New Year’s Eve, Part 2

For a Forest kitsune, Toshiyuki definitely had a knack for knowing what the future held. Arranging for the dress to arrive just in time for the party? That’d require she be back in the mortal realm to attend. Lenard and Traize’s presence couldn’t be completely random either. But that they were even at the same table?

“Jay? How did this seating arrangement come around?”

“Bee pulled Mister Evanson’s name out of a hat this afternoon. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but I’ve got a feeling she did it to mess with Jo. Why?”

“So it wasn’t all his doing… I wonder if he got them here, or if he just knew…”

“You lost me at ‘panic somewhat quietly to one’s self.’”

“It’s just… There’s a lot of people out there,” she dodged; Jadyn’s eye briefly shot to the red-haired human chatting nearby with Casi.

“We’re now out of earshot. See someone you know?” he whispered.

“Mm. At our table, too.” Tari bit her lip, her mind racing. The first instinct was mayhem. A wondrous plan for making them question whether she was their friend or just a random ‘familiar stranger.’ A white Val’Traxan so that she’d look properly foxen, but her scent would confound Traize. Speaking English with the appropriate Standard-influenced accent, the works.

Of course, there’d be hints, blatant and otherwise. What good was teasing them if they didn’t have a sporting chance to figure out the answer? Leaving her silver dragon charm visible, dropping innocent but potentially loaded remarks, if one was aware of an alternate context… It was a beautiful work in her mind’s eye.

Mischief of such a caliber was no longer an option. Not only was shapedancing out of the realm of possibility, she’d already donned the mask of a changeling researcher stuck in human form. That had been done in her introduction to Commander Maxwell, and that was the part she’d have to play for the evening. If she sat down at the table and those two called her by the same name she’d already been introduced as… The resulting mayhem wouldn’t be the kind she enjoyed.

Traize wasn’t the concern. She’d be able to tell right away that there were shenanigans afoot and would automatically assume the correct role for herself if Tari didn’t greet her as a familiar face. Lenard wasn’t quite so experienced with having his girlfriend suddenly acting out another life in front of him, though. He’d need a quick primer before she got to the table. But how?

“What am I thinking? I can’t go out there!” Tari cried, backpedalling from the door. “I really shouldn’t… I mean, they think I’m stuck in the Celestial Courts… If I sit down across from them… Gods, this is a mess.”

“Not to pry, but does this have anything to do with the fact I can’t sense you as anything but human?” Jadyn asked.

“No. Yes. Sort of, a little.”

“… All right, I’ll file that as ‘pending later explanation.’ I won’t pretend to know what’s going on in your world right now - just tell me how I can help. Are you in some sort of trouble?”

“I was. Two different people have each suggested in their own way that I not waste the evening, though… Mmph, this could be rough.” Fishing out her brand new notepad, Tari scribbled out a short sentence and signed it with a kanji glyph that Traize would recognize. Jadyn peered over the note as she pressed the paper into his hand. “I need this delivered to our table guests out there before we sit down. The young woman, preferably.”

“And here I thought it’d be something difficult and bound to get me in trouble. So, who are they?”

“For the remainder of the evening? No one I know. Just do me one huge favor - I’m your ‘guest,’ not your ‘date.’”

Lenard looked over his shoulder, watching a large group of the aliens enter the hall. Foxes, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, wolves, cats, and more - all manner of humanoid versions of native animals filtered into the room, greeting people and taking seats at the tables.

Sure, they’d been seen on the news a few times during their talks with the UN and other national governments. There’d even been a brief public announcement by their leader, a winged cat-woman. Seeing them walk into the very room he was sitting in was surreal, even after having Tari around.

Several minutes passed as the various aliens found their seats in the hall and made introductions. As they filled in at the tables around them, none joined the ‘VIP’ table. Suddenly, a round of applause went up as a dark-skinned middle-aged man walked up to the podium. Smiling and greeting the crowd, the Secretary-General of the United Nations waited for silence to settle upon the room.

“To my fellow Earth citizens, as well as to our guests from the Commonwealth - welcome. Thank you all for joining in this reception tonight. I realize that it is New Years Eve and that many of you do have other parties you wish to attend, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible before handing over the podium.

“We’ve all done our best to make the most of these seating arrangements. It is our hope that individuals from both on and off world with similar interests and skills are dining together. It sounds like a bad version of the old Dating Game, I know.”

Brief laughter rippled across the floor; Lenard hoped it was more out of respect for the terrible effort at the joke, than at the terrible joke itself.

“Both we humans and our off-world guests this evening share a common goal: we want to learn about one another. This reception and dinner were arranged to help us all discover common ground. The connections we forge this evening will last well beyond just tonight. Don’t be afraid to ask questions - and just as importantly, don’t be shy in sharing.

“Now, I’m sure you didn’t come to hear me prattle on about things we all learned in kindergarden. Without further delay, it is my honor to give you Her Excellency, Madam Casiandra Jubah, the Speaker of the Commonwealth of United Worlds.”

Applause erupted from the audience as the black and orange tortoiseshell feline-woman was escorted to the podium by two fox-men, Jolene and three other humans -

Lenard blinked, looking at the entourage again. “You’ve got to be kidding -“

“Shh!” Traize hushed him, pressing a piece of paper into his hand. Where the note had come from was anyone’s guess, but the delicate script was unmistakably Tari’s handwriting.

You do not know this mask.

Lenard looked up, catching Tari’s eye; she gave him ever so slight a nod in Traize’s direction before her focus changed to the cat ascending to the stage. Frowning, he leaned over to his dinner companion.

“What’s this supposed to mean?”

“For the duration of the evening, that is not someone we know.”

“But -“

“Len. Regardless of how she speaks, how she acts, or even what her name is when she’s introduced - we do not know her until she explicitly indicates that she knows us. Unless you care to explain precisely how you’ve met someone traveling with the alien team to everyone else who sits down with us?”

Lenard grimaced. That wouldn’t be pleasant.

“By the way? Welcome to my world.” Traize grinned and gave him a friendly peck on the cheek. “Every time I step outside into the sunlight I’m engaged in a game of ‘let’s pretend.’”

The entourage of humans and aliens stood back as the Speaker crossed the stage, her cerulean silk skirt and halter billowing about her. She paused briefly to shake hands with the Secretary-General before taking her place at the podium, her wings slightly spread at her sides.

“Thank you, Mister Secretary, and my thanks to all of you for sharing a portion of your evening with us. As the Secretary alluded, tonight is an initial step toward discovery of common ground. Most of you are meeting a Commonwealth citizen for the very first time. Many of our citizens, too, are meeting with humans for the first time this evening. There will be many questions, and hopefully as many answers, from all around these tables.

“There is one question that has already been answered, one asked by every race the Commonwealth has encountered - a question that we once each even asked of ourselves. ‘Are we alone?’ These three small words have persisted across the expanse of time, guiding and shaping how we approach the world and even the galaxy around us.

“We begin our journey by asking ourselves, ‘Are we alone in this land?’ We seek clues toward the answer, traveling beyond the familiar borders of rivers, forests, and mountains. We band together with our newfound brethren, forming new communities and sharing our values, our responsibilities. We learn about each other. We grow as a people, a culture.

“As the borders of our shared knowledge expand, the question ever so slightly changes in form. ‘Are we alone on this world?’ Once again we seek clues toward the answer, crossing the great seas and exploring beyond the edge of established and accepted thought. In doing so, we discover a host of cultures and ideas we did not know existed. They are people like we are, yet their languages and customs are far different than those we already know. In time, as our knowledge about ourselves and the world around us grows further, the borders of thought once more expand. The heavens above frame the next question: ‘Are we alone among the stars?’

“Like so many great visionaries and explorers before them, twenty-five of your best and brightest set out in search of the clues to answer this question. Their goal was not to reach the land beyond the mountains, the rivers, or even across the ocean… They set their eyes and dreams upon the sea of stars overhead and left the safe embrace of Terra to examine another planet. It was there, in the orbit of Mars, that their question - and therein, the question of all humanity - was definitively answered at last. You are not alone!

Applause rippled through the crowd, providing the Speaker half a minute of reprieve before she could continue on. “Today, the thirty-first of December, marks the end of one year on your world and the beginning of a new. Today also marks the shift into a new paradigm, a fundamental change in the way that humanity views the universe. The borders of knowledge are expanding once again. Let us take the time to learn and grow together, that when the next question is asked, we may work together to discover the answer.”

The crowd gave the Speaker a standing ovation as she stepped down from the podium, shaking hands with the Secretary once more as they changed places.

“Thank you, Madam Speaker. And now, one final announcement before dinner is served. I give you Captain Jadyn Tzeki of the Commonwealth.”

The blue fox stepped forward to the podium, acknowledging the applause. “Thank you, everyone. And especially to you, Secretary Lawrence, for humoring me and letting me share the good news with all of these fine folks. Every Terran here tonight will receive another package from the United Nations. I’m told the direct invitees should see it within two weeks, and their guests will get one as well in about three. Within these letters will be details on an offer accepted by the UN earlier this week during that suspicious closed session about which I’m sure you’ve all heard so many delicious theories.

“There’s a lot that can be learned in a gathering like tonight’s little shindig, but you can really only scratch the barest part of the surface. The best way any of you can truly get an understanding of who we are is to see us in our own backyards - that is, our home planets. So! We’re going to offer each and every one of you here tonight the first shots at seeing another inhabited world - and we are footing the bill.”

Loud applause rang through the room, lasting several minutes before dying down.

“There’ll be more detail in the paperwork, but as an overview: From departure to arrival back on Terra, expenses for food, lodging, and transportation will be covered. We’re tentatively looking at two groups, but that could change in the next week before the mailings go out. As of right now the first group departs at the beginning of June. If your letter lists you for that group and you absolutely cannot make it, arrangements will be made to swap you with someone in the second group, leaving in October. The itinerary for both are the same - we’ll take you to see Veloria, the home of the Commonwealth Council itself, as well as two other nearby inhabited worlds: Donami and Feldar.

“Journalists make up most of the first group. You folks are the ones who will be best able to relate your experiences among us en masse to the rest of your world. Pending the approval of your schools, colleges, and parents, we’ll also be making room for all fifty students that are here tonight to be in the first group.” The fox grinned widely as the clapping began, raising his voice. “This is one class you don’t want to cut. Thank you, enjoy dinner!”

The Secretary stepped up through the applause, trading places with the Captain and announcing that dinner would be served shortly. Lenard watched apprehensively as the pack approached their table, following Traize’s lead and standing up. Jolene shot their pair a grin as she and the other agent moved off to the next table over, joining what appeared to be a host of other security personnel keeping tabs on what was going on.

“Wonderful speeches, Mister Secretary, Madam Speaker, Captain,” Traize praised.

The winged cat bowed her head. “Thank you, miss…?”

“Chinatsu, ma’am. Chikako Chinatsu.”

“And this must be our lotto winner.” The blue fox stuck his hand out. “Mister Evanson, yes?”

Lenard frowned as they shared a brief handshake. “Lottery, sir?”

“My second in command thought one of the students attending tonight should dine with us. Your name came out of a hat this afternoon. Just relax and enjoy a meal with us - we’ll try our best not to bore you with business talk. So! Mister Evanson, Miss Chinatsu. Allow me to introduce Secretary-General Lawrence, Commander Maxwell, Speaker Jubah of Katta, and the Haran’s CO, Captain Tshan of Veloria.”

Tari cleared her throat quietly.

“Yes, of course - my own guest this evening, Ambassador Kitanaka of Ayndran. Please forgive that she presently appears human. She is in fact a Commonwealth citizen, and was one of the long-term researchers documenting your world before open contact.”

A spattering of greetings went around as they all sat down. The blue fox took a sip of water before focusing on Lenard once more. “Mister Evanson - If I recall correctly from the file pulled up when your name was drawn, you’re a college senior?”

“Yes, sir. I’m finishing a graduate computer science program.”

“I peeked as well while it was up,” Commander Maxwell admitted. “My brother teaches at your school.”

“Professor Maxwell, yes. I very much enjoyed his astronomy class last semester. Though, I imagine everything else I’ve learned in the last four years is obsolete.”

“Not entirely,” Speaker Jubah voiced. “As we have explained to your leadership, we simply cannot hand you all our technology and hope that all goes well. Through history we have learned that it does not work. You yourselves are also aware of this - you would not offer keys for a helicopter to a tribesman living in a grass hut.”

The blue fox snickered. “I suspect you’d know volumes about that.”

“Indeed… I myself am from such a world, my own species very much on the same technological tier with that tribesman. It was one of the early contact mistakes and helped establish current policy toward first contact with new species we encounter. Truth be told - there are many who believe it is still too soon for us to reach out to you. However. We are here, now, and we intend to help where we can while not overstepping ourselves.”

“So, you’re just going to sit out there and watch us struggle along with things you’ve already mastered?” Traize asked. “Sounds like a hazing.”

“Please understand - this is not only for our own safety, but for your own. There is a great deal we have learned by trial and error, and one of those lessons is that other races deserve the same chance to fail, to learn why things do not work. To overload you in metaphors… We can show you the doors to open and give you ideas and guidance on how to open each one, even nudge you toward the keys, but you must still open and step through each door yourselves and put ideas found on the other side into practice.”

“That does make some sense,” Lenard agreed. “I’m always more satisfied working through a problem by myself instead of someone coming by and just telling me the answer. There is sometimes a case for instant gratification, though.”

Tari smirked, but remained silent.

“When are you graduating, Mister Evanson?” Secretary Lawrence asked.

“This coming spring, sir.”

Captain Tshan nodded. “If it’s not too forward to ask, what are you looking into as a post-graduate? Further schooling, employment?”

“I’m presently getting internship credit working an IT position. Moving hardware around, swapping out workstations, basic grunt work and troubleshooting. I’ve considered staying on with them for a while to pay down my loans but I’m not certain they’d give me the entire time off for this tour you’re offering.”

“Then quit when you graduate,” Captain Tzeki spoke, matter-of-factly. “Think past the tour. After you come home from being ‘out there,’” he stated, with an upward flourish of his hand, “you may find all sorts of new ideas about your craft bubbling up. Employers will want to tap that. I’m sure even your world’s individual governments will be looking for folks who’ve had off-world experiences.”

“Will that include prior abductees?” Traize questioned. Almost everyone looked at her like she’d pulled out a grenade. “I’m sorry, is that a taboo subject?”

“Not at all.” Commander Maxwell sighed. “I doubt any of us were expecting something so… so abrupt, this early into the evening. The Commonwealth has given us their word that no officially sanctioned research mission has ever removed anyone from the Earth against their will.”

“I’ll go so far as taking their word at face value… But, that said, I still see the door open behind that statement for unofficial missions… and willing participants, if I’m not mistaken.”

“We have appropriately disciplined rogue researchers using unapproved means to gather their information.” Speaker Jubah shrugged. “Someone struggling to progress sometimes executes a rash and ill-planned decision. In some cases, the unfortunate victims are returned to their lives, only to have nightmarish fragments of their experiences surface again. Memory erasures are not a proven science. My heart truly goes out to those individuals. We are working out arrangements to identify them and see that they obtain proper medical care. As to… shall we call them, ‘volunteers?’”

“Let’s table that for now,” Secretary Lawrence suggested. “I would like to explore that avenue in the near future, Speaker.”

“I have suspected so. You are correct - this is neither the ideal time nor place.”

“By the way,” Jadyn spoke. “I’ve wanted to thank you for the noticeable lack of eavesdropping equipment in the UN-hosted facilities we’ve had the pleasure to lodge within. Some of the individual nations have not been so… accommodating.”

“You’re quite welcome. We believe in fostering our newfound friendship - spying on you is hardly friendly or conducive to any atmosphere of trust in the future.”

“The Commonwealth has been observing all of us in secret for years,” Traize immediately countered. “How is that conducive to that atmosphere of trust?”

Lenard noticed that while the cat frowned a little, the blue fox barely restrained a grin. The other true humans at the table appeared to instead be restraining panic. Traize would be Traize - there was no stopping that confrontational streak. Tari seemed nonplussed by the whole thing.

“There is a great deal of secret observation present in Terran history,” she spoke gently. “Not all of it was benign, and very little was revealed in good faith after any sort of peaceful contact was established. The only way the Commonwealth could be certain that contact would do more good than harm was by learning about you before we appeared.”

The Secretary shook his head. “We’re not accusing you of any wrongdoing, Ambassador.”

“I’m fairly certain Miss Chinatsu is,” Jadyn observed. “Please, don’t worry about the damage control tonight, Marshall. Hearing the opinions of regular folks is part of why we wanted to hold this event. People have seen us on TV, they’ve heard assurances from both their leaders and these ‘strange furry visitors’ that we’re here under benevolent intentions, but they haven’t actually had a chance to make that decision for themselves.”

He turned back to Traize. “For what it’s worth, you have an absolutely valid gripe. We sat back, watched everything happening on your planet, and didn’t lift a finger to prevent or change anything - save for the slight relocation of one particularly large asteroid twelve years ago, but that’s really a minor deviation and hardly counts since no one saw us do it. I’m certain I’d feel vulnerable and suspicious about your intentions were our positions reversed. It’s going to take us a very long time to earn your trust and respect, and we’re absolutely willing to take that time if you’re willing to give us the chance.”

“I don’t mean to be a wet towel, Captain. I just meant…” Traize frowned, searching for words. “I… I’m sorry. I don’t know what I meant.”

Tari nodded. “We all need to vent frustrations once in a while. No harm done.”

“I love how the first thing you tried to do upon meeting aliens was to try and piss them off.”

Traize glowered at Lenard, downing her glass of wine like a shot. “It’s not like that. They were legitimate concerns. Anyone could have brought them up. It just so happened that I was the only one who did.”

Lenard snickered to himself, peering across the room to where Captain Tzeki and Speaker Jubah were chatting with a small group. Jolene and her partner hovered near them, keeping an eye on things. “I don’t know about the others, but Captain Tzeki seemed almost amused.”

“There’s something strange about that fox. If I didn’t know better… Well, I can’t really say that, because I don’t. There’s not much of an aura about him - way less than yours, even - but it feels… Odd. Compressed, like he’s willfully hiding it.”

“You really see something in mine?”

“I do, and I’m at a loss to explain it. I have theories, of course… Several of which have earned a strong push after meeting your sister. Her aura’s almost the same as yours.”

“You’re kidding.”

Traize smirked and shook her head. “I’m not. Whatever it is, it seems to be a family thing. I’d be curious to meet the rest of the bunch and see whose side it comes from.”

“Why can’t Tari see it?”

“Difference in our elements, I’d expect. Her affinity is with nature, primarily forests and plants before anything else. I’m more sensitive to the potential magical essence in everything than she is. Speaking of - I wonder where she got to in this crowd? Too much noise on all the sensory fronts to pick her out.”

Lenard peered at his glass, gently swirling the contents. “You guys were being honest about the problems back home, right? This wasn’t just an elaborate ploy to get you both in here tonight?”

“No, nothing like that. If that’s what was going on we’d have told you. Well… Maybe not. But really, it wasn’t that at all. I have no idea why she’s here - there’s no way great-grandfather would have let her leave unless the Conclave came to a decision.”

“She told me she could be away for a few weeks, or a couple of months…”

“She doesn’t have quite the experience dealing with them as I do. I wasn’t expecting her back for at least a year. You’ve got to keep in mind that we live for a millennium. The Conclave has no need to rush through decisions. They also know that human affections can be fickle, mercurial things - a single year apart could solve what they see as a very real threat. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled I’m telling you all this… But hey, I’ve got a defense, now. I’ve been drinking.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything you shouldn’t.”

“Months too late for that.”

Lenard sighed, putting his glass to his lips. One solitary drop of white wine found its way to his tongue. “Uh…”

“Drinking problem?” Traize questioned, taking a sip of her own newly-full glass with a grin. “I can’t fault her for playing a role to its logical end, even if that means evading us so that we don’t accidentally help blow it. I know you’d rather have her by your side on a night like this. I really think your sister would prefer that, too. She shot me such a glare when I kissed your cheek…”

“I wouldn’t call it a total wash of an evening,” he offered, giving her a warm smile as he took a new glass from a passing waiter. “This wouldn’t have been any fun alone. I’m glad you’re here.”

Traize blushed three shades of red before regaining her composure. “Watch it. You might make me feel like a consolation prize.”

“Never. Between you and Tari I’ve learned a lot more practical knowledge about the world than I’ve picked up in all the years I spent inside the public education system. You and I haven’t had a lot of interaction where Tari wasn’t around, but I’d like to think that we’re friends. Besides - I’m fairly sure that your passes at me are just your way of being ludic.”

“Ludic?” Traize snickered. “There’s a word I haven’t heard used in a long time. Looked up synonyms for ‘mischievous,’ did we?”

“I needed new ways to describe the insanity of living with one troublemaker and hanging out with another.” Lenard laughed as she snorted. “It’s true, though. And even if your advances had a basis in any real desires, and I’m not trying to imply that they do -“

“Perish the thought.”

”- I suspect you’d tear out my spleen if I ever seriously entertained thoughts of crossing Tari for you or anyone else.”

“She’s my little sister. You’d be lucky if I started or stopped at your spleen.” Traize raised her glass. “To friendship.”

“To friendship,” he echoed.

“With benefits?” she added quietly, just as he drank down his wine; the beverage quite nearly made its way out his nose. “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Lenard coughed, wiping at his mouth.

“Fireworks should be starting soon.”

Jadyn glanced at his palm. “Five minutes.”

“Sooner than that. Our dinner companions are coming this way.” Tari let out a quiet sigh. “I wish we had more time to talk. I was hoping to spend a day or two with you guys and relax, get caught up on what’s been going on, maybe explain my involvement with Len before things got too awkward between you and I… He and I have been dating for a few months.”

“I was getting a little of that vibe over dinner. If it makes you feel better, I’m presently attached as well.”

“Really? Who’s the lucky woman?”

Casi smiled. “We are doing better than I expected if your old flame did not pick up on it.”

“You two?” Tari probed.

“We try not to make it obvious in public. Don’t need to kindle further rumors of favoritism.” Jadyn patted Tari’s arm. “Half a century is a long time to let a relationship simmer. I expected that we’d still be friends when we crossed paths. Beyond that, I expected we’d have work to do.”

“Someday I’m sure we can try again. Eventually, Len’s going to pass - there’s not a thing I can do to change that. I’m going to need my friends more than anything else when that happens.”

“We’ll be here to catch you. I’ve been meaning to ask you…” Jadyn queried. “Who’s the young lady on his arm? There’s something bothering me about her, but I can’t quite pin it down.”

“I didn’t tell you?”


“Are you sure?”

“You’re being evasive,” he singsonged.

“Think about it. What woman would I most trust with my man?”

“One you could blackmail. Ow! Why do all the fems in my life abuse me so?” Jadyn rubbed his shoulder, falling silent as the two humans stopped before them. “Good evening, again.”

“Sorry to bother you,” Miss Chinatsu apologized with a bow.

“Please, it’s no bother at all. We very much enjoyed your company over dinner.”

“Yes. Would you do us the honor of joining us for the fireworks display?” Casi questioned.

“Certainly, Speaker… But first, if you can spare her for a few minutes, we’d like to have a brief dialogue with Ambassador Kitanaka.”

Tari shook her head. “There is not a good place around here to have an uninterrupted private discussion, and I guarantee it’ll take more than a few minutes.”

“Mmm,” the Japanese woman agreed, peering about. A number of people - humans and otherwise - were in potential earshot, and there wasn’t an obvious place to get away. “Where and when would you suggest?”

“There’s a nice, quiet place accessible from the Strate-Haran, I believe. We shouldn’t be disturbed there.”

“Seriously? The spaceship in orbit?” Lenard asked.

“Yes. I’m sure our friendly Captain here may even permit you a tour. Wouldn’t you?”

“It’s a little late for a proper sightseeing trip tonight. Most of the departments are closed down since the crew is here. I think a tour could be arranged first thing in the morning. A brief pop around the interesting bits - engineering, the bridge, maybe even the computer core, if Haran will let us into his sanctuary… Medbay’s off limits outside of emergencies by request of the department head. It’s really too bad - the whole Life Sciences department is amazing, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Tari nodded. “They don’t want strangers in a sterile environment.”

“No, that’s not it.” The blue fox chuckled. “If you ever meet Doctor Lanhart, you’ll immediately understand her reluctance for tourists. But yes - I think for tonight we can find you a private place to have a chat.”

Twenty! Nineteen!

“Ah, they’re about to start.” Their group stepped out onto the balcony, listening as everyone around them said goodbye to the year. “I find your culture’s fascination with fireworks encouraging.”

“How so, Captain?” Lenard asked.

“You celebrate the birth of your particular country, among many other things, by attempting to blow up small pieces of it. The only conclusion I can draw is that you’re all a bunch of pyromaniacs. It really warms my heart.”

Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!

The sky blazed with fiery light, reds and greens and blues sparkling over the capitol. All manner of airborne incendiary cascaded through the heavens, ranging from ornate, multichromatic starbursts to intricately designed shapes and silhouettes of various objects. Someone had managed to just about match the outline of the Haran’s profile in gold sparks.

Jadyn glanced at Tari, finding her standing nearby with Lenard. Their fingers twined together as they held hands, the two shared a quiet New Year’s first kiss as the night burned above them. The young man’s former date moved slightly to the side, giving them their space while peering about with no small measure of concern.

A quiet fup cut suddenly through the air, almost inaudible under the concussive noise of continuing fireworks. The chime of cracking glass behind them and a quiet grunt from Casi quickly punctuated the problem. Her right hand moved to cover her left breast, pain flickering on her face as blood seeped out between her fingers.

“Damn!” Jadyn grabbed the kattan, spinning around in front of her to shield her from any followup shots. “Please tell me you two pulled the switch off without me noticing.”

“Aha!” ‘Casi’ immediately grinned at him, her blue irises shifting to purple as her hand fell away from her now-uninjured chest. “You were worried. You actually were! Come on now, what sold it? The groan? The blood? I bet it was the blood. I worked all afternoon practicing the grunt but I don’t think I got it right.”

“It smells like her blood, Bee.”

“Well, it is. She donated a pint this afternoon and suggested I not overdo theatrics beyond that.” T’bia smirked, her own avatar emerging from the projection of Casi’s image as he let her go. “Based on the trajectory through my matrix I’ve pinpointed the source with the Serin’s sensors. One human male, three-quarters of a mile away.”

“Inform Terran security.”

“Did. I also took the liberty of beaming in a little gift so that they have someone to find on-scene.”

“Sleep grenade?”

“Goo bomb.”

“Even better.” Jadyn sighed, glancing around the balcony. Tari and the other two were still watching the show, oblivious to what had gone down. Jolene noticed the commotion but was unfazed, focused on listening to her earpiece. Her lack of concern wasn’t unexpected - she’d helped coordinate the plan in the first place. “Agent Wolf… I suspect my day off just got cancelled.”

“Mine too. We’ve got teams closing on the broadcasted location. I’m hearing that the shooter’s coated in some sort of orange, viscous fluid. Do we need an MSDS handed out to go in on this?”

“Think of a mash-up of lard, pancake syrup, earwax, and used chewing gum,” T’bia explained. “Totally edible, just rather unpleasantly vile.”

“I’m never eating from your replicator again.”

“Chicken. It’ll melt in exactly ten minutes and forty-one seconds. The more he struggles in the meantime, the harder it holds.”

Jolene nodded, poking her earpiece. “Alpha team. The restraining device is non-toxic but extremely adhesive. Be advised that in ten and a half minutes it will become inert, at which time the suspect can be safely collected for questioning.”

Jadyn tapped Tari’s shoulder, drawing her attention from the fireworks. “The starside trip for our friends here has been cancelled for the evening.”

“Wha…?” Tari questioned, turning around. “Why?”

“Someone just tried to assassinate my boss. No one was hurt, but -“

“That’s not true!” T’bia interrupted. “I know I’m missing electrons because of all this.”

“How can you possibly know -” Jadyn clenched his eyes shut, realizing where she was going. “No. Don’t you dare.”

“I’m positive! Hey, does this mean I get hazard pay?”

“Everyone around you should after that crack… Mister Evanson, Miss Chinatsu, I deeply apologize for the inconvenience, but we can’t let you up tonight. Agent Wolf, please see that they get back to their hotel safely.”

“Yes, sir.”

High overhead, the fireworks continued to blaze.

14 Responses

  1. Derek says:

    I was tempted to end this installment just after ‘as blood seeped out between her fingers’ and roll the rest into New Year’s Day (coming soon to an archive near you). But I decided not to be mean.

    Also, as a random bit of trivia, my original script actually had Casi take the bullet herself.

  2. Tsunari says:

    It’s going entirely too smoothly. There should be entire countries telling them to “go **** themselves”.

  3. Tsunari says:

    Also why not just go use the Serin?

  4. Derek says:

    “There’s a nice, quiet place accessible from the Strate-Haran” was Tari’s way of indicating the Serin without explicitly naming it.

  5. David Fenger says:

    Ooog. I didn’t get the electrons pun until the second read-through. Evil. I like it!

    All sorts of plots and plans coming to light. I’m intensely curious what’s up with Len and Jolene’s auras - and wondering if Jolene’s surname gives a hint.

  6. Dimensional says:

    I’m not sure where I heard that line about blowing up a piece of the nation in celebration of it, but it is very familiar. And still funny.

  7. typhoon says:


    Since Tari never came around to tell who Traize is she - and since theyre together Lenard - will look REALLY suspicious now. At last to Jadyn or he wouldn’t more or less kick them out (The rest of the party is moving on …)

  8. Tsumari says:

    Heh, want more story again.

  9. Typhoon says:


  10. Derek says:

    Working on it… My schedule is rough and it’s hard to find time to write. A few minutes here and there just don’t cut it.

  11. typhoon says:

    I’m hardly one to complain, it’s been months since I managed to write anything.

  12. Tsumari says:

    Well at least your still alive. Lots of activity for you, it sounds like, hope it’s lots of fun.

  13. Tsumari says:

    wow, it’s been over three years since anything about paradigm shift was posted.

  14. AmigaDragon says:

    David, Traize suggested it’s a family trait, Wolf is Jo’s MARRIED name… not that that alone disproves your implication.

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