hares-recovery

New Year’s Eve, Part 1

Tari laid quietly in the grass, watching the wispy clouds drifting through the sky. A rice-paper scroll lay before her, fine calligraphy glistening with fresh ink in the morning’s light. Twelve of the Conclave’s stamps adorned it. Only Toshiyuki’s was absent, having abstained from the final decision.

“You must have pulled some strings to not let them back-burner me for months. I’m a little surprised it’s already here in front of me.”

“A few. It is still not precisely what I recommended,” the silver fox spoke, kneeling down beside his great-granddaughter. “However. Were it anyone else, I too would have signed this ruling believing the punishment justified and well-balanced. A great deal of indecision was resolved in these last two days regarding what to do with you. The majority thought my recommendation too insubstantial to actually convey any deterrence toward this behavior in the future. Four believed it adequate. One felt you should be given a minimal sentence. A short period of banishment, the loss of one tail.”

“Who was that?”

“The individual opinions will remain private unless they choose to break their own silence. All you are allowed to know is that this is the resolution of the Conclave’s deliberation. It is now your option to accept this revised judgement or stand before everyone and argue your point further.”

Tari lifted the scroll from the ground, giving it another read-through. It wasn’t much of a compromise, but it was a more favorable arrangement than the alternatives she’d already been offered. “Do you believe I could do better than this?”

“No. You could, however, make it far worse. One of the most vocal towards severe sanctions suggested that you not only lose access to your kitsune form, but your chosen human appearance as well.”

“Oh? Where would that leave me, back in my birth appearance? Or running around native for the next long while?”

“Not quite. A single-celled organism floating in a jar on someone’s lab shelf would find itself unlikely to be in a position to further overstep kitsune law for many years to come.”

“Okay, we’ll just be thankful it didn’t come to that.” Tari bit her finger and drew out in blood the kanji glyphs of her true name. The calligraphy outlining her punishment glowed a fiery orange as she finished, consuming her delicately traced symbols and leaving the space she’d just written in, blank.

Tari looked at her hands expectantly. “Nothing happened…?”

“Your sentence will be executed as you return to the mortal realm.”

“I see. When do I have to leave?”

“Immediately.” Toshiyuki helped her to her feet. “I regret that we did not have the opportunity to know one another as family when you first arrived here, so many years ago.”

“It’s not your fault.” Gazing at the cherry blossoms, Tari let out a little sigh. “I hated what I was becoming so much that I never cared to ask. The worst part about this is that I’ll probably never see you again. It could be a hundred years before I’m allowed to return. You’ll almost certainly be gone by then.”

“Do not worry yourself. I expect that our paths will yet cross again, great-granddaughter.”

“Do I detect a hint of clairvoyance?”

“Merely intuition.” The elder fox pointed at the torii outside his home with his paper fan; the space within the arch shimmered as a shadowy portal blossomed. “May Inari watch over you, my granddaughter’s daughter.”

“And you as well, great-grandfather.” They exchanged bows; Tari clutched the scroll in her hand and strode through the portal, hesitating only briefly before entering the threshold.

Under normal passage, the portals were as doorways - stepping through one took no more effort or time than walking through any other door. The paper in her hand changed everything. The passage held her in the space between the two realities, giving the scroll’s enchantment time to do its work.

Every kanji glyph lifted free of the page and swirled about her weightless form, the paper falling to ash as the symbols burnt themselves into her flesh. First one, then another of her tails dissolved, their long pent-up energy flowing into a brightly glowing point before her. The majority of her remaining energy reserves quickly followed, leaving only a mere human hanging in the darkness, sobbing quietly to herself.

The light before her faded, a small and radiant emerald descending from the glow into her open hands. Wrapping her fingers tightly around the green stone, she clutched it to her chest, feeling the last flickers of her gifts fade from her senses.

And then, the portal unceremoniously ejected her.


“I feel so out of place.” Lenard looked out over the crowd with apprehension. “What am I actually doing here?”

“Can I offer you some advice?” Traize whispered quietly, her arm looped through his as they walked the red carpet away from the limo that had dropped them off. Flashbulbs assaulted their vision as the clatter of firing shutters cascaded all along the velvet ropes. “You were invited to this shindig. You’re supposed to be here. Try and look as though you believe that. The photos in the papers back home will look better.”

“Nn…” he grunted, squinting as a flash went off inches from his face. “Would Tari really have wanted to come to this?”

“Oh, I doubt this would have scared her off. She’d make half the cameras overexpose and the other half somehow eat the memory cards. Was way easier with film… Although, a short in just the right place…”

“You don’t seem to be as into doing that sort of thing. I’ve at least never noticed you doing it.”

“I’ve grown out of it.”

“Somehow, I doubt that the temptation is gone.”

“Me? Tempted? Hm. Well, I’ll be good.” Traize smirked, kissing his cheek. “On all fronts.”

“Thanks. I fear less for my person.”

“I said nothing about your rear, though… Rrr, if only I didn’t respect Tari so much. Oh, and you. I respect you, too. A little.”

Lenard shook his head, a smile finally breaking through as he adjusted his tie. “Is that why you wore that little number?” he queried, gesturing to her formal wear. Cherry blossom embroidery covered the knee-length deep blue dress, fine and detailed work done in shining golden thread. If one stared long enough - and doing so was very difficult to avoid - the blossoms fluttered in an unseen breeze. So it looked, at least.

“I rarely get the occasion to wear nice things in public. It’s not only to get to you.”

They paused at the door, waiting as the group in front of them presented their invitations. “That’s… Chinese in design, isn’t it?” he queried.

“Good eye! A feline friend sent it to me as a birthday gift. My… hm. Two-fiftieth, I think it was… Or was it the big three-oh-oh…? Damn, I must be getting old. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a lovely dress.”

“Pro attempt at a parry. I’ll let it slide.”

“Thanks.” Lenard raised an eyebrow. “Wait, a cat?

“Told you once before that there’s more than just us.”

“Your invitation, please?” The gentleman at the door took the document and Lenard’s ID card, nodding slightly and scanning them into a computer terminal. “And your guest’s name, Mister Evanson?”

“Tr-“

“Chinatsu Chikako, desu,” Traize replied, cutting Lenard off.

“Anata wa eigo o hanashimasu ka?”

“Yes, I do speak English… Perhaps slightly better than you speak Japanese, mm? Do you need my ID as well, sir?”

“If I may, ma’am.” The sentry swiped her identification card through a scanner and returned it. “Thank you. Enjoy your evening, Miss Chinatsu, Mister Evanson.”

“I do believe we shall.” Traize peered at Lenard sidelong as they continued into the building, her ID disappearing into a small purse. “What’s that look?”

“What was all that just now?”

“Oh, right. I don’t think we ever actually told you. My legal name in the States is currently ‘Chikako Chinatsu.’ You can introduce me as Miss Chinatsu, but in conversation you can address me as Chikako or, rather less formally, Chi-Chi. It won’t be terrible if you slip and call me Traize but please try not to.”

“Okay, I can remember that. Is there a reason you don’t use your real -“

“The meaning you place into ‘real name’ is key. ‘Traize’ is just what family and friends know me as. A discussion for another time and place, though.”

The pair rounded a corner, stepping into a large banquet hall. Several hundred attendees had already taken to their seats; a few stood together in random clusters, chatting and laughing. A far wider variety of people had been invited to the event than had been immediately apparent - noted journalists, educators, and scientists of various disciplines from all across the world were bumping elbows. Even more surprising was the presence of many recognizable Ares I and II crewmembers - most of whom should still have been on Mars.

Lenard looked at Traize, finding her also surveying the crowd. “No aliens yet…” she whispered. “Lots of other folks that shouldn’t be, though.”

“Hitchhiked, maybe.”

“Probably. And then we have the little psychological things. Seating for eight per table, and all the tables are round.”

“Which does what?”

“Eight’s a small enough number to still feel a little personable, yet not so big that you feel like you’re standing in front of all these hundreds. A round table has no ‘head’ position. Everyone sits down as an equal.”

“So they’re trying to do a little bit of one-on-one without it seeming like either side is in charge.”

“Make us feel like equals in our own home. Maybe we’re the ones trying to make them feel welcome? Hm. Wonder which side organized this. Bet both did.” Traize nudged his shoulder gently. “So, where’s ours? I want to play footsie before they get started.”

“The invitation says it’s somewhere over in the nosebleed section. Uh, section twelve…”

“Excuse me, sir, ma’am. Have you been shown… Lenny?”

Lenard glanced up from his invitation. “Jo? What are you doing here?”

“Duh? Working, of course. How’d you wind up here?”

“I’ve been asking myself that since the limo ride,” he muttered, showing his sister the invitation. “Don’t know who recommended I get an invite for this. Was it you?”

“No, we weren’t allowed. I did think of you on my way in, then again during the security briefing when they pulled your name…” Jolene looked up from the invitation. “I shouldn’t even ask, but… Where’s Tari?”

“She couldn’t make it.” Lenard swallowed, looking at Traize. “This is a friend of ours, Chikako Chinatsu. Chikako, this is my sister, Jolene Wolf… UN Security, right?”

“Nice to meet you,” Traize spoke, shaking hands with Jolene.

“Likewise.” Jolene handed back his invitation. “We’ve actually been waiting for you, believe it or not. There’s been a slight adjustment in your seating arrangements. Come with me, please?”

The young woman led them through the maze, finally stopping beside a table near the very front of the room. Directly before them was a raised section of flooring with an oak podium; behind that, huge glass doors overlooked the Capitol for the width of the hall. Individual balconies lay just outside each pair, promising a perfect view of the New Year’s fireworks display. A silk banner with the Commonwealth’s logo hung behind the podium, draped beside the flags of the UN and the United States.

“Here we are - section one, table one. There should be a placecard for your seats… Yes, here. Mister Lenard Evanson and Guest.”

“Thank you very much,” Traize offered.

“Mm.” Jolene gave her a once over before eyeballing her brother. “A friend, eh?”

“Uh… Yeah. Listen -“

“We can talk later. Right now, I’m still on duty. Just answer me this, ma’am - are you the sister Tari told me about?”

Traize blinked in surprise, nodding her head. “I suppose I am.”

“I see. Enjoy the evening, Mister Evanson, Miss Chinatsu.” Jolene nodded to them, moving off through the sea of tables. Lenard took a few seconds to glance around at the other placecards, slowly taking to his own seat as the names sank in.

“Oh my god,” he whispered. “Cordelia Maxwell? Marie Lawrence?”

“The Ares II commander and the Secretary-General? Classy. Who else?”

Lenard blinked at Traize’s calm acceptance. “That doesn’t phase you? At all?”

“I’ve sat down to dinner with many a world leader. They’re people, like you and I, just with a lot more responsibility on their shoulders. Like I said: If you feel like you deserve to be here, you’ll do a lot better for yourself. So, who else?”

“I’m not sure. The other four placecards just say ‘Commonwealth Delegation.’”

“Well, logic would dictate that since we’re with two human VIPs, the aliens would likely be other VIPs. We’ll know soon enough.”


The first thing she noticed upon regaining consciousness was that it was very dark.

Everything ached. The worst was the dull throb in her head where she’d bounced off something solid before blacking out, more than likely the floor. The portal had opened in midair, letting her scream in a distinctly un-ladylike fashion as she helplessly plummeted through open air.

And that air was downright cold! Her summoned kimono had ceased to exist with the departure of her gifts, leaving her not simply stranded in a strange, cold, and dark place, but also naked in a strange, cold, and dark place. The smells were off - it wasn’t Traize’s house, nor Lenard’s dorm. If anything, to her now very human nose, the air smelled…

Recycled?

“No way… Aerin, lights?”

Obediently, the computer raised the lighting. She found she was sitting on the floor in Jadyn’s room. One wall held a tapestry of the Eight, another a small desk. The bed was right beside her - had she fallen three feet further right, she’d have landed on it.

Had Toshiyuki sent her here on purpose, or had she done it herself by accident? There was no choice but to leave the Celestial Courts, but she wasn’t ready to talk to Traize nor Lenard. Not that this was much better.

“Don’t you know how to knock?”

Tari turned her head, finding T’bia standing at the door wearing a smirk. The skunk took a look at the ceiling before moving into the room.

“So, you’re traveling around by spatial rift these days. That’s cheating, you know.”

“It wasn’t by choice. I hate to complain, but… Could you warm it up in here a little?”

T’bia’s eyebrow arched, even as heat crept into the circulating air. “The first time you were here I nearly had to treat you for heatstroke. Now, I’m preventing hypothermia. Why not just put on the fur coat instead of making me tweak life support?”

“I can’t.” Tari eased to her feet, leaning on the edge of the bed for support. “How hard did I hit? Head’s still throbbing…”

“Do we need to take a trip to medical?”

“I’ll be all right.” Realizing her hand was still clenched into a fist, Tari forced her fingers to uncurl and peered upon the emerald laying in her palm. “In a few decades… I’ll be all right.”

“Here.”

“Hm?” She looked up to find the skunk holding a steaming mug of tea in one hand, and a thick terrycloth robe in the other. “Oh… Thank you.”

“You still look cold, is all.” T’bia grinned as Tari pulled the robe over her shoulders and cinched it shut. “I take it by the way you’re dressed that you’re not here for the party. At least, not the one we’re throwing dirtside.”

“No. Hell, I don’t even know why I wound up here.”

“What happened?”

Tari bit her lower lip. “I’ve been dating this guy for a few months…”

“Jo’s brother.”

“Yeah. My people found out and weren’t happy about it. I’ve been sentenced to a human existence for a time as punishment.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. So am I. I mean, I do care about Len - there’s just no contest, I won’t give him up just to alleviate some personal discomfort. But… This still sucks. He was really just getting used to me being kitsune and now I’m just a plain, mundane, powerless human.”

“Just like him and billions of others. How long is this going to last?”

“I’m effectively human for as long as he lives.”

“Just a little disagreement, then.”

“A large one and I’d be an amoeba right now.”

“Can’t beat the single-celled daily checklist - eat, excrete, and multiply. Bet you’d have lovely pseudopods.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“That does stink, though… Do you have any idea how much time I spent on the full backstory describing the rise and fall of the Kitsunati homeworld of ‘Ayndran’ and the subsequent spreading of the survivors through the galaxy? It was smashed into by a large asteroid, if you’re curious.”

“Cute.”

“That’s not even the pinnacle of achievement. ‘Ayndra,’ no trailing ‘an’ sound, is Val’Traxan for ‘soil.’”

“Dirt…? No.” Tari shook her head, grinning slightly. “Earth. Nice touch.”

“I know, right? And now it’s all for naught. What a waste of four hours.” T’bia tsk’d to herself. “Well… I’ve got the perfect idea. It’s a holiday, and there’s a big party you should attend to take your mind off of things for the evening.”

“I’m really not in the mood, Bee. I’d rather just sit in a corner and brood.”

“You sure?” Leaning over, the skunk reached under Jadyn’s bed and drew out a package. “Someone else thought you needed a night off, too. They spent way more than four hours to prep their contribution.”

“What’s this?”

“A very nice dress. As the unofficial mail screener, I peeked inside with a scanner to find out what it was when it showed up yesterday. You may be pleased to know it’s neither explosive, toxic, nor a life form.”

“Why’s it in here?”

“Jay hasn’t changed since he was old enough to clean his own room. The only place I knew he wouldn’t accidently find it is under his bed. You know, since I wasn’t supposed to tell him we ran into each other and all.”

The parcel had been sent by one Toshiyuki Sato in Japan to the Commonwealth Embassy, care of Commander T’bia Halio for Tarioshi Kitanaka. The postmark dated from two full weeks before the Conclave had first ordered her powers sealed. A multitude of other postmarks indicated it had been lost in transit several times before finally making it to the Embassy’s doorstep.

Folded neatly inside the box was an exquisite silk sheath dress, teal green and delicately embroidered with leaves of fine silver thread. The craftsmanship was far above and beyond even a kitsune’s normal attention to detail; a great deal of time and effort had been devoted into its handcrafting. A pair of matching low-rise heels lay beneath the dress in the box, sized perfectly for her human feet. Upon shedding the robe and sliding into the dress, she discovered that it too had been crafted to exactly fit her human body. Someone had clearly known what form she’d be using - or, perhaps, stuck in - while wearing it.

A note had been placed in the bottom of the parcel, stamped with her great-grandfather’s mark. It was as cryptic as she’d expect for a nine-tail of the ruling conclave:

The last page does not provide mystical insight into the space between the covers.

“It looks great on you. It’d be a shame if you wasted this chance to wear it. But, you could write it off if you really want to mope around up here alone. I mean, it’s only the first New Years Eve party ever co-hosted by Terra and the Commonwealth. I’m sure there’ll be another first one if you wait long enough.”

“Oh, stop it already. I get the point.” Tari stepped in front of the mirror, clicking her tongue as she appraised herself. It really did look good on her - but her hair was an absolute mess. The ability to simply will it into submission would be sorely missed. A shorter cut might be necessary just to save on the daily maintenance. “I’d need a shower first. My hair’s going to take a long time to do anything with -“

“Nonsense! I’ll help you get it styled after you’re out of the shower. Go on, be quick about it, now. Don’t want to miss dinner.”


“No, the next table over. Left.”

“The bald guy?”

“Who… No! Your other left. Seriously, Jadyn, how do you pilot a craft without knowing left from right?”

“Fly upside down and all will be revealed.” Jadyn shot the human a grin. “You should know - you helped us move all that cargo around.”

Cordelia snorted. “I sat there and pointed. ‘Drop this here’ and ‘put that there’ and other useless junk. I thought you had a good handle on left and right at the time.”

“So… Nanites are a go?” T’bia questioned hopefully.

“Absolutely not.” Jadyn let the door fall shut. “It’s too obvious. A seam malfunction is one thing - especially with that particularly large gentleman, if I’ve picked out the right one now?”

“That’s him,” Cordelia confirmed.

“Oh, come on,” the mefiritan pleaded, fidgeting with her mobile emitter. “I’ll make it properly festive! Black and white is so drab for a holiday. What about red and green? No, wait, that was a week ago. Uh… Blue and white polka dots?”

“No,” Jadyn repeated. “Nothing we’ll wind up taking the blame for. If his pants suddenly experience critical failure along a row of stitches, that even can be written off as an ‘oops, I should drop a few pounds’ moment. Recoloring a tux at the molecular level? That’s so definitely our fault that we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Not to mention it may be construed as a form of assault,” Casiandra added, approaching their group through the growing crowd. “Good evening, Commanders, Captain.”

“Speaker,” Cordelia greeted, giving her a nod. “You look lovely. It’s quite a contrast from the bland uniform you’ve been wearing up to now.”

“Thank you.” Casi dipped her head in thanks. Her blue silken halter, originally done in the style of the leathers she’d once worn on Katta, had been recreated in Val’Traxan steelsilk. The new model was somewhat more opaque, but also provided a little more support with the stronger material. The loincloth, however, had been completely replaced by steelsilk slacks. “I believe I may have to update my Council wardrobe. Why are you are still in an IASA uniform?”

“It’s comfortable enough. Besides, all my people are doing the same thing so we’re identifiable in the crowd.”

“Mm. So, remind me of the itinerary,” Casi spoke, glancing around the foyer. “We are standing in this entry hall and not out mingling because…?”

“Because we decided this afternoon during the security briefing that our folks should go out as a group instead of filtering a few at a time. Less likely for an individual or two to get mobbed at the start.”

“Which is exactly what I recommended a week ago, no?”

“Did you? I don’t remember that,” Jadyn lied, looking innocent. “Got the rest of the speech hammered out?”

“I believe so. I sincerely hope it does not come off as too… forced? I am not certain that is the word I am looking for… Perhaps ‘contrived’ would be a better choice.”

“Your English has come along amazingly, Speaker. I never expected you to be as comfortably conversational as you are on the inside of two months.”

“Language has always come easy for me. I have also had a number of very patient tutors. I do thank all of you for your help.”

“Yet you’re still avoiding contractions in everything but Kattan,” Jadyn observed.

“T’bia suggested that it makes me sound more dignified in Standard. I only hope the effect is the same in English.”

“Captain Tzeki?”

Jadyn turned around, smiling at the strawberry blond woman approaching their group. “Agent Wolf… To what do we owe the honor of your radiant presence? I thought you were stuck in the security booth watching camera feeds until seven.”

“Things got swapped around a little just after the briefing. You’d asked to be informed when the young couple dining with you arrived? I just seated them myself.”

“Ah, good. Thank you. By the way - how was your vacation?”

“It was… very educational. Here’s Mister Evanson’s file.” Jolene grinned, offering him a datapad. “I realize you looked over it during the briefing, but I thought you might have missed this since you didn’t mention anything about it.”

Jadyn’s eyebrow hitched up as he looked over the two ID records displayed on the screen. One, Lenard Evanson; the other, Jolene Evanson-Wolf. “Oho. No, I didn’t notice. It’s your brother dining with us?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Do you want to swap seats with Bee, then?” Jadyn glanced around. “Where’d she run off to?”

“I saw her walking toward the stepdisk as I came this way. I’d really better stay at the next table over with the rest of the security crew. I just thought I’d let you know. As to personalities - Lenard’s kind of a quiet guy, tech geek, touch of an introvert. I honestly don’t know very much about Miss Chinatsu, but if she’s anything like her sister, I’d be careful if I were you.”


Walking onto the Serin’s stepdisk, Tari made a final check of herself. That the scroll had left her in her preferred caucasian appearance was no small blessing - going around in her birth form would have been rather unpleasant, mainly since she’d be a completely different woman in the eyes of Lenard’s family.

Her blond hair was well groomed and clean at last, pulled into a french braid running midway down her back. T’bia had even done up her nails in a shade of glossy teal closely matching her eyes and the dress. No other makeup, as a personal preference - she didn’t like to feel like a piece of contemporary art. The bracelet was online, a holographic Commonwealth datapad in hand. Her invitation and ID were ready to display on demand.

“I’m missing something…” she whispered, then snapped her fingers. “Aerin - replicate me a small purse with a shoulderstrap, the main bag matching the design of this dress, but in steelsilk. Contents… Uh… What the hell should I be keeping in a purse?”

Inquiry is ambiguous,” the computer obediently replied.

“I’ve never had to carry a purse… Damn. I’ve got a lot to learn about being a normal woman in public. Hnnn… Okay. List of things for in the bag. Nail scissors, nail file. A small container of this teal nail polish with appropriate applicator. A pen - no, two pens, one black ink, one… green. A small notepad. Hairbrush - real bristles, no plastic crap please… A variety of elastic hairties in black, white, and green… Oh! A proper hardcopy of my Commonwealth ID with an image of myself in this form, and a hardcopy of the invitation on my bracelet.”

The nearby alcove hummed briefly, creating the requested bag. It was as perfect as a match as she’d get without finding the original designer of the dress. Inside was everything she’d requested, neatly organized; she promptly put her hand in and stirred it all up. There’d no doubt be more to add as she rediscovered things that normal females needed to cart around, but for now it’d be just fine.

Hopping back on the disk, she slung the purse over her shoulder and made a post-final check. “Okay… Let’s go. Send me to the reception.”

You are queued for translocation. Waiting for remote disc to clear. … Discs synchronized. Please immediately clear remote disc upon arrival as others may be waiting to translocate.

The disk underfoot blinked; she landed in a large foyer, several dozen Commonwealth crewmembers milling about in formal uniforms. Curious glances focused in her direction as she disembarked from the pad. She smiled weakly, scanning the crowd as most conversation ceased around her.

“What? You’ve never seen a human use a disk before?” she questioned loudly in Standard, forcing a larger smile. Grins and shrugs and other passive responses ensued as chatter resumed. Apparently, an unfamiliar human walking among them was not something they felt overly concerned about.

“They see humans use the disks all the time these days,” T’bia spoke from behind her. “Just not one so smoking hot as you.”

“And to think I originally created this appearance to not stand out in American society. When I first started using it I even had fake glasses to help push me more toward ‘average.’”

“There’s truth to the old adage, you know.”

“Which?”

“‘Men don’t make passes at girls in glasses.’ But you see, what they don’t tell you is that the exception’s -“

“Stop. Right there.” Tari raised a finger scoldingly, despite her grin. “Don’t waste it. There’s not nearly enough people in earshot that will fully appreciate that statement.”

“Eh, maybe not, no. Come on. I abandoned Jay and the rest of the entourage at the doors. I’m sure he’s wondering if I’m trying to weasel out of the dinner… Which, technically, you’re now helping me do. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to pretending to eat. Heck of a mess to clean up afterward.”

“You sure he’ll be okay to see me? We’ve technically got two more years.”

“In my expert opinion, it’s close enough. Stop trying to weasel out of helping me weasel out of dinner, hey?”

Wading forward through the thickening sea of bodies, Tari followed in T’bia’s wake to the main sets of doors. Jadyn was standing with his back to them, chatting with a winged cat, a redhead in an IASA uniform, and -

“Oh, crap. I forgot she’d be here…”

“Hm?” T’bia followed Tari’s gaze to Jolene. The human had in the meantime looked up, noticing their approach. Her eyes widened a hair upon seeing Tari, who immediately shot back a nervous smile and shook her head ever so slightly. “Oh, yes, that’s right. You two have something in common… Hm. So, how do you want to do this?” T’bia asked. “We could either severely rattle his cage -“

“Mine’s been shaken enough to last me the next several years. Let’s not.”

“Man, you’re really no fun as a human.”

“What? I haven’t been stuck like this for even a half-day yet. How would you know if I’m fun as a human or not? For the record? I bet I totally am.”

“Oh yeah? I counter-bet that you can’t even put on a good charade without your gifts to fall on as a crutch.”

“You’re so on.”

“Good! Ad-lib me ten seconds worth of distraction without him catching on to who he’s talking to. You’ll know when to start.” With a gesture to stay back, T’bia walked up behind Jadyn and tapped him on the shoulder. “Jay, it’s about time to send the troops out.”

“Suppose so.” Jadyn turned around, his eyes immediately spotting the out-of-place human. “Excuse me, ma’am. You’re not supposed to be back here.”

“Why?” Tari cooed innocently.

The fox opened his mouth and promptly closed it, failing to come up with a conclusive reason on the spot.

“I see you’re still quite the talker, Captain.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve had audiences with a number of people in the last couple of months. Where have we met?”

“Oh, please. I do my hair a little different, polish up the nails, get a change of clothes, and suddenly you don’t want to recognize me? Sure, the sex may not have moved the world, but did that night really mean nothing to you?”

T’bia, in the meantime, had pulled the winged cat aside and whispered into her ear; the grin on the feline face was easily larger than that of the fabled Cheshire cat. Giving Tari a wink out of Jadyn’s line of sight, Casi put on an angry glare, stormed up to Jadyn, and cuffed him hard in the back of the head.

“Aie!” he squealed, spinning around to face his attacker. “What the Void did I do? I just -“

“Zicd ruf syho Terran fusah ryja oui cmabd fedr?” she hissed in Kattan, loud enough to sound angry but not so much as to draw the attention of Haran crew members. T’bia quickly returned to Tari’s side to quietly dub the conversation. Just how many Terrans have you slept with?

Jadyn’s mouth fell open as he shook his head. “E’ryja hud! E’ryja hud ghuf drec fusyh!” I haven’t! I’ve never seen her before!

“Oui yna landyeh dryd’c dra lyca?” Are you sure about that?

“E… But…” Jadyn peered closer at the unfamiliar human, T’bia grinning madly at her side, before realization finally dawned in his eyes. She crossed the short distance between them as he started laughing, latching onto him in a long-missed embrace.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Long time no see.”

“And Spirits, it’s good to see you too.” Jadyn cackled with joy, nearly crushing her to his chest before stepping back with his hands on her shoulders. “Just look at you! I’d say you haven’t changed a bit, but… Well. Some sort of a retro-post-human theme you’ve got going tonight?”

“I’m going to tell myself that was a compliment. After years as an embedded researcher, the body sort of grows on you.”

“Mm,” he voiced. “You know, I woke up this morning and thought to myself, ‘Self, you’re coping well with two insane females making your days miserable.’ Apparently I was deeply mistaken. Just how long did you all plan this for?”

“It was spur of the moment, orchestrated wonderfully by your second-in-command.” Casi tweaked his ear. “We have not been properly introduced, Captain.”

“There’s absolutely nothing ‘proper’ in dealing with any of you. Tarioshi Kitanaka of the Kitsunati, allow me to present Speaker Casiandra Jubah of the Ann’Katta.”

“A pleasure, Miss Kitanaka.” Casi bowed her head in greeting. “I have heard much about you.”

“Have you really?” she replied, returning the bow. “He’s told me next to nothing about you.”

Jadyn snorted. “Gee, I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because you’ve been incommunicado for years?

“Hardly by choice.”

“My point stands. Years, young lady. Also, this is Cordelia Maxwell, the Commander of the Ares Base. We couldn’t talk her into becoming an official ambassador instead. Yet.”

“Commander, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Tari shook hands with the redhead, who appeared completely at a loss to understanding whatever had just transpired. “As the first human to make open contact with an alien civilization, you’re an ambassador whether you admit it or not. Which, come to think of it, makes me one as well… Blah, hadn’t thought of that. Anyway! Congratulations are in order, yes? The IASA has done amazing work on Mars in the time humans have been there.”

“Thank you, ma’am. The Ares I and II teams deserve most of the credit. The Commonwealth too, for saving II’s collective ass.” Cordelia hesitated. “Are you… I’m sorry, this may sound a little uneducated, but -“

“I’m not human, no.”

“You certainly do a fine job of looking the part.”

“Thank you!” Tari dipped her head in gratitude. “My race, we are… shapedancers, I believe would be an appropriate term.”

“I’m sorry, shape-dancers?”

“The Kitsunati are metamorphs,” T’bia chimed in, proud to share her work despite Tari’s inability to make complete use of the fiction. “Shapeshifters. Mostly wiped out from an astronomical event, but there’s a few still around if you know where to look.”

“Really? You can actually become other things?” Cordelia asked. “That’s got to be convenient.”

“As much as I’d love to demonstrate, I can’t right now. I’ve got a little touch of the shapedancer’s flu, so to speak. I’m prevented from shifting forms away from the one I was in when I came down with it. Since I was doing a long stint as an embedded researcher here when it happened…” She shrugged. “A word of advice? Avoid mushrooms on planets you aren’t native to. Bad mojo.”

“Ah… I’ll take your word for it. I hope you feel better.”

Jadyn caught the honest undertone of her statement, concern visibly creeping in. “You’ll be okay, though?”

“I’m fine. Really! I’ll get better, just takes some time.” Tari glanced at Jolene with a smirk. “And who’s this kid with the concealed weapons?”

“Special Agent Jolene Evanson Wolf, UN Security.” Jo grinned, shaking Tari’s hand firmly. “It’s a pleasure, ma’am. I do hope you enjoy the evening. I certainly know I will. Captain, I’ll be back with Agent Black before your group goes in.”

“Thank you.” Jadyn smirked as the human walked away. “Something about that was odd… Though, she’s been a strange little snowflake since they assigned us shadows. Glad we only got one boring guard. Sucks that his stand-in for the night is boring, too…”

“Remind me, why are we hanging out in here?” Tari asked. “I missed the memo.”

“We decided to go out as one group instead of filtering in a little at a time. Which, I think we’d best start doing. Bee, please raise your voice a little.”

“Roger. All hands!” she yelled, immediately earning the focus of every crewmember in the foyer.

“Everyone, thank you for volunteering for this event tonight. Remember - nearly anything you can relate to a Commonwealth civilian is open game for answering questions. When in doubt, use your best judgement and err on the side of caution. Be honest, be friendly, and try to have fun. Curfew is half past midnight, local time. Start heading up after the fireworks. That said, if you’re honestly having an interesting discussion and would rather not cut it short, just let Haran know you’ll be staying later so we can keep track of who’s where. Questions? … All right. The boring speeches start in ten minutes or so. Go be sociable until then. Dismissed!”

“This is going to be an interesting evening,” Tari observed, watching the mass of aliens file into the main banquet hall.

“You’re not kidding.” The blue fox waved her over to the last door, giving her a peek out at the banquet hall. “Did Bee send you an invite and not tell me?”

“It was more of a last minute insistence, actually. Wow! Lots of people out there.”

“Couldn’t do it halfway.” He let the door fall shut once more. “When we go out, our bunch isn’t sitting down right away. The Secretary-General will make a few remarks, Casi’s got a small speech after that to set the mood of this lovely gathering. Corrie is still trying to decide if she wants to say anything -“

“I’m going to pass, but thank you.” Cordelia shook her head. “You already know I’m grateful for what you did and I’ve already given my public thanks on the news. Do I really need to get up there and make a fool of myself as I try not to gush while relating further appreciation?”

“I suppose not. So, in that case… After I finish my own little bombshell we’ll generally have a quiet evening punctuated by fireworks. After that, I plan to finally take a day off before playing Captain of the Mars Ferry the day after tomorrow. You’re welcome to tag along for the ride.”

“I just might do that. We’re sitting in front somewhere?”

“Really close, yeah.” He snuck the door open a crack once again. “Right with that stunningly cute couple that I’m told aren’t actually a couple. Seems the young man is Agent Wolf’s brother, and -“

“What?” Tari quickly scanned for their table. Instantly, her heart leapt into her throat. I don’t believe it… THIS is where they were headed?

“What’s wrong?” Jadyn asked, sensing her flinch.

“My great-grandfather is a sadist…”


6 Responses

  1. Dimensional says:

    What? Still no comments? Is nobody reading this anymore? Come on, this story is good. Well, maybe it’s kinda like me. I started reading this over 3-4 years ago, then I stopped and couldn’t find this again, then I find it up and running about 4 months ago. So, maybe people are just not getting up-to-date as they used to. Either way, that makes it easier for me to post comments first. :)

    I like all the twists in here. Keeps everybody on their feet. Personally, if I was writing this, I’d try to break the fourth wall at least once.

  2. typhoon says:

    Right, just reaching this point while catching up - my archive of the originals is nearly 10 years old now, Paradigm Shift was’n nearly as far as that. And yes, great story.

    But what did you expect Tari? Your grandfather is a Kitsune.

  3. Tsumari says:

    Someone should have changed human outfits as a kitsune, letting the commonwealth take the blame for it!

  4. Dimensional says:

    You mean swapping clothes on people? That’s a deviously proper Kitsune prank.

  5. Tsumari says:

    “So… Nanites are a go?” T’bia questioned hopefully.

    “Absolutely not.” Jadyn let the door fall shut. “It’s too obvious. A seam malfunction is one thing - especially with that particularly large gentleman, if I’ve picked out the right one now?”

    “That’s him,” Cordelia confirmed.

    “Oh, come on,” the mefiritan pleaded, fidgeting with her mobile emitter. “I’ll make it properly festive! Black and white is so drab for a holiday. What about red and green? No, wait, that was a week ago. Uh… Blue and white polka dots?”

    “No,” Jadyn repeated. “Nothing we’ll wind up taking the blame for. If his pants suddenly experience critical failure along a row of stitches, that even can be written off as an ‘oops, I should drop a few pounds’ moment. Recoloring a tux at the molecular level? That’s so definitely our fault that we’ll never hear the end of it.”

    Thats why a kitsune should do it!

  6. AmigaDragon says:

    Between the initial invite and Lenard’s lottery seating at the head table, I have to wonder whether it was all random or if Toshiyuki and/or T’bia had anything to do with it. Tari seems to think Toshi did (not just her own invite).

 

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