possessed to keep him in the dark. Every day since that encounter, she’d wanted to tell Finn everything. Every day, she’d had to remind herself why she couldn’t. He wouldn’t believe her. He wouldn’t understand. He would think she was crazy, and he certainly wouldn’t forgive her.
Now she sat on her couch, waiting for him to return from putting Meska to bed, still struggling to decide what to do now that the danger was real and imminent. When he dropped onto the opposite end of the couch, she read the fear, confusion, and barely controlled panic written on his face. Running out of time and the will to keep holding back the truth, her explanation exploded from her lips like a lake bursting through a weakened dam.
“In the language of my people, ‘Meska’ means ‘promise’. Viskally, who you knew as Ally, was the high priestess of one of our sacred orders. She had an affair with the Friles – I suppose you would call him an emperor in your language. The relationship between Friles Pata and Viskally bore a lot of similarities to the story in a prophecy thousands of years old. The prophecy foretold that the couple’s child would remake the Empire in a new image, wiping out the corrupt and unjust with her rule. No one thought much of this prophecy. In fact, it had been all but lost to history. Then one of Friles Pata’s rivals began speaking of it, suggesting that if the two of them were allowed to bear a child together, it could bring an end to all the freedoms he and the rest of the elite class had been enjoying for so long. He led a coup to unseat Friles Pata, to kill both him and Viskally. They fled together and lived in hiding for seventeen cycles – about twenty of your years – while Friles Patas’ rivals tore the Empire apart with coups and territorial wars.
“I had been on the hunt for them all that time. At first, I was part of one of the rival factions. I’d set out to kill them in order to give my party a more legitimate claim to rule. But as I watched the destruction and tyranny spin out of control around me, I became convinced that we’d made a horrible mistake. I began to believe that if they did have a child, perhaps it could be the savior of our people. I kept my conversion to myself so I wouldn’t lose the protection of my faction while I continued my search, but by the time I found them it was too late. Friles Pata was dead and his safe house had been burned to the ground. There was a female body which I believed at first to be Viskally, but when I tested the remains I found that she was a servant. I eventually picked up and followed Viskally’s trail to Earth…to you. I don’t know where she went next – but frankly, I don’t need her. I only need the child. The Meska. She’s the daughter of Friles Pata and the High Priestess Viskally, and I believe she will be the savior of our people.”
Finn sat quietly for some time soaking all of this in. “Meska is my daughter,” he said at last. “The tests proved she was mine.”
“Meska does carry your DNA, but she also carries Friles Pata’s genetic material.”
Finn blinked at her in quiet incomprehension.
“Reproduction among my people is more complicated than among yours. For you, one egg and one sperm combine and, as long as it attaches to the womb properly, there’s a good chance that a viable infant will result. Right?”
He nodded, trying to force himself to continue breathing.
“Our males produce two different types of genetic material. If one type joins with the female egg without the second type, a proto-zygote forms and must be fertilized with the second type of genetic material within a few weeks. If it’s not, it will be reabsorbed by the female body. Viskally must have known that she carried a proto-zygote, so she found a compatible species with which she could finish the fertilization process.”
“Finish the fertilization process. You mean she found someone – she found me – to screw. That’s it?” Finn scoffed, “Voila? Alien hybrid baby?”
Relieved to hear him sounding slightly less shell-shocked, she allowed herself a small chuckle. “It certainly wasn’t that easy! She would’ve collected your sperm, then taken it back to her ship to analyze and alter before delivering it to the proto-zygote. Your species is very much like ours in some fundamental ways, but the wrong combination of our genes would cause fatal abnormalities. I think she must have collected samples from several Human males, selected the sperm that carried compatible material, and delivered them to the proto-zygote for the final insemination. Yours just happened to be the one that actually made the bond.”
“Several males?” It was bad enough that he might only be one of Meska’s fathers, but to know that Ally hadn’t even selected him specially…
“I assume so, yes. That’s what I would have done, in her place. She was desperate to make sure Meska was born, and she was running out of time.”
“She did provide the condom,” he mumbled, lost again in the memory of that night. Then an even worse realization hit him. “Oh god, was I even…I mean, your anatomy must be different, right?”
“Don’t worry, we’re not that different.” She found herself getting embarrassed, now that the conversation was moving into less clinical territory. As she had grown to like Finn, she had grown to dislike even considering the physical nature of his relationship with the high priestess. But there was no way to avoid the topic now. “Same basic functional setup, similar placement.”
“That’s hard to believe! The odds against it – ” Finn gazed blankly past Analas for a moment, doing the calculations out of habit, before shaking his head to clear it. “I would have noticed, I think, if there had been light and actual nudity. But we were in my car with nothing but a streetlamp half a block away. Ally looked Human. You look Human.”
“Viskally and I manipulated our genetic codes with a serum. I only suppressed my spots, but she would have needed to suppress her tail, too.”
Finn sat bolt upright then leaned in to look Analas in the eyes. “You have a tail?!”
Unnerved by his intensity, she reared back away from him. “Yes…?”
“You have a tail – right now – under your clothes?”
“Yes, I do. Viskally wouldn’t have had one while you knew her, though. She would have adjusted the serum to get rid of hers to pass as Human under…closer scrutiny.” She cleared her throat and looked away, embarrassed. “Living with you, giving birth in a hospital…her tail would have been even more of a giveaway than her spots.”
“SHIT.” Finn collapsed back against the sofa and gazed at the wall. When he turned to Analas again, his eyes were red with unshed tears. “Meska had a tail when she was born,” he said roughly, “and green spots. I thought I dreamed it.”
“You didn’t,” Analas assured him. “Viskally wouldn’t have been able to give her the gene-suppression serum until after she was born.”
“She must have injected her with it while I was asleep. But,” he questioned, “why am I the only one who remembers it? The doctors and nurses never said a word! Why didn’t they remember it? Why didn’t they see that her anatomy was different? I mean, they got a hell of a lot better view than I ever did, so they should have noticed! And I know I’d sure as hell remember delivering a green-spotted baby with a – ”
“Trati,” she explained, cutting off his tirade. “It’s one of our basic pain medications, but it makes Humans susceptible to suggestion and inhibits the formation of memories.”
“How could she have known it would work that way on us?”
“Your species has been under observation by the rest of the galaxy since you discovered atomic energy. Alien scientists have been living and working on Earth for nearly a century, studying you much like your biologists study animals in the wild.”
Finn paled at the revelation. “I don’t want to know what kinds of things they’ve done to us in the name of science, do I?”
“Don’t worry about that,” she said with a frown. “Our methods can’t possibly be more barbaric or torturous than what Humans do to one another in the name of religion or greed, much less scientific advancement. But thanks to our research, when your people find their way out into the wider galactic community, they’ll stand a much better chance of thriving in it.”
“Perhaps.” Finn shrank from her criticism, then rallied his outrage. “But, apparently, that research has also been used against me!”
“True. Viskally must have given trati to the staff, altered her medical records, and destroyed any physical evidence of her genetic makeup before leaving the hospital. I found her records, and they indicated nothing but a normal, healthy birth and a timely discharge from care. You were treated with trati, too, but she must have given you a smaller dose so you wouldn’t forget the birth entirely. Instead of totally suppressing the memory, it made you think it was a dream.” She studied his preoccupied face and wished she could give him the time he needed to understand all that had happened. Unfortunately, the woman in white had been the first of many who would come to Earth looking for them. Meska was in more danger now than ever. “Do you believe me, Finn?”
“The things you’re telling me,” he laughed with resignation, “they explain everything that’s mystified me for five fucking years. I run statistical analyses for a living, and I can’t even wrap my mind around the odds! But the thing about statistics is that nothing is technically impossible. This is improbable as any fucking thing I’ve ever heard or seen or imagined, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” He shook his head and took a deep breath, trying to reconcile himself to this new reality. “The woman-creature in white? What was she?”
“She wasn’t a ‘she.’ She was an ‘it.’ The Praski have no gender, apparently. I’ve never seen one in its native form. No one has, as far as I know. They don’t allow outsiders onto their world, and they’d rather destroy their own ships than allow anyone to board them.”
“Its native form?”
“They’re chameleons, of a sort. They’re able to take on almost every aspect of nearly any sentient being.”
“By ‘almost every aspect’ I guess you mean ‘everything but the eyes,’ huh? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget those black orbs!” He shuddered at the memory. “But that means the person it was pretending to be…?”
“She exists, somewhere, with the same personality as you encountered. Praski have a flair for the dramatic, and that woman’s pushy nosiness was an effective way to interrogate you. Normally it would become someone you already know and trust. Maybe it tried that before, but it didn’t get results quickly enough. They can’t stay in another form indefinitely. It takes too much energy.”
“Energy. That’s why she – why it,” he corrected himself, “was eating candy the whole time we talked?”
Analas nodded. “I’d run into it before, here on Earth back when I first came looking for Viskally. It left months ago. Something must have led it back here, though, and that worries me. I’m just glad that it wasn’t able to confirm Meska’s identity until now.”
“I don’t understand why it hesitated. Or you, for that matter! Meska has green spots, for crying out loud. How could she be anything other than Viskally’s daughter? You know that Viskally was here on Earth, and you know that she was in my apartment – ”
“I know these things, yes,” she interrupted, “but I’ve done my best to erase all traces of her visit since my arrival. I had to in order to throw the Praski and the rest of Viskally’s hunters off the trail. But even knowing that Viskally had been here, there was a chance that Meska’s spots were nothing more than a coincidence. At her current state of regeneration, they don’t look like Fril markings at all. Hers are hardly more than large freckles, while most Fril are partially covered in large, dark, complicated patterns. Her name was much more evidence, to me, than those tiny green specks you’ve been so worried about!”
He blushed at her dismissive tone. “You talk about them like they’re no big deal, but I’ve been worried sick for the past three months that she had some horrible new deadly disease!”
“Exactly,” Analas sighed. “Our scientists have been studying your species for a century, and we don’t know all of your diseases. Hell, your own scientists don’t even know all of your diseases! For all I or the Praski knew, Meska was a Human child with a Human disease that just happened to have green spots as a symptom. That Praski was an assassin working for the faction I was allied with. It was good at the job, and part of being good at the job is making sure that you kill the right target. It would have wanted to be certain before making its move.”
His stomach turned at the blunt use of words he’d so far managed to avoid thinking. “It really was trying to kill her, then.”
“Yes, Finn, it was. And it probably would have killed you, too, just to tie up loose ends.”
“So, you killed it.” He closed his eyes for a moment, the image of Analas’s fists destroying the woman-creature playing out in gory detail. He knew he should thank her for that, but he couldn’t find the words just now. “What did you do with the body?”
Analas pulled the Praski’s small silver weapon out of her pocket. “Vaporized it, just like that poor squirrel.”
A wave of relief swept over Finn, though he knew it was illogical. I wasn’t as though he might have gotten into trouble for letting a literal alien be killed in his daughter’s favorite park. “What do we do now?”
“I have to take Meska back to Fril and give her into the care of the priestesses. They can protect her far better than you or I can, and they can provide the education she needs to be our Frilex.”
“Frilex…what is that, like…empress? Shit.” Finn shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that idea! When do we leave?”
“We?” Analas’s brows knitted with confusion. “Finn, your job is done now. You got Meska this far. I’ll take her to the Priestesses.”
“The hell you will!”
Surprised by his vehemence, she scooted away from him.
“Meska is my daughter, even if I’m only her…her half-father! I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and let you take her away from me!”
“If I’m going to get Meska back to Fril safely, I need to draw as little attention as possible. Travelling with a hybrid child will be dangerous enough, but a Human…”
“Well, too bad, because you either take me with you, or you kill me. She’s a little girl, Analas! Human or…Frillian, or what the hell ever you call yourselves…Human or not, she’s a child! She’ll be terrified!”
“She won’t be terrified, Finn! I’ll have to put her in stasis to keep her life signs from registering on the patrol sweeps. She won’t even experience most of the trip, much less be afraid!”
“And when she wakes up in a strange place, surrounded by people she doesn’t know?” Realizing he was beginning to shout, he lowered his voice to a hissing whisper. “What are you going to tell her when she asks for me? She’s smart, so she’ll figure out pretty quickly that she’s one of the people with green spots, but if she’s gonna grow a damned tail…” He threw his hands up in frustration. “Fuck, Ana! I can’t let her go through all of that alone!”
“I thought…” Analas ran her fingers through her dark curls, exasperated. “I thought that once you knew about Friles Pata, that he’s her real father – ”
“He’s only her half-father!” He folded his arms tightly across his chest, sullenly sinking back into the sofa. “And he’s dead!”
“All this time on your planet and I still don’t understand your attitudes about parenting.” She tried looking him in the eye, but the desperate anger radiating from him forced her to avert her gaze. “The Fril – that’s what we call ourselves, by the way – we don’t view our children the way you do. We love and care for them, of course, but…you’re really that attached to Meska?”
“You would literally have to kill me to keep me from going with you.”
Analas considered her options, knowing well that the clock was ticking. Other bounty hunters and assassins likely picked up the same lead the Praski had, and were headed this way. For all she knew, they were here already. “I would have to put you into stasis when we get close to Fril territory, the same as her. I can’t go back until the serum I took wears off, and we can’t stay on Earth. We’ll have to find somewhere to hide while my spots grow back. It’ll be just the three of us on my little ship. You’ll get bored and claustrophobic and homesick – ”
“You’re not going to talk me out of this, Ana. What should I pack?”
Analas pressed her lips together in consternation. “One cargo container each is all I can spare for you. I was passing myself off as a trader on my way here, and I need to be able to keep up that ruse if the ship is searched. We’ll go to Pafra first and trade my cargo for a new load, and maybe make another trading stop or two. Then we’ll find a nice gas giant with lots of moons and settle in.” She rose and went to tap a series of commands into the control panel. “The containers are in your living room. I think you should leave Meska here with me; it’s safer since I have better security.”
Finn rose and started toward the door, but stopped as she reached to shut off the force shield. “You won’t leave without me, will you? I mean…you’re not just sending me to pack to get rid of me?”
A muscle in her jaw twitched and her hand dropped to her side. That was exactly why she was sending him to pack. Once he was out of the apartment, she’d planned to get Meska and teleport to her ship. There wasn’t a damned thing he could’ve done about it, and taking him with them would only serve to get him killed. She was absolutely certain of that.
She didn’t want him to die. She liked him. She had begun to wonder if she loved him a little bit, but their relationship was so lopsided. She only knew him so well because she had been spying on him for months. Now she had to take him with her into certain danger or kill him to keep him from going, but it was the same difference either way. He would die at her hands here on Earth, or he would die because she couldn’t protect him well enough out in the black. Kidnapping Meska would keep him safe, but at his great and painful cost. His anger and mistrustfulness had been painful enough the last few weeks. How could she ever live with the knowledge that he actually hated her?
“Go pack, Finn.”
She dropped the shield and he checked the hall for strangers before rushing across to his door, shutting it behind him as the cargo containers – the containers she’d supposedly transported several minutes before – finally materialized in his living room. She’d lied. She had been planning to leave him, after all, and the proof of it stopped his heart for a moment. But the containers were there, now, so he allowed himself to hope that she really might have changed her mind.
They were huge compared to his suitcases, so he was able to fit all of Meska’s little clothes and shoes in one and most of his in the other. His laptop and tablet, her books, a few mementoes, and Meska’s stuffed menagerie were all the rest that would fit. He latched the lids and ran to knock on Analas’s door, his heart in his throat. He almost sobbed with relief when she opened it.
“Thank you!” He hugged her impulsively once he was safely inside. “Thank you for not leaving me behind!”
Analas pressed her cheek to his, savoring the affection for a brief moment. Then he launched himself toward the bedroom to collect Meska, and she turned back to the control panel to transport their cargo. Taking one last circuit around the apartment, she collected the tech that couldn’t be left behind. As Finn came out of the bedroom carrying a sleepy Meska, wrapped in her blanket and clutching her Benny bear, the pile of equipment disappeared from the apartment floor. “This might make you a little dizzy the first time,” she said as she gathered them onto the base of the console. With the press of a button, the world dissolved and all three of them, along with the console, appeared next to the pile of equipment in a large, metallic room that hummed ever so slightly.