This is an Extreme AU. Andrea is an alien, non-human, extra terrestrial alien. Miranda is, Miranda but is fairly out of character for most of the story... I mean, Hello, Aliens are in this world so... there are definitely a lot of differences.
It is a bizzaro tale of how Miranda and Andy are meant to be no matter what Universe or incarnation they happen to be.
If the SciFi Channel and the Hallmark Channel had a baby then let the Lifetime channel raise it... This is the story that results as played on the Logo channel.
Huge thanks to Jazwriter, Punkee, Dhamphir, and Dee. They were all great with extra eyes for spotting errors. I didn't always take their suggestions, but I appreciate the work they did.
Having said that...
The alien species that has come to Earth is a gender neutral race. That means that all the pronouns regarding the aliens are they/them. I tried to make sure I used them correctly but if you see any instances of gendering the aliens, please let me know and I'll try to correct it. Those pesky pronouns are hard to spot, no matter how many eyes are on the story.
Miranda was in her office, at her desk, reviewing a photo shoot when the newest Emily quickly entered then stood, shifting from foot to foot. It only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to Miranda. Finally, the woman spoke, so timidly it made Miranda cringe internally.
“The Ambassador and their entourage is here.”
Crossing out the photo she was examining, Miranda tossed the red marker on the desk and looked up. She removed her glasses and looked at her assistant. “I was unaware Ambassador Franklin had an appointment this morning.”
“Not him.” Emily's eyes widened and glanced out the huge window behind Miranda. “The Ambassador.”
Quietly inhaling in surprise, Miranda didn't have to turn to know what Emily was seeing outside her window. The New York skyline rarely changed much. Usually the change was a result of some catastrophe, such as the day Americans held their breath and watched the towers fall. But, six months ago the whole of humanity took a gasping breath as a multitude of ships descended on the Earth and stopped, holding themselves at various heights above the ground. In a matter of hours, every major city, and some small ones, had a watcher hovering above it. They had departed over time, one by one, and now the only one left was the largest and visible through her window. “I suppose you shouldn't keep them waiting then.”
“Yes, Miranda.” Emily left quickly and Miranda calmed herself just before several...beings, entered her office. They were similar to humans, bipedal, two arms, one head with facial features similar to humans and rather thick dark hair. One of the things that set them apart from humans was that they were tall, taller than most humans and thin with just slightly longer limbs than were proportionally correct for humans. Their skeletal structure, if they had such a thing, seemed delicate but not so much that they didn't project the sense that they could defend themselves if necessary. The uniforms of the beings she believed to be guards seemed functional and each of them had a scar on their right cheek. The robes The Ambassador wore seemed ceremonial, but the individual to their left was covered head to toe in formless fabric. The only part of this being Miranda could see were the eyes. Large, dark eyes that watched Miranda carefully from the moment they entered the office. She understood that protocol was important to them, but as they were here unannounced she decided on a few power moves of her own, one of which was to remain seated. However, she did allow The Ambassador to initiate the conversation. When they spoke, the sound made her ears itch just a little. The translator's voice wasn't much better, and Miranda resisted the urge to rub her ear when the English words were uttered.
“Thank you for seeing us on this short notice.”
“It's my pleasure. Please, sit.” Miranda gestured to the two seats in front of her desk and tilted her head to acknowledge the short notice comment. After they and their companion settled into their chairs, she spoke again. “What brings you to my office this morning, Ambassador?”
“I am told that you are the foremost authority on human fashion.”
“I am the editor-in-chief of the most respected fashion magazine in the world.” Miranda acknowledged. “That position does give me a certain amount of authority over the fashion industry.”
Again The Ambassador spoke in their own language and the translator dutifully relayed the words. “My offspring is going to participate in one of your, human, joining rituals. We believe the joining will help people, humans, understand that we are here for peaceful reasons. Bonding our two species together.” The Ambassador paused slightly to let the translator catch up then continued. “I am told that there is a significance to the...clothing, worn by participants at such an event. It is our hope, that you would be willing to craft an acceptable garment utilizing a combination of our own traditional bonding ceremony designs with ones from your culture.”
“Joining?” Miranda shifted her focus to the being seated next to The Ambassador. “Bonding.” She swallowed hard as the wide eyes visible seemed to radiate anger, terror and a certain amount of resignation. “You want me to design a wedding...” she stopped herself from saying dress, “outfit?” She glanced back at The Ambassador as the answer again made her ear itch before the translator conveyed the response.
Miranda tried to quell the inexplicable stab of jealousy and refocused on the large, dark eyes that seemed even wider now. “Who, may I ask, is the human participant in this.... joining?”
“His name is Gang Chao Chen. He is from the area of your world that is labeled, China. He approached me with a serious proposition and several reasons why he should be joined to my offspring.”
“Hmmm... well he's certainly living up to his name then.” Miranda's fingertips absently brushed across her skin, from collarbone to collarbone as she tried to calm her pounding heart and thought about the meaning of the groom's name, Bold Victory. “I will do some research into the traditional ceremonial outfits of his country. Having access to the history of your own such outfits would be of great help in this endeavor.”
The Ambassador gestured to one of the 'guards' who stepped forward placing a flat device on Miranda's desk. They tapped the item, causing a projection to appear above it. The Ambassador explained the device. “This will give you access to the database on our ship. It is keyed to deliver information regarding our own 'fashion' history.”
Miranda studied the display for a moment then reached out and touched an item shown. It immediately came to the foreground of the projection and the pertinent information began to scroll next to it. The controls seemed fairly intuitive so Miranda nodded and tapped the point she believed would turn off the display. It did, and the device seemed to merely wait to be reactivated. “Thank you.”
“Will you need anything else?”
“Yes. When, and where, is the joining ceremony to take place? And how often will your offspring...” She caught the large, dark eyes again, “Sorry I don't know your name.” Miranda smiled softly, not showing any teeth. “When will you be able to confer with me?”
“He will be a representative of his country, but he has explained that he does not strictly adhere to the more traditional aspects of his ancestors. Some of his traditions will be observed, and others will not. However, the ceremony will be a mixture of our culture, this country and his and will be held here in New York. In two cycles of your moon... months.” The translator conveyed The Ambassador's confusion at the question aimed at their offspring. “Confer?”
“Of course.” Miranda's tone could have been construed as insulting. Addressing them as if The Ambassador was a child to be spoken to in simple terms, she asked. “They are the one to be wearing the item, are they not? They should most definitely have a say in what it will look like.” Miranda saw The Ambassador take a tell-tale breath as they began to speak and beat them to the punch. “It is traditional for the participants to choose their own clothing.” When no further sound was issued from them, Miranda glanced at the eyes looking at her with a bit less terror and what could possibly be considered amusement. Miranda continued. “Two months is not a lot of time. I would require at least short conferences with...” again she turned to the intended wedding participant, “...you, frequently.”
“It is problematic to travel from the ship to here.” The Ambassador made the equivalent of a sigh. “Safety requires the streets to be closed and cleared. The more often that happens the more... complaints there are.”
“Have there been threats?” Miranda knew that famous people often had concerns in that regard. Many a celebrity and some of the models had dealt with overzealous fans. She had a few of those in her own past as well. “We can put precautions in place.” Miranda reached up and rubbed her ear as The Ambassador spoke again.
“The decision for my...offspring, to be joined to a human is widely accepted among my people, it is...tradition. Of course, there are those who oppose our presence on this world in general. It is reasonable that when the joining is announced there will be some humans protesting the event.”
“I see.” Miranda nodded. The Anti-Alien protesters were extremely vocal on the news nearly every night, especially here where the last ship still hovered over the city. Miranda could imagine they would be even more vocal when the news of the wedding broke. “There are always detractors for even the best ideas.” Turning to the soon-to-be married being, Miranda asked, “How did you meet your intended partner?” The response was as shocking in its content as its clarity.
“I have not.”
Before she could stop herself, Miranda laughed and playfully accused, “You speak English!” She immediately regretted it when the large, dark eyes lowered in shame. “No offense intended.” Miranda smiled when the eyes lifted to meet hers again. “I think it's wise to keep your abilities to yourself.” Now the import of the response hit her. “What do you mean you have not? You haven't met the person you're scheduled to marry in two months?”
The Ambassador answered, via the translator. “We were told that many joining ceremonies of his people are 'arranged' by the parents.”
“Traditionally that may be true, but in this day and age it's not exactly common.” Miranda shook her head. “I would never choose someone for my daughters to marry. They will choose their partners for themselves.”
The Ambassador's offspring shifted forward, their eyes glittering. “You have offspring?!”
Miranda smiled and nodded. “Twin girls.” Reaching forward she turned the picture frame on her desk around for her visitors to see. “They are currently twelve years old, but their birthday is coming up soon. Their names are Caroline and Cassidy.” Miranda took a deep breath as a sound emanated from her young visitor. She identified it as foreign, as alien, as it was, it was still familiar. Laughter.
“That is....” The being laughed and glanced at the rest of their party. “... amazing.”
“Oh?” Miranda glanced at the others who took their cue from The Ambassador's offspring and also seemed to be chuckling. She was ready to be let in on the joke. Especially if it had to do with her daughters.
“In the pantheon of our ancient Gods there are two tricksters. I do not believe humans could pronounce their names, but they translate to Carolina and Cassandra.” The visitor reached out to gently touch the photo. “I would be greatly honored to meet your offspring.”
Now Miranda smiled, joining in the room's amusement. “Tricksters eh? That does seem to fit.” She put forth an offer. “We would be honored to have you as our guests for our evening meal tonight.”
There was no mistaking the excitement in the young visitor's voice. “It would be my honor.”
“I have an appointment for the evening meal tonight.” As the translator spoke, The Ambassador's words seemed to deflate their offspring slightly. The disappointment was noticed and The Ambassador nodded, the translator dutifully letting the human in the room follow the conversation. “However, if you wish to accept I have no objections, provided you take a security contingent with you.”
“One guard will be plenty.” the younger being assured their parent. “And they will remain outside Ms. Priestly's dwelling.”
“Four,” The Ambassador countered but conceded the stipulation, “stationed outside the dwelling so that all points of access are visible, and two drones.”
The Ambassador sighed and spoke, the translator conveying their firmness on the subject. “One drone, and four guards... stationed outside.”
Miranda now found the expressive eyes turned to her and she nodded. “Acceptable.”
Nodding at the agreement, the younger being now spoke in their own language. “'Kosi, Umpathi'way.”
Miranda was interested that the translator faltered slightly when conveying the younger being's words. “Thank you... my parent.”
Happy that the arrangements were settled, Miranda informed her future guest, “You may arrive any time you wish after six pm. We normally eat our evening meal at seven o'clock.” She paused for a moment to retrieve a business card from her desk drawer. She held out the card to her future guest, not terribly surprised when one of the guards stepped forward to take it. “My home address is on the back. Do you have any dietary restrictions?”
“'Kosi...” The dark eyes crinkled at the corners as they glanced at the card the guard had handed them. “Thank you.” Then they answered the question. “Not exactly restriction, however I prefer vegetation.”
“Understood.” Miranda nodded. “Cassidy will be thrilled to have another vegetarian in the house.” She watched her soon-to-be dinner companion. “I'm sure the girls will be ecstatic to help with the outfit... not that you would have to take any of their suggestions.”
“I would welcome any input they might have.”
Chuckling at that, Miranda nodded, “You may rethink that when you hear their suggestions.” She tilted her head as she spoke. “I love my daughters, however, their taste in fashion often leaves something to be desired and the designation of 'trickster' may not be far off the mark.”
Dark eyes twinkled as the young visitor stood, along with their parent and the rest of the entourage. “Understood.”
Miranda rose from her seat as well. “I will see you tonight then.”
The Ambassador bowed slightly. “Thank you for your help in this matter.” They began to leave, filing out after two of the guards, the translator followed behind them.
The young being also bowed, “I look forward to tonight.”
Nodding, Miranda agreed. “As do I.” She watched as they left her office, followed by the last two guards. When they were all gone, Miranda shook her head and sat back down. “Emily.” In less than three seconds her assistant was standing in front of her desk.
“Pull the design meeting up to two. Rearrange my afternoon. Push everything you can to Monday.” She waved her hands over the computer screen that held her schedule. “I want to leave by five.”
Emily blinked then nodded once. “Yes, Miranda.” She was just happy that this was a weekend the girls were with Miranda, which meant nothing needed to be rescheduled for tomorrow or Sunday. She cringed a bit thinking about how packed and crazy Monday was going to be. Shifting some things from Monday back to Tuesday seemed to be the answer, no matter how much fast talking it was going to take. Resuming her seat, the redhead pulled up Miranda's schedule on her screen and reached for the phone, muttering even as she dialed the first number.
“I love my job, I love my job, I love my job.”
“Girls, I want you to go upstairs and get dressed for supper. We are having a guest.” Miranda was expecting the protests.
“Ewww... dressed? What's wrong with what we have on?” Cassidy had changed out of her school uniform immediately after getting home, into the standard sweatpants and hoodie combo she'd begun wearing around the house. Miranda assumed it was just to annoy her, although the outfit did seem quite comfortable and was not at all inappropriate for homewear.
“Who's the guest, Mom?” Caroline knew as well as her sister did that guests were a rarity in the house. Most of the time when dining with someone outside the family it was done in a restaurant venue.
“You don't have to go all out, but I would appreciate more than the normal house attire. She glared at Cassidy, then turned to Caroline. “We will be hosting The Ambassador's child this evening.”
“I didn't know Ambassador Franklin had a child.”
“Mmmm... not him.” Miranda licked her lips and smiled; she had used the word child on purpose. Her children had inherited their trickster ways from somewhere after all. Her eyes held a bit of mischief because she knew that the girls were going to be excited about their guest. “The Ambassador's...offspring. They were in my office today and their offspring expressed their interest in meeting you, my offspring. So I invited them to share our evening meal with us.” She watched, her smile growing as her daughters blinked, and processed what she had said.
“Offspring?” Caroline's eyes widened. “You mean.... THE, The Ambassador?! The alien? From the ship?!”
“No Way!” Cassidy jumped in place and did a fist pumping motion. “Yes! This is SO cool!”
“Girls. Listen to me. I'm going to be having several meetings with them over the next few months.” Miranda got their full attention. “But, there are some safety issues. So you musn't tell anyone when they will be here. Do you understand?”
“We can't tell anyone?” Cassidy's excitement was dampened somewhat. “No one?”
“Safety?” Caroline had always been more cautious of the press. “Are they in danger?”
Miranda was glad that the girls didn't seem to be afraid of the aliens. They were more concerned with the very real threat of the press/stalkers than they were the imagined threat of an alien being coming in their home. Still, she gave them the choice. “If having them here makes you uncomfortable let me know and I will conduct any other business we have at the office.” She saw their nods and acknowledged their response. “Good. Now, please go dress for dinner.” She grinned at her youngest, most excited child... offspring. “You will be happy to know that our guest also,” she used her fingers to make air quotes, “prefers vegetation.” The response to that was another fist pump from Cassidy.
Miranda chuckled and gave the girls another instruction. “Please try not to giggle at the odd phrasing our guest might use when speaking.” Miranda spoke several languages, and the actual phrasing of the English/Alien speech was not much of an issue. What tripped up Miranda the most was the gender neutrality of the beings. After a lifetime of thinking in terms of he/him, she/her, the they/them pronouns were not as natural to her as they should be. When the ships first appeared over the cities and the aliens made their presence known, the they/them phrasing had started in earnest. Especially among the people who dealt with them the most. There had been a PR campaign that helped as well.
Truth be told it should have started quite some time before that with the prevalence of non-binary people in society, however, the push against that had been quite strong until the extra-terrestrials had appeared. When the aliens arrived people suddenly had other things to worry about. Now that Miranda thought about it, several so-called 'issues' virtually disappeared after people had something else to hold their attention.
“They speak English quite well, but they are translating their own language into English in their head, the word choices and phrasing may sound a little odd to us. I've been studying their phrasing all afternoon.”
“Sure.” Caroline waved off that concern as she walked toward the stairs. “There's lots of kids at school who have accents.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy followed her sister to the staircase. “I like hearing the different accents. I'm sure our guest tonight will have a cool one. I've heard them speak on tv before.”
Miranda took a deep breath happy that both girls seemed comfortable with the they/them pronouns and watched her children as they went to change. She hoped the girls would get along with their visitor tonight. She didn't know why she was nervous about that. Why would it be important for the girls and The Ambassador's offspring to get along? She knew they were barely going to interact after this. That brought on thoughts of the impending wedding. Miranda shook her head against the concern the future event brought her. She absently brushed her fingers on the spot just under her throat as she contemplated her own feelings on the 'arrangement'. With a shake of her head, Miranda put those thoughts aside. She had been asked to help, and she would. Right now she wanted to make sure everything was prepared for their guest's arrival and walked into the dining room to check the table setting.
The vehicle silently glided over the roadway until it came to a stop in front of what they had been told was quite an impressive dwelling. Two of the guard detail exited the car and escorted them toward the door, as the drone that had followed their car rose to hover over the house. The other guards continued around the block to station themselves on the other side of the home. They were surprised when the door opened as they approached and were amused as the small human smiled before turning away from the door to loudly announce.
“MOM! They're here!”
“Cassidy!” Miranda kept her voice to a tolerable level as she appeared in the hall. “Moderate your tone. Our guest does not want to hear you bellowing.” She held the door with one hand and urged Cassidy toward the stairs with the others. “Go find your sister and meet us in the sitting room.” With a deep breath, Miranda faced the being she had encountered in her office, again dressed head to toe with only their eyes visible. She indicated that her visitor should enter. “Come in, please. Welcome to our home.”
“Thank you.” They crossed the threshold and when the door was closed behind them, bowed slightly. “I'm grateful for your hospitality.”
“Our pleasure.” Miranda gestured down the hall toward the sitting room. “It will still be a short time before the meal is fully cooked. We can relax and talk until it is finished.”
With a small bow, they followed Miranda. “A most pleasant way to pass the time, I'm sure.”
“My childr...offspring, will join us soon as well.” Miranda crossed to a small side table which held several crystal bottles and an insulated bucket. “Would you like a drink while we wait?”
“We do not ingest what you call, alcohol.”
That was one of the things most of the general public knew regarding the aliens. “I have sparkling or flat water if you are thirsty.” Miranda pointed at each of the selections. “And ice if you prefer your drink cold.”
“Ice.” The visible eyes crinkled. “Yes, please. Ice with plain water.”
Miranda put a small scoop of crushed ice into a glass and filled it with water, passing it to her guest. “I knew of your aversion to alcohol, but do you have any objections if I were to...”
“Not at all.” Their eyes were warm, compassionate. “Please, be comfortable in your own home.”
Miranda was curious now as to how her guest would deal with the actual ingestion of the liquid. She was therefore surprised when the glass was lowered then raised under the veil, obviously tasted, and returned to the outside of the garment.
“My thanks.” They tilted their head, indicating the sofa.
Miranda gestured. “Please, you should also be comfortable. Treat my home as yours for the duration of your stay.”
The eyes seemed amused as they settled on the sofa. “Your home is lovely, very.... quiet.”
Chuckling at that, Miranda prepared her own drink, a stemmed glass half full of white wine. She settled into a seat facing her guest. “It is quiet until my offspring begin bellowing through the house and thundering up and down the stairs.” She took a sip of her drink, savoring the vintage for a moment. “I often wonder how two small humans can create such chaos.” She took another sip and listened again to the silence. This time she sighed. “And sometimes they can be quiet as mice. The loud chaos can be annoying, but the silence is often quite suspicious...” Turning her head to look at the door Miranda spoke to the shadows beyond the threshold. “Come on in, Bobbseys. Meet our guest.”
Their visitor's dark eyes wrinkled at the corners when they saw the two small beings, from the photo on Miranda's desk, appear in the doorway and move together into the room.
The girls left a wide berth around the sofa as they made their way toward their mother. When they reached her, Miranda set aside her glass to wrap one arm around each child. “These are my daughters, Caroline,” she shook the arm around Caroline and tilted her head to gently tap the top of the oldest-by-minutes twin, “and Cassidy.” She used the same method to indicate the younger of the duo. “Girls, this is The Ambassador's offspring.” She looked at their visitor and smiled. “I'm sorry I don't believe I was ever told your name.”
Their drink was also set aside and one hand pressed against their chest. “Please, forgive me.” They sighed. “I do not believe you would be able to pronounce my true name.”
“Would you say it for us?” Cassidy asked. “We can speak a little of some languages other than English. Maybe we can.”
None of them expected the response, but it was at least somewhat familiar to Miranda as she had heard it before in her office. Still alien, but definitely laughter.
“You are correct, of course.” They nodded. “I should not assume.”
The next set of sounds surprised them all so much with the fluidity and musical quality including some rolling sounds and clicks, one being so loud at the end of the sequence that Miranda and the girls almost missed actually hearing it.
They saw their host's offspring rubbing their ears but was surprised to see Miranda run her fingers over her chest, just below her throat. Blinking at that, they held up a digit to forestall any questions and repeated their name. “A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ” They waited for the response and were not disappointed as the twins began trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the sequence. Cassidy came impressively close, however, and they clapped their hands together in appreciation. “Very close, Cassidy. Well done.”
The girl grinned. “One of my classmates is named Andrea, and your name sounds sort of like the way our French teacher pronounces her name, except for the clicks. We usually just call her Andy.”
“I see.” They nodded. “I did not know what my designation would translate to in English...” They pronounced the unfamiliar name slowly. “Andy, is acceptable to me for your ease of speaking.” Although the girls could not see it, Andy smiled at them. Turning toward Miranda, they added. “And you will also be welcome to use the shortened designation.”
“I will not.” Miranda gave a side-eyed glance to each of her daughters. “My daughters know full well that I do not often utilize what is termed as 'nicknames'. They are shortened versions of people's names...designations.” Miranda offered. “I do, however, believe my daughter is correct when she says your designation sounds very much like 'Andrea'.” She tilted her head. “I also believe the more European pronunciation would be the closest I could manage.” She pronounced the name again slowly, without the associated clicks. “Ahn drey ah.”
Their unseen smile reappeared when a human version of their designation fell from Miranda's lips. Pressing their hand against their chest, Andy maintained eye contact with Miranda as they calmed themself and spoke softly. “Acceptable.”
They all heard the timer in the kitchen ding and Miranda blinked, breaking the moment. She urged the children to move away from her as she stood. “Girls, if you would please escort our guest to the dining room. I will gather the food.”
The door between the kitchen and dining room was open, so Miranda knew the girls had not asked any more questions as they settled into their places at the table they had set earlier. She carried the dishes in on a tray and placed them on the table within easy reach of everyone, setting the tray aside for later cleanup. She winked at Cassidy as the girl wiggled in delight at the offerings. “This is one of Cassidy's favorites.” Miranda pointed to the large serving bowl. “Mushroom Risotto.”
Before Caroline could say anything, Miranda continued speaking, more for her children's benefit than anything. “Andrea informed me this morning that they prefer vegetarian dishes.” Miranda looked to their guest and smiled. “Perhaps in the future we may share meals that include dishes with both vegetables and meat, but in this, first meal together,” she looked at Caroline her intention clear, “we will all enjoy the meatless dishes offered.” She was satisfied that her message was not lost on the girl when Caroline nodded and spoke quietly.
Since Cassidy was not the focus of Miranda's ire she was able to process the words with a bit more clarity. “In the future?” She turned toward their visitor. “You plan to visit us in the future?” Her ear tickled when Andy responded.
“Yes, Miranda and I will be working together for a while.” The dark eyes shifted to Miranda. “I'm certain there will be several opportunities to share meals.”
“Mom said that earlier.” Caroline took over the conversation. “What are you working on together?”
“Miranda has agreed to assist me in choosing an outfit for my joining ceremony.”
“Married?” Cassidy's forehead furrowed. “Are you going to be a bride or groom?”
“Cassidy!” Miranda was shocked at the bluntness of such a private question.
“What?” Cassidy looked between her mother and their guest. “I just wondered. Because I know that the aliens are gender neutral, so I wondered what the ceremony would be like. I mean, bride/groom, bride/bride, groom/groom....what? It's sort of important to know though, for the outfit.”
“The gender designations humans maintain are confusing for me, although I believe the human I'm joining with is designated as male.” Andy admitted. “I would welcome a more detailed explanation of the genders.”
“That...” Miranda chuckled, knowing her daughters, Cassidy in particular, would be more than happy to oblige. She even saw Cassidy take a breath to begin speaking, so Miranda knew she had to talk fast, “...will take longer than we have at this time, if we want to eat our meal at the correct temperature.” She handed the serving bowl to Cassidy. “Take your portion then pass the bowl on to our guest. Caroline you may start with the salad.” She watched as Cassidy did as instructed and Andy took their portion, not quite as much as Cassidy, but still a good amount before passing it on to Caroline who portioned out some salad and passed the bowl with the leafy concoction to Miranda. Once they all had their portions of salad and risotto, Miranda politely asked, “Do you need to say anything before we eat?” She saw the question in Andrea's eyes and explained. “Some people have certain traditional or religious rites that they perform before eating. One such rite is to give thanks to their religious deity for the food they are about to eat.”
“Ah.” Andy nodded in understanding. “I have witnessed that ritual before, but no, we do not have any such... tradition.”
“Very well then.” Miranda smiled. “In that case I will continue with the theme and choose a non-English saying. Italian this time." She scooped a bit of risotto onto her fork and spoke. “Buon Appetito.”
She watched the girls tuck into their meals as their guest manipulated their meticulously loaded utensil taking it carefully under the veil bite by bite. After a short time of them all eating in silence Miranda cleared her throat. She spoke softly to their visitor, hoping her words did not offend them. “This outfit you are wearing does not lend itself to eating and drinking.” She tilted her head slightly, examining the garment as much as possible. “It is similar to the garment you wore to my office this morning.” She raised her eyebrows. “If this is a design that has some purpose our search for an outfit for the ceremony will be a short one. I'm not sure you need my services at all.” For a moment, Miranda thought she had offended their guest, when they went very still and very precisely put their fork down next to their plate. She met those, now familiar, large, dark eyes and for several heartbeats all Miranda heard was her own blood pounding in her ears. She opened her mouth to apologize when Andy spoke, softly.
“You are correct.” Andy spoke as they reached up to the fastener, holding the veil in place. “My parent requires that I wear this style of garment when I venture outside of my rooms on the ship.” Holding the veil in place for a half second more, Andy exhaled and removed the fabric from their face and head. “But it is not necessary here in the company of...” looking at Miranda, Andy finished their thought. “...friends.”
“Wow.” Cassidy smiled. “You're pretty.”
Caroline agreed. “Super pretty.”
Miranda watched as Andrea ran their fingers through their long, wavy brown hair. In a human the action would be interpreted as self-consciousness. It was inconceivable to Miranda that anyone possessing such beauty could be self-conscious at all. Miranda heard both comments but she was speechless. She knew that the girls assessment wasn't even close to describing Andrea's ethereal beauty. The compliments also seemed to embarrass Andrea so Miranda opted to remain silent on the subject. Instead she seized upon the other comment Andrea had made. “We are glad you consider us to be your friends.” Miranda held up her drink in a sort of toast, an acknowledgment of Andrea's declaration of friendship. “We certainly return the sentiment and look forward to strengthening that relationship.”
Andy lowered their eyes to their plate and spoke quietly. “Thank you, Miranda.” They took a deep breath and looked up to meet Miranda's eyes. “I too, look forward...”
Smiling at that, Miranda nodded and continued the meal. They were all quiet as they ate, but it was not uncomfortable or awkward. Surprisingly, when the girls finished they did not ask to be excused from the table. Instead, they waited politely while Miranda and Andy finished. Noticing that Andrea was no longer eating, Miranda put her fork down and pushed her nearly empty plate away slightly. “Are we all sufficiently full?” Affirmatives all around the table settled the issue and Miranda stood. “Well then, I think it's time for you girls to practice your recital pieces. Andrea and I have some things to discuss.”
“Okay, Mom.” Cassidy stood and gestured to her sister to do the same. “Should we take the leftovers to the kitchen?”
“I will get them, thank you.” Miranda chuckled. “Off you pop.” She watched them leave the room before retrieving the tray and began stacking the used dishes on it. She spoke to Andrea. “This will not take long. You are welcome to wait for me in the sitting room.”
“May I assist?” Andrea stood and lifted their plate. “The remainder of the meal needs to be stored and the receptacles sanitized, correct?”
“Yes. However, I would not ask you to help.” Miranda kept the smile she felt trying to form from appearing on her face. “You are my guest.”
With what could be considered a wry grin, Andrea chided. “I believe I was the one asking.”
“Mmm...” Miranda narrowed her eyes slightly, obviously thinking about the situation then coming to a conclusion. She licked her lips and lightly rolled her eyes. “Well then, follow me.” Leading her guest to the kitchen, Miranda set the tray she was carrying on the prep island and moved to take the dirty dishes Andrea carried. “I'll take those. Thank you.”
Andrea relinquished the dishes and found a seat on one of the stools next to the island. “On the ship there are beings to clean away our... dishes.” They sighed. “I have been assured that my...intended... also has many, what is the word, servers?”
“Servants.” Miranda supplied as that odd stab of jealousy shot through her. She placed the plates into the dishwasher with slightly more force than necessary.
“Yes, servants.” Andrea took a deep breath. “I'm told he is quite.... wealthy. Is it a good thing? To be...wealthy?”
Miranda was suddenly struck with how little Andrea knew about humans and the society they were about to become a part of in such a spectacular fashion. “For most people, it means he has enough assets and currency to procure what he needs to live in a luxurious fashion.” Miranda turned and leaned against the counter, watching her guest carefully. “Some people use wealth as a measure of success.” She pushed off the counter and gestured to the doorway. “Shall we return to the sitting room?”
Those dark eyes showed understanding and Andrea spoke as they walked out of the kitchen. “You do not believe in that measure.” They smiled. “You have a different method of assessing success.”
Blinking at the blinding smile Andrea displayed, Miranda nodded taking a moment to regain the use of her voice. “Yes. I was able to do a bit of research on your...intended? He comes from a long line of 'wealthy' people, most of them merely living off of the fortunes that their predecessors businesses have accumulated. Since they are lucrative businesses, he is not in very much danger of losing it all, although he should be extremely careful in the current volatile market. Those who have been born into money are often not as attuned to what their wealth represents as those who have had to work for their assets.”
Miranda shifted her shoulders slightly, releasing some of the tension this subject caused her. “My 'wealth' is nearly the same as the man you are going to join, however I worked for mine. His was given to him, given more than he currently has in fact, and he has squandered it with bad business decisions and reckless spending. I worked for mine, made good business decisions and do not spend recklessly on showy things such as a multitude of servants.” Miranda grinned and gestured toward the kitchen. “I can obviously take care of some things myself. I do have one 'servant'.” Licking her lips at Andrea's widening eyes, Miranda continued. “I have no need for more. My housekeeper does everything I need done. Having more servants than that is just excessive.” She saw Andrea looking around and reassured them. “She is not here now. She often goes to her own home when I return from my work in the evening. Most of her tasks are done during the day while I am absent.” Miranda admitted. “She actually cooked the meal tonight. I merely warmed it before we were ready to eat.”
“I see.” Andrea thought about that. “Sensible.”
Chuckling at that, Miranda nodded. “It works for us.” Miranda shifted her shoulders. “There are other tasks that I pay others to do for me. I have a service that provides a driver for me if I need one, I have a gardener who attends to the landscaping here, and they also have other clients...other houses, that they also look after.” Taking a deep breath, Miranda exhaled slowly. “Perhaps this subject should be discussed at a later time?”
“Of course.” Andrea nodded once. “I am quite sure that there are many subjects that we can discuss at any time.” They made themself comfortable in the same seat they had taken before the meal was served. “We will have a great many opportunities for discussion in the future.”
Latching on to the chance, Miranda changed the subject to the main reason for this visit. “Speaking of the future... is there any style of garment you have in mind for your ceremony? I took a cursory look at some of the more traditional outfits listed in your database. They seem to be quite varied. Do you have a preference?”
Nodding at that, Andy looked for the database interface. “I could show you if...”
“Oh.” Miranda rolled her eyes at her own short-sightedness. “The device The Ambassador gave me is upstairs in my office.” She stood to go retrieve it and, much to her own amazement, made an offer. “Come with me.”
No one who knew her would guess that Miranda would invite what amounted to a stranger into the depths of her home. Miranda was an intensely private person. No assistant had ever gone beyond the first floor, no matter how long they had worked for her. Even Nigel, who felt comfortable on the first floor of Miranda's home would not think to go up the stairs for any reason. As she led the way up, Miranda smiled as Andrea examined the artwork and photographs on the walls. They were about to enter Miranda's home office when something else caught Andrea's attention.
“What is that sound?”
“Hmm?” Miranda stopped and actually listened to the sounds in her house. The corners of her eyes crinkled in amusement. “Ah..my daughters are practicing the pieces they're going to play at their piano recital next week.” Identifying the song, she elaborated. “That is Caroline.” Abandoning her office, Miranda made the follow me gesture, but also placed a finger on her lips in what seemed to be the universal sign to be quiet. She took slightly exaggerated quiet steps down the hallway until they got to the music room. The door was slightly open and Miranda pushed it a tiny bit more for Andrea to peek in and see Caroline sitting at a piano playing the music. They remained outside the door until Caroline finished. Miranda pushed the door all the way open when the music faded. “Well done, Caroline.”
“I agree!” Andrea clapped their hands together. “Wonderful!”
Caroline grinned. “Thanks.” She stood and traded places with Cassidy, who was seated in an overstuffed chair next to a loveseat in the corner, waiting her turn at the piano.
“May we remain and listen to you play, Cassidy?”
“Sure, Andy.” Cassidy grinned. “I wish I could take a request, but I need to practice this piece.” She waited for her audience to settle themselves on the loveseat next to Caroline's chair before beginning to play.
Miranda had heard the music more times than she could count, so although she enjoyed the performance her main focus was on Andrea's reaction. Their intense concentration on the performance rivaled Cassidy's own. Andrea seemed to be trying to anticipate what came next and was thoroughly delighted when they couldn't. When the piece was finished, Cassidy received the same enthusiastic accolades as Caroline had.
“Not long after we arrived on this planet there was a...concert. It was intended to show us the variety of musical forms you have here on Earth. I was not allowed to attend, but my parent attended and I was given a recording of the performances. The...piano was one of my favorite segments, but what you have done here seems much better to me.”
“I remember that concert.” Cassidy nodded. “It was at Carnegie Hall.”
“Yeah,” Caroline looked at her mother. “Didn't you go to that one, Mom?”
Miranda shook her head. “No. I had an invitation but there was some chaos at Runway I had to deal with.”
“Parts of it were televised, but I didn't realize that any alien representatives were actually there.” Cassidy spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. “I think, the performers would have been very nervous to be performing for our visitors. Back then the idea of 'aliens' was very new. Having them in the audience would have been extremely intimidating.”
Andrea smiled. “But having me here in your home is not?”
“Nah.” Cassidy grinned. “You're just... Andy.”
Dark eyes crinkled in amusement at that statement. “Indeed I am.”
Caroline spoke up. “We've finished practicing. May we watch some television before we go to bed?”
Miranda looked into twin sets of hopeful eyes and sighed. “I suppose so.” She laughed as the girls tackled her for hugs. “Just nothing too intense. Even though tomorrow is not a school day, you need to be able to sleep.”
The girls called over their shoulders as they practically ran from the room. “Yes, Mom.” “Sure, Mom.”
Shaking her head at their antics, Miranda grinned. “They are a handful sometimes.”
“A handful of what?”
Laughing out loud at that, Miranda nodded. “That... is a very good question.” She winked at her guest and again gestured for them to follow her. “Yet another thing to talk about another day.” She entered her office and tapped the interface sitting on her desk. The display immediately appeared. “Until then, perhaps we can come a little closer to choosing the garment you need.”
Andrea manipulated the controls and quickly found the image they wanted to show Miranda. “This one.” They elaborated. “I have attended several bonding ceremonies in my lifetime. This is the garment I have most admired of the ones I have seen.”
“It is lovely.” Miranda examined the cut of what she had come to think of in her head as ceremonial robes. The way this one fit the wearer would definitely flatter Andrea, at least Miranda thought it would. Since they were still wearing the formless robe, Miranda had no idea what Andrea's body shape was like. Which brought her to another question. “We will need to know your body shape and take measurements to correctly fit a garment to you.”
Miranda watched as Andrea, endearingly, bit their lip and then, with only a glance at the closed office door, seemed to make a decision. In a move not unlike when they had unfastened their veil, Andrea reached up to their right shoulder with their left hand and before Miranda knew what was happening the fabric Andrea was covered in fell to a pile on the floor at their feet. Miranda blinked to see Andrea, standing in the pool of fabric in nothing but a skintight garment.
“Do I need to remove this garment as well?” Andrea's right arm reached up to touch their left shoulder, stopping when Miranda responded quickly.
“No.” Holding up both hands to halt any more action from Andrea, Miranda shook her head. “I believe measurements taken over this garment will be accurate enough for tailoring purposes.” Then Miranda's forehead wrinkled and she blinked as her initial assessment of Andrea happened nearly automatically. It was what all models went through at Runway and Miranda was shocked enough not to censor her slightly accusatory tone and words.
Andrea crossed their long arms across their torso. “I... am not.”
“But,” Miranda gestured toward them, “your proportions...”
Jumping in, Andrea finished that sentence. “...are different than those you have seen from the ship.” They nodded, agreeing. “Yes, however, if you measure you will find that those difference are not enough to make me... human. My parent's proportions are also somewhat different than the ship's crew.” They sighed as Miranda tilted her head and looked down and up their body slowly. “If you would please just take the measurements needed for the garment fitting so that I may cover up again.” They rubbed their upper arms with their hands. “I feel very exposed right now.”
“Oh.” Miranda stopped her evaluation and moved quickly to retrieve a cloth measuring tape, a post-it pad and a pencil from the drawer of her desk. “Of course.” She set the note pad and pencil aside and moved closer to Andrea. “I didn't mean to offend you. I was just startled to see how similar you are to...”
“Humans.” Andrea nodded and swallowed against their dry mouth when Miranda moved so close. “It is one reason my parent requires I wear the coverings. They do not want my appearance to be a... distraction to the crew. There are only a very few I interact with.”
“I was going to say 'how similar you are to' the models featured in my magazine.” Miranda went about the business of measuring, starting with Andrea's shoulders, across their back. Moving behind them, Miranda spoke softly. “I will need to physically touch you for this, is that permitted?”
Andrea paused, then nodded. Their voice sounded slightly uncertain, but the answer was clear. “Yes.”
Miranda proceeded to measure from shoulder to shoulder and wrote it down before speaking again, warning them what was coming next. “Arm length.” The flexible measuring tape went from their shoulder to their wrist. The bracelet there did nothing to impede the process and she dutifully recorded that number. Miranda lifted the arm gently and from behind Andrea reached through to wrap the measuring tape around the largest part of their torso. “For humans, this would be the 'bust'.” She lowered the tape and murmured. “Under bust.” Both numbers were written down before Miranda moved around to face Andrea. She looped the tape around Andrea's neck, crossing it at their throat. “Neck.” It took all she had not to bury her fingers into the thick dark hair spilling over Andrea's shoulders as she moved it to settle the tape around Andrea's neck. Miranda managed to pull her gaze away from those dark expressive eyes and write down the result before murmuring, “Waist.” The tape went around the narrowest part of Andrea's torso, then the tape lowered. “Hips.” Miranda took a deep breath as she recorded the measurements then dropped to one knee in front of Andrea. “Thigh.” the muscle under her fingertips jumped but Miranda took the measurement and then relocated the tape. “Knee.”, then went lower still. “Calf.” Writing them down quickly, Miranda remained on her knees and murmured. “Leg length.” The tape ran the length of the outside of Andrea's leg. Recording that number, Miranda took a steadying breath and looked up at Andrea. “Nearly done, just two more.” She swallowed and said, “Inseam.” She took the end of the tape and put it in Andrea's hand. “Hold this... here.” She directed their hand to the appropriate place and then ran the tape down the inside of Andrea's leg. Recording that, Miranda murmured “Crotch.” She moved Andrea's warm hand, still holding the end of the measuring tape to the middle of their waist. “Hold still.” Reaching around Andrea's knee, Miranda stood pulling the tape up between their legs and measured to the middle of their waist in the back. “All done.” With shaking hands, Miranda lightly tugged the measuring tape, taking it from Andrea's hand and wrapping it for storage before she recorded the last measurement. She picked up the robes Andrea had let fall and started to hand the garment back to them. It was only then that she realized what she had in her hands. A furrow appeared in Miranda's forehead. “What is this fabric?”
Andrea took the robes and smiled. “You like it?”
“It feels almost like silk.” Miranda rubbed her fingertips together, remembering the softness.
They re-dressed, speaking while closing the fastenings. “It's a composite material, you would call it plastic and thinly extruded metals woven together.” They smoothed the garment down, settling it around their frame. “It is what basically all our garments are created from. The metals used and the ratio of plastic/metal is sometimes different, depending on the use. It's quite versatile and can be made in any color.” They saw the question in Miranda's eyes. “The guard's uniforms are thicker and can withstand any of your projectile weapons.” They fluffed out the sleeves on their own robes. “Even this will...protect me from the smaller, handheld projectiles humans often seem to use.”
“It's bullet proof?” Miranda was amazed. “It's so light! I have worn kevlar jackets before but they are extremely heavy.”
“Yes.” Andrea nodded. “Our material is much lighter.” They were a bit concerned about Miranda's experience. “Why did you need to wear a bullet proof garment?”
“Oh.” Miranda waved that off. “I didn't 'need' to, I had just tried it on to see how it fit and how heavy it was. Runway was doing an article about law enforcement I think, possibly the military. The focus hadn't been decided on at the time. It was just research. The article ended up being dropped.” Miranda admitted. “I simply wondered how heavy they were as I was somewhat worried about Caroline and Cassidy and had hoped they would be able to wear the jackets to school. They were far too heavy to make a child wear. Law enforcement officers, members of the military sure, but children... no.”
“I see.” The subject was troubling to Andrea. “I have been made aware of the troubles plaguing your schools. It is concerning.”
“It is.” Shaking off that topic, Miranda tried to get back on the original track. “So I'm assuming that any garment we decide on will be made of this material?”
Andrea bowed slightly. “There is a limited quantity of materials to manufacture the fabric on the ship. When that supply is exhausted the only way to acquire more would be for another ship to bring some from... where it is processed as it cannot currently be obtained on Earth.”
“Ah,” Miranda chuckled. “So overnight delivery is out of the question.”
Dark eyes crinkled in amusement. “That would be a factual statement.” They shrugged. “It is advantageous that most garments made from this material last quite some time. This one is older than I am.” They paused for a moment then answered the previous question. “I would be more comfortable if the garments I wear were to be constructed from this material, yes. It is what I have worn all my life.” They conceded the point though and tilted their head slightly as they spoke. “I understand if that is not possible, depending on the garment selected and the complexity of its design Earth textiles may need to be utilized.”
“We will do our best.” Miranda's blue eyes softened. “Compliance with traditions is secondary to your comfort.” She gestured to Andrea's now covered body. “Is the garment you wear under your robes a normal thing? Will we need to accommodate it into the design?” Miranda settled in her desk chair. “Some of the outfits I have seen are rather... revealing. Those designs would expose any bodysuit worn under them.”
Taking Miranda's seated position into account, Andrea also sat, in one of the chairs in front of Miranda's desk. “I would prefer to wear my... bodysuit, if possible.”
Miranda nodded. “Excellent.” She chuckled. “It helps eliminate some of the choices.”
Andrea smiled. “Our task becomes easier by the moment.”
Chuckling at that, Miranda also smiled. “And as such, I believe we may leave the topic for another day. More research will be required before we may eliminate any more of the options we have.”
“Of course.” Andrea hesitated. “Should I take my leave now?”
“Only if you wish.” Miranda tapped the 'off' switch on the database device. “I'm finding that your company is quite enjoyable. Extending this evening would not be a burden to me.”
“I too have found our discussions, enjoyable.” They watched Miranda carefully. “An extension of the evening would be acceptable.”
Miranda lost herself in Andrea's dark eyes and exhaled softly. “Good.” She stood and gestured toward the door. “I believe we would be more comfortable talking in the sitting room.” She led the way downstairs and nodded to herself when Andrea settled into the same seat they had taken prior to their meal. Miranda resumed her own. “And in here,” Miranda glanced at the sidebar holding the drinks. “We can refresh ourselves much easier.”
Andrea glanced around the room in what Miranda thought seemed like nervousness. “Is there something wrong?”
“No...” Andrea swallowed and admitted. “I was not sure you would be comfortable extending the evening.
That statement confused Miranda. “Why is that?”
Andrea reached up to touch their cheek. “When I removed my facial covering your offspring were complimentary regarding my appearance; however, you... remained silent on the subject. Then when I removed my outer robes...” They avoided Miranda's eyes. “I was concerned that you may find my appearance... unacceptable.”
“Unac...” Miranda could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears. “No, that isn't it at all.” She shook her head and was unable to stop herself from moving from her chair to sit next to Andrea on the couch. “My apologies if my lack of response caused you any distress.” Reaching up, Miranda gently touched Andrea's cheek, turning their head so their eyes were looking directly into hers. “My daughters said you were 'pretty'. I believe that is the wrong word.” When Andrea started to look away, Miranda's hand on their jaw stopped them. Holding those dark eyes in her gaze, Miranda spoke softly. “I do not believe there is a single word, in any language on this Earth, to adequately describe how beautiful you are. There are phrases, but not just a single word.”
“Miranda, In'ren...” Andrea's response was stopped by Cassidy's voice coming through the door.
Miranda's eyes closed, hearing the stomping footsteps on the stairs, then reopened as she dropped her hand away from Andrea's cheek and grinned wryly. “A parent's work is never done.”
Smiling at that, Andrea rolled their eyes. “So I have been told.”
Miranda went to the door just as Cassidy was about to enter. “What are you bellowing about now?”
“We watched a new YouTube video from our favorite channel and now we want to watch a movie.” Cassidy turned her puppy dog eyes on her mother. “We wondered if we could have some popcorn?”
“You're hungry?” Miranda's eyebrows went up. “You ate plenty for your meal.”
“Yeah,” Cassidy shrugged. “But... it's a movie, so we wanted popcorn. I mean, what's a movie without popcorn??”
Andrea spoke up, “What is... popcorn?”
Shaking her head, Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose and agreed. “Fine. I'll pop some. Go on back up and I'll bring it when it's done.”
Cassidy's smile lit her face. “Thanks, Mom!” She looked past her mom and gave Andrea an exaggerated wink. “Thanks, Andy!” Then she was off, pounding back up the stairs.
With a tilt of her head Miranda indicated that Andrea should follow her to the kitchen. She smiled as they took the same seat they had at the prep island before and Miranda made quick work of retrieving the items she needed to cook the popcorn. “This is a treat that many people like to eat while watching movies.” At Andrea's questioning expression, Miranda translated. “Visual story narratives. Called movies because when the technology was first introduced, people were amazed at the 'moving pictures' they were seeing.” She grinned. “Theaters began selling it as a way to make money during movie showings. It is extremely cheap to make and theaters sell it for a large profit margin.” She took a kernel from the jar to show Andrea. “It is a vegetable seed that has been dried after harvesting.” Placing a heavy pan on the stove, Miranda poured a bit of oil in the bottom and turned on the fire. “They are currently much too hard to eat. However, there is a tiny amount of moisture still inside and when heated the expansion 'explodes' the kernel, rendering them soft enough to eat.” Miranda poured a measured amount of popcorn into the pan and placed the lid on. “It doesn't take very long.” They waited a few moments until the first kernels began to pop. “When it starts to pop you must shake the pan,” Miranda demonstrated, “or the exploded kernels will burn while we wait for the balance of them to burst.”
Andrea watched the process, fascinated. “I am interested in tasting this... popcorn.”
Miranda continued shaking the pan until the popping noise slowed. She took the pan off the heat and poured the now white, fluffy bits into a large bowl. Holding the bowl out to Andrea, Miranda grinned. “Try some.” She demonstrated by picking out a bit and eating it. She considered the taste. “Needs salt...and butter.”
Andrea also sampled the white fluffy snack. As they chewed, they watched as Miranda ground some salt over the bowl and shook it. Then Miranda tasted it again.
“Better.” She chuckled. “Butter would also make it slightly better but the oil is enough for tonight.”
Trying the 'improved' popcorn, Andrea nodded. “I have notice that humans enjoy sodium chloride on their food.”
“Mmm...” Miranda agreed. “Some more than others.” She rolled her eyes. “It is bad for us though and medical people often recommend eating far less than most people enjoy.” Scooping a bit of the popped corn out of the large bowl into a smaller bowl, Miranda handed the portion to Andrea. “I will just take this to the girls and be right back.” She managed to keep the amused smile off her face as Andrea nodded absently and chose a fluffy kernel from the bowl to consume.
Miranda was chuckling when she returned to the kitchen. Andrea was in the same spot and the bowl in front of her had a barely discernible amount of popcorn missing. “Sorry about that.” She grinned at her guest. “It seems you have inspired my children's choice in viewing this evening.”
Andrea chose another fluffy bit of vegetation and grimaced. “They haven't chosen one of those horrible alien invasion narratives have they?”
Shaking her head at that, Miranda refuted the idea. “On the contrary. They are currently watching a romantic comedy that heavily features a wedding.”
“Ah.” Andrea smiled. “Perhaps I should watch it as well.”
“Oh!” Miranda gestured toward the stairs. “Do you wish to...”
“No.” Andrea held up their hands to calm Miranda's reaction. “Not tonight. Perhaps some other time.” Their eyes twinkled with mischief. “Perhaps your offspring would make a list of... movies, for me to view?”
Nodding at that, Miranda chuckled again. “I'm sure they will be more than happy to do that.” Gesturing back toward the sitting room, Miranda tilted her head in question. “Shall we resume our talk?”
Leaving the bowl of popcorn where it was, Andrea moved to follow Miranda without question. They very much wanted to resume their discussion with Miranda. Upon returning to the sitting room, Andrea took their seat and when Miranda began to sit in the chair, Andrea quickly reminded their host. “You were here.” They patted the cushion next to them. “When we were interrupted.”
Licking her lips at that, Miranda nodded once. “So I was.” She moved to the seat indicated. She turned to Andrea and waited. “I believe you were about to say something, when Cassidy's bellow paused our discussion.”
Andrea took a deep breath and spoke in their own language. “In'renxtul'thralQ” Reaching up, they caressed Miranda's cheek. “It is the word you were looking for. It literally means 'beauty that defies description'.”
Blue eyes softened and Miranda whispered, “Then I was right, no word on this Earth.”
Andrea's head wobbled from side to side and Miranda chuckled. “Don't...” Her blue eyes glittered as her fingers lightly touched Andrea's lips. “If you know of a word in an Earth language, don't tell me.” Miranda teased. “Just let me be right.” Her hand fell away from Andrea's face. “How many languages do you know anyway?”
The sheepish look on their face caused Miranda's eyes to narrow. “Personally I know five, and can speak two more with some degree of confidence. The girls know three and can speak bits and pieces of several more due to the diversity of their classmates.” Her guest's lips were now pressed tightly together. “Andrea? How many do you know?”
Dark eyes closed for a moment and then opened to look directly into Miranda's curious blue gaze as they answered. “All of them.”
Miranda let out a bark of laughter. “Of course you do!” She smiled and shifted to relax back onto the couch. “Of course.”
Copying the position, Andrea made a sound that could be described as a giggle. “I have been trying to decide if I should let my future... husband?” They looked at Miranda for confirmation on that designation, and when Miranda nodded, they continued. “...husband, know that I can, indeed speak the language of their people.” They sighed. “I suppose I will decide when the moment arrives.”
Miranda didn't know why, but she automatically reached out and held Andrea's hand. “We have a saying for that. It's 'I will cross that bridge when I come to it' and it pretty much literally means that you will decide when the moment arrives.” Miranda rested her head on the back of the couch and remained silent. The only motion in the room was her thumb gently stroking their hand. After a few moments, Miranda realized what she was doing and broke the connection. “I apologize. I shouldn't...”
“No.” Andrea initiated contact and resumed their connection. “It was In'tenxrul'thralQ.”
“That is not the same word you used before.”
Andrea smiled. “Similar.” They translated. “The one I just said means, 'an indescribable moment of peace.'”
“Yes.” Miranda blinked as she lost herself in Andrea's eyes. “It was.” She absently rubbed the spot just below her throat. “It certainly was.”
“I believe it is time to take my leave.” Andrea regretfully broke the contact again. “Should we plan our next meeting?”
Nodding, Miranda agreed. “Yes, two months is not that far off. We need to move pretty quickly now in order to be ready for any unforeseen circumstances.” She only thought for a second. “Perhaps you can return on Sunday?” Miranda clarified. “The day after tomorrow?”
“Yes.” Andrea nodded. “I will enjoy seeing you and your offspring again.”
“And we will enjoy seeing you.” Miranda stood, then offered her hand to help Andrea up off of the sofa. They walked together to the hall but when Andrea started toward the door, Miranda stopped her, tugging their joined hands in the other direction. “Forgetting something?”
Andrea found herself in the dining room and gasped as Miranda retrieved their veil and headcover from the table. “Oh.”
Winking at her guest, Miranda prevented them from putting on the accessories and kept her tone light. “Perhaps you can wait to put these on until after you say goodbye to the girls.”
“Ah...” Andrea agreed. “Excellent idea.” They followed Miranda to the room where the girls were still watching their movie, not having any other option as Miranda still had not released their hands. They heard the dialogue from the movie as they approached the open door.
“If there is anyone here who knows of any reason that these two should not be joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
“I do! They shouldn't be married! She doesn't love him!”
The entire crowd gasped at the person interrupting the ceremony as they continued. “She loves me!”
Miranda found the remote and paused the movie. “Girls, it's time for Andrea to leave.” She smiled as the girls scrambled to stand in front of their guest and she informed them. “They will come back to see us on Sunday.”
“Yeah?” Cassidy performed her customary fist pump. “Excellent! Come for brunch. We usually eat around eleven and always have pancakes on Sunday. You'll love them.”
“We have meats too.” Caroline said. “Bacon and sausage, but you don't have to eat it, if you don't want. Everyone likes different things. We always have fruits too.”
“Thank you, both.” They looked at Cassidy. “I look forward to trying...pan cakes.” Turning to Caroline, they winked. “I appreciate the options available to try.”
Cassidy asked, “Can we give you a hug goodbye?”
“Hug?” Andrea looked to Miranda for an explanation.
“It is the traditional way many people say goodbye.” She released Andrea's hand. “You wrap your arms around each other, to give comfort for the time apart.” She gestured to Cassidy and hugged her to demonstrate.
“Well then,” Andrea opened their arms, “we must follow tradition, yes?”
Cassidy shook her head, “Only if you want to. Traditions should never be followed just for traditions sake.” She waited for them to nod and gesture for her to complete the hug before moving forward and wrapping her arms around the alien. Cassidy looked up at them. “Thanks for coming tonight. I enjoyed meeting you.”
Andrea looked down into Cassidy's eyes and smiled. “Thank you for being so welcoming. I enjoyed meeting you very much.”
Caroline's turn was next and similar words were exchanged. A hopeful look appeared on Andrea's face. “I would ask that you choose a...movie for us to view when next we meet.”
“Really?!” Both girls seemed excited about that prospect.
“Perhaps we can convince Miranda to pop some more corn for us?” Andrea grinned as Cassidy pumped her fist in the air and Caroline did a little dance. Miranda just rolled her eyes.
“Okay, we'll see...”
“We will, cross that bridge when we come to it?” Andrea winked as Miranda let out a bark of laughter.
“Yes.” Miranda handed the remote to Caroline and shooed the girls back to their places. “Finish your movie then get ready for bed.”
The girls waved goodbye even as their attention was back on the movie. “Sure, Mom.” “Okay, Mom.”
Miranda walked slowly down the stairs and to the front door. She saw Andrea tapping their bracelet, then they turned to face her. She only had a moment to prepare before their long arms were around her and Miranda automatically returned the embrace. “Thank you, for a most pleasant evening.” Miranda smiled at them and out of years of ingrained habit, leaned forward, brushing her cheek against Andrea's. “I have thoroughly enjoyed your company and look forward to your return.”
Andrea nodded and leaned forward, also brushing their cheeks together. “Thank you for your hospitality. I'm extremely happy we were able to meet tonight and I also look forward to our next meeting.” They stepped back and pulled on their headcover, fastening their veil across their face. There was a beeping sound and Andrea lifted their hand, tapping their bracelet again. “My vehicle is here.”
Miranda nodded and opened the door for Andrea. She was not surprised to see two guards standing on either side of the door. “Safe journey.”
Andrea nodded. “In'herx thr'nQ, Miranda.” They walked between the stoic guards down the sidewalk to the vehicle. Before they disappeared inside they held up their hand and waved, much like the gestures they had seen the girls make as they left them finishing their movie. Then they were in the vehicle and gone.
Miranda watched the security drone lower itself from over her house and track the vehicle as it drove away before she closed the door.
Andrea didn't speak to the guards as they rode back to the waiting shuttle. They had tried to initiate conversations with their guards in the past but had learned that it was against the rules their superior officers had set. Andrea did not want anyone to get into trouble, so they all remained silent. The vehicle glided over the road quickly as the human vehicles all waited on the side roads. Once their transport passed, the other vehicles again filled the roadway. They were surrounded by the guards as they walked from the car to the shuttle and they were quickly on their way up to the ship. The trip only took a few moments. The walk from the shuttle dock to their rooms took longer. Andrea was impatient and began walking faster, causing their guards to also walk faster.
Andrea stopped walking instantly and turned toward the voice of their parent. The guards stepped back to let them speak to their parent. “Yes?” Shaking their head, they responded again in their own language. “E'we?”
“D'hi tey In'herx thr'Qn? D'hi tey a'dcvxQ tey cr'rjt?”
“Did you enjoy your evening? Did you make progress on your project?”
“E'we.” They bowed. “Miranda te Caroline te Cassidy, In'thrac'il te gren'tulQ ccrl.
Yes. Miranda and Caroline and Cassidy are perfect hosts and much progress was made.
Andrea bowed again. “In'herx thr'nQ, umpathi'way.”
Enjoy your night, my parent
The Ambassador placed their hand upon their chest.“In'herx thr'nQ, tzala'yam.”
Enjoy your night, my offspring
Andrea smiled and only watched their parent walk a few steps away, their contingent of guards shadowing them, before they resumed their trek to their rooms, their own guards silently in tow. The pace was more sedate now, Andrea was calmer. They entered their rooms with no word of acknowledgment or thanks to the guards who had dutifully stood outside Miranda's home all evening. But they did press their hand to their chest and give the guards a grateful look before they closed the door firmly behind them. Knowing they were alone, Andrea shed their veil and outer robes. Grabbing their personal database interface device, Andrea quickly activated it and scrolled through several items they wanted to research while the topics were still fresh in their mind. They were tired of relying on things others had conveyed to them. Currently the time they were going to spend away from Miranda and the girls seemed endless, but they knew that eventually rest would consume much of it. Right now they were far too agitated to even think about resting. So many things replayed in their mind, not the least of which were the moments at the end of the evening when Miranda's arms surrounded them. That was definitely a sensation they wished to repeat.
“MOM! ANDY'S HERE!”
Miranda appeared in the doorway at the end of the hall, speaking in a firm voice that carried down the hall perfectly clearly. “Cassidy! Volume!” She walked toward the door shaking her head and opened it. “What have I told you about bellowing through the house?!” Miranda gestured for Andrea to come deeper into the house. “Welcome back.” They all entered the kitchen where Caroline was busy setting out some biscuits.
“Hi, Andy!!” Caroline smiled wide. “You're just in time!”
Miranda chuckled and warned Andrea. “As you can tell the girls are quite excited for your return visit, hopefully they can control themselves for the duration of your stay and keep the noise level to a minimum.”
Andy laughed softly as they removed their headcover and veil. “Your home is extremely quiet, no matter how loud the voices become,” they explained as they all walked toward the kitchen. “Although it is muffled and most people dismiss it after a short time, there is always the sound of the engines thrumming through the ship,” they admitted. “I am not sure I will be able to sleep without that subtle, almost sub-audible, sound.”
Cassidy didn't think that sounded right and as she retrieved the orange juice from the fridge absently asked. “Why would you need to sleep without it?” She poured herself a measure of juice and sat at her place.
“After I am joined...” Andrea explained as they took their seat. “...I will be relocating to a dwelling here in the city.” They exhaled softly, the worrying thought of moving from the ship obviously showed on their face.
“Maybe you can record the sound.” Caroline suggested. “Then if you can't go back to the ship while you're in the city you can play it to help you sleep.”
“Excellent idea, Caroline.” Andy nodded. “I will look into obtaining a recording as soon as possible.”
Miranda wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer, but asked. “Have you met him yet?” The idea that she spent practically the entire day yesterday thinking about Andrea while they were possibly meeting with their intended groom was slightly maddening. Their response initiated a wave of relief in Miranda and a stab of jealousy.
“Not in person, no. That event has been scheduled for next week. There has been a short video call.” Andrea admitted. “He has spoken more to my parent than to me. It has been agreed that I will remain in New York, to be near the United Nations Headquarters. My...future husband has assured my parent that...he owns a lovely penthouse suitable for my use as a dwelling. He has conveyed that he is there quite often for his business as well.”
“It is normal for a married... joined, couple to share a dwelling.” It was one of the things Miranda was not necessarily good at. Sharing a space was not a strong suit of hers. She was self-aware enough to know that and speak of it freely as she put the rest of the food on the table and also sat. She passed the platter of meats to Caroline. “It was not an aspect of marriage that I appreciated.”
“You were joined?” Andrea's shock was not missed by any of them.
“Yeah.” Caroline stabbed two sausage patties and set the small plate back down into place. “Those didn't work out, thank goodness.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. “We know Mom and Dad both love us, but we certainly don't want to be in the same house they are trying to share.”
“Got that right.” Caroline nodded as she cut the pancake on her plate with her fork. “And Stephen? Bleh... he was just a...”
“Caroline!” Miranda glared at her daughter, forcing the young woman to think very carefully about her next word.
“mistake.” Caroline shrugged. “He was a total mistake.”
Andy was watching the conversation with rapt attention, completely forgetting their meal until Miranda spoke with no small amount of resignation. “He seemed like a good idea and we were compatible in short bursts, but Caroline is correct. It was definitely a mistake to marry him.” She focused on their guest. “It seems we have, once again, embarked on a discussion that ends up in cold food.”
Cutting into the 'pan cake', they dipped the portion into a small cup of maple syrup on their plate as they had observed Caroline doing. Andy touched the bite to their lips. “It feels quite warm to me.” They took the bite, their eyes widening as they consumed the sweet, fluffy delicacy.
Cassidy chuckled. “Right?” She gathered a bite on her own fork. “Told you...”
Andy smiled and began cutting another bite from the larger pancake on their plate. “You did say I would love them, and you were correct.”
They all laughed softly and continued the meal in relative silence as they enjoyed the selections available. Miranda's eyes twinkled when Andrea opted for a second pancake.
After they'd eaten, Andrea was surprised to see Caroline and Cassidy helping clean up. They were charmed at the interactions between Miranda and her offspring. The kitchen was nearly restored to its resting state when a sudden noise could be heard from the staircase.
“Oh no.” Cassidy gasped. “She must have gotten out!”
Miranda's concern was evident. She gestured toward the stairs, and the noise. “Get her, girls.”
Andrea blinked as the young Priestlys dashed away up the stairs.
Quickly turning to their guest, Miranda asked. “How do you feel about dogs?” Andrea's confused expression pulled a little more information from Miranda. “Animals... pets. Are you allergic?”
“SHE GOT PAST US, MOM!”
Miranda placed herself between Andrea and the staircase. Looking over her shoulder, Miranda told them. “She won't hurt you.”
Curious now, Andrea peered over Miranda's shoulder. They heard a sort of odd thumping sound coming down the stairs and then a huge animal appeared at the bottom of the staircase. They blinked at the shaggy beast amazed to see such a thing so close up. “What...”
Miranda intercepted the canine party crasher, holding her firmly by the collar. “Andrea, meet our dog... Patricia.”
Andrea bowed slightly. “Diya'bul, Patricia. Vela'phi?” The growling clipped bark that followed Andrea's question made them smile and they questioned their hosts. “Why are you keeping Patricia upstairs?”
Naturally it was Cassidy that questioned them. “You can talk to dogs?!”
Laughing at that, more than they had ever laughed before, Andrea shook their head. They translated their previous words. “I greeted Patricia and inquired where she came from. It was fortuitous that she responded at the correct time.” The corners of Andrea's dark eyes crinkled with amusement. “I didn't need a response to know she was being kept upstairs...” They winked at Patricia and grinned when the animal huffed a response.
Caroline and Cassidy collapsed on the floor laughing. “Good one, Andy!”
Miranda watched Andrea suspiciously but chuckled and maintained a firm grasp of Patricia's collar. “All jokes aside, we need to introduce you properly.” She gestured for them to approach. “Give me your hand.” Miranda took Andrea's cool hand and tugged them closer, bringing both of their hands extremely close to Patricia's nose. It was her turn to speak to the dog. “Patricia, this is Andrea.” She informed their pet. “They are our friend.” Licking her lips, Miranda rubbed the hand in hers, mixing the scent of her hand with Andrea's and repeated, “Friend.” Miranda moved their joined hands to the soft hair at Patricia's neck as she continued speaking to the dog. “See, they're nice.”
Andrea gained confidence and smiled when Miranda's hand dropped away and they continued to stroke the animal's soft hair. “She is beautiful.” They laughed when Patricia turned her head and licked the hand petting her. “Amazing.”
“She was at the groomers and boarded overnight on Friday. I meant to ask you when you were here about pet allergies, but I forgot.” Miranda released Patricia. “It seems there won't be any issues with anything like that.”
“No.” Andrea continued to pet the large animal. “We have no allergies to any animal on this planet.” Once again they were having a 'first' experience with the Priestly family. “I have, however, been extremely sheltered since we have arrived. My parent has visited “the Zoo” to observe the animals there, I viewed recordings of that experience and have viewed other recordings of various fauna on this planet, but this is the first animal I have encountered in person.” They grinned. “Besides humans.”
Miranda laughed at that. “Well, as first encounters go Patricia seems to be happy to be an ambassador for her species.”
Andrea blinked and filed away the topic for conversation but for now they lowered themself to the floor and ran their fingers through Patricia's thick fur. It was extremely soothing and warm, especially when Patricia practically laid down on top of them.
Miranda had rescued them from the entire weight of Patricia and all of them made the trek upstairs to the music room. When Andrea sat on the loveseat, Patricia jumped up to be beside them. Miranda took exception to that. “Patricia, down!”
Andrea frowned. “Is Patricia not allowed to sit near us?”
“Of course,” Miranda settled into the space Patricia had tried to take. “She can sit anywhere she wants, she's a hundred and twenty five pound full grown St. Bernard dog and this is her home too. However, we can't all fit here, and I am too old to be sitting on the floor.”
Andrea did not reply to the age comment but nodded. “I see.” They winked at Miranda and addressed Patricia rather formally. “Patricia, fenit okan gang'at?” They translated their question, “I asked Patricia, if she wanted the chair or floor?” The smile on their lips tinged their dark eyes with mischief as Patricia again 'spoke' on cue, with a short bark and a huff as she settled onto the floor at Andrea's feet. They looked at Miranda and tilted their head as they had observed Miranda do on occasion. “It seems that Patricia finds the floor acceptable.”
Miranda rolled her eyes, “Lucky me.” She sounded annoyed, but grinned widely and reached down to ruffle the fur between the dog's ears. “She's a good girl.” They settled in and listened as Caroline practiced her song. It ended with much applause from Miranda and Andrea. When Cassidy took her place at the piano the girl played her recital piece flawlessly and grinned at the repeat of the applause.
Cassidy knew she didn't need to practice for the recital anymore and asked, “Is there anything you would like to hear?” Cassidy's fingers absently played the scales, more to make sure the instrument was still in tune than anything else. “Mom? Andy? Any requests?”
Miranda shook her head. “I will defer to our guest.”
Andy was at a loss. “I have heard many styles of music since arriving here, but I haven't sorted out what my 'favorite' might be. So much of it is amazing and different from what I've heard before.”
That did interest Cassidy and she turned all the way around on the piano bench to face her audience. “I've never heard any of your music, what's it like?”
“We have as many different forms of music as you,” Andy informed their young friend. “My favorites are the more traditional ones utilizing percussion rather than anything else, other than voices.”
Cassidy's forehead wrinkled. “Drums?”
They laughed at the confusion. “It does seem at odds with the technology of space travel, but yes.” Andy shrugged. “I have had a lot of time on the ship and have listened to music from many of your cultures. The... deceptively simpler sounding music seems to draw me to it, percussion...” They gestured to the instrument Cassidy was seated in front of. “Piano...there are some lovely guitar pieces, many of my favorite Earth songs are similar to our own.”
Cassidy was fascinated. “There are Earth songs similar to your music?”
Andy turned to Miranda. “Where is your interface device? I can let Cassidy hear some of my favorites.”
“It's in my office.” Miranda stood and stopped Andrea from rising as well. “I'll be right back.”
Andy reached down to ruffle Patricia's fur. “uthetha'culo, Patricia?” The animal just resumed her resting position. They grinned at Caroline and Cassidy's expressions. “I asked Patricia what music she preferred. She seems to have no preference.” Amusement creased the corners of their eyes as the girls giggled along with the game. The giggles grew louder when they looked down into the dog's deep brown eyes and winked.
Miranda returned quickly and handed the interface over to Andrea. She watched as they manipulated the controls and when an odd expression crossed Andrea's face Miranda asked, “Something wrong?”
“No.” They rolled their eyes. “My parent, and their security contingent are merely incredibly paranoid.” Andrea pointed to the display that currently showed a lovely ceremonial robe. “They have set the controls to only access the information you will need for our project. I knew they had set it to show fashion history, but I didn't realize they had completely blocked everything else.”
Caroline began laughing and Cassidy joined in a moment later. Miranda was not comfortable missing 'the joke'. She glared at her daughters. “Care to explain your laughter?” A glance at Andrea showed them biting their lip to keep from joining in the merriment. “Et tu?”
“Parental controls, Mom!” Caroline pointed at the device. “They have parental controls turned on!”
Licking her lips, Miranda nodded. “Ah...” She shrugged that off. “I see.” It was annoying, but obviously she couldn't say anything about the practice having arranged for parental controls on several of the twins electronic devices over the years. In fact it was probably a good thing and said so. “I'm glad I don't have to deal with a lot of extraneous information while researching the subject I'm interested in.”
“Be that as it may.” Andrea manipulated the controls and seemed satisfied when a long list was displayed. It was all alien, of course, but they scrolled until they stopped on a particular listing pulling it forward. “This is one of my favorites. My caretaker used to...sing it to me when I was young.” Activating it to play, the sounds filled the room. Andrea smiled as the familiar sounds surrounded them. Miranda and the girls, especially Cassidy, seemed mesmerized. When the song was over, Cassidy moved closer.
“That was great.” She squished herself between Miranda and Andy, looking at the interface. “Can you play another one?”
“Of course,” Andrea again scrolled through the list. “Here's a good one.” They tapped the display to start the playback.
They all listened to the second song. It was unusual, and familiar all at once and Miranda spoke when the music ended. “We had a photo shoot a few years ago, in South Africa. The models and photographer listened to music similar to this during the session.” She stood, trading places with Caroline who obviously wanted a closer look at the interface.
Andrea nodded. “Every...country has its version of 'traditional' songs. I have noticed that the closest ones to our own music and language, the ones that are my favorite, come from the Zulu and Xhosa cultures.”
Miranda took those words to heart. “Perhaps we should investigate the garments from those cultures as well, to incorporate into the ceremony? Or perhaps incorporate it via the music chosen for the ceremony.”
“Excellent idea!” Andrea shook their head. “I was unaware of all the details necessary for a joining ceremony.”
“You said you have attended them before.” Miranda informed them. “Our society has conditioned children, usually young girls, to begin planning their joining from an early age. Many of the most favored children's shows glamorize joinings, as do many of the 'romantic comedy' movies that have been produced.”
“I see.” Andrea nodded. “We have not been conditioned as such.” They explained, “I have attended several joinings but have never been privy to the actual planning of one before and obviously never one on this planet.” They were curious. “What all does it entail?”
Caroline and Cassidy took turns answering that question.
“Well there's the dress.”
“And the music.”
“And the flowers.”
“The guest list.”
Miranda smiled and wondered if Andrea had ever seen a tennis match, because their head was moving very much like they were watching a game. When the girls mentioned the honeymoon that was enough for Miranda. “Enough!” She clapped her hands together. “We don't want to overwhelm Andrea with things that other people will handle for them.” She was happy to see the girls nodding.
“Right.” “Okay, Mom.”
One of the things on the list had caught Andrea's attention. “Flowers?” they asked. “Flora?”
“Yep.” Cassidy elaborated. “There's the bouquet, and the decorations for the venue... it can be as much or as little as you like. Often there is a 'Flower girl', usually a younger person in one of the participant's family who drops flower petals along the path the participants will take while walking to the officiant.” Cassidy shrugged. “It's a tradition.”
“Flora.” Andy murmured to themself and tapped the controls on the interface changing the filters again. Just as the display showed a brightly colored plant everything in the room became slightly tinged in blue and an odd pressure in the room caused them all to gasp. Patricia's head rose as she looked around and growled. Andy sighed and looked at the girls with resignation. “Uh oh...” They had researched a lot of things while in their rooms yesterday. Human slang terms was one of them. They chose the one they thought fit the best in this situation. “Busted.”
Both girls immediately understood and made faces. “Oh no!”
“What is going on?” Miranda didn't mind the blue tinge so much but did not like this odd air pressure at all. It didn't seem to be dangerous, but it was a strange feeling. “Andrea?”
“One moment, Miranda.” Andy pressed the flashing control on the interface and was not surprised to see their parent's security supervisor. They, however, were extremely surprised to see Andrea.
Wincing a bit internally, Andy realized they were not wearing their headcover or veil. They disregarded that and kept their tone business-like. It was as formal as any of them had yet seen, even Miranda during the first meeting in her office. “Kael, is there a problem?”
“'Kosaza, Etha olwimi'wethu.”
This made Miranda curious, because it seemed to infuriate Andrea. Their response cleared up the mystery.
“I will not speak our own language right now, Kael. I am in the company of humans and I will not rudely exclude them from a conversation they have an interest in. I also do not believe you are in a position to give me orders.” They tapped another control and spoke firmly. “I have activated the translator, as I know you do not speak this language as well as I.” Andy was glad to see Kael looked at least a little chagrined at that and continued with anger guiding their words. “Remove the security field from this dwelling.”
“The field is in place because unauthorized use of an interface was detected.”
Andrea shook their head. “As you well know I am planning my joining ceremony. My friends here have informed me that the garment is not the only choice I will need to make. The filters on this interface were set only to show fashion history. I needed to also see examples of flora as well as listen to some musical selections. Is listening to music and looking at flowers threatening enough to warrant a security field?”
“Authorize the full use of this interface. I cannot anticipate what other subjects I may need to investigate.” Andrea ordered. “And remove the security field from this dwelling.”
Kael responded a bit too condescendingly for Miranda's taste. “It is against protocol to have a fully functional interface outside the ship.”
“Do I need to contact my parent regarding this matter?” Andrea's tone conveyed their annoyance and sincerity when they repeated their request, volume increasing as they spoke. “Authorize the full use of this interface, and Remove The Security Field From This Dwelling!”
Apparently the security person's response was too slow for Andrea and they added one, very firm, word much louder than any of them had heard from Andrea yet.
They all blinked when the blue tinge in the air faded and took a deep breath as the slightly odd air pressure lifted, even Patricia yawned, looked around for a moment longer then gave a huff and laid her head back down. Miranda's eyes widened at Andrea's, now calm tone.
“Thank you, Kael. I trust we won't need to inform my parent of this incident.”
Bowing slightly at that, very calm, statement Kael agreed. “No, 'Kosaza.”
Sighing at that, Andrea spoke almost kindly. “Thank you, Kael. Your efforts to keep myself and my parent safe are not unappreciated.”
Miranda watched the display as Kael placed their hand on their chest and bowed before breaking the connection. “Well...” She smiled as they all turned to look at her. “That was certainly exciting.”
“Why did they call you something different?” Cassidy asked. “They didn't use your name.” She couldn't pronounce Andy's real name, but she could recognize it when she heard it and what the being on the display had said was nothing like their name.
“As my parent's offspring, I have my own title. Most of the beings on the ship use that instead of my actual name.” Andy grinned. “Even my own parent calls me something other than my name, much as Miranda calls you 'Bobbsey' instead of yours.” They leaned forward conspiratorially, “Unless I am in trouble.”
Miranda let out a bark of laughter. “That... seems to be a universal constant.” She grinned at her own children. “Parents always use their children's full name in a certain tone to convey displeasure.” Her smile widened when the girls agreed.
“That's the truth.” “Got that right.”
Andy chuckled. “You haven't heard anything until you've heard “ A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ!” reverberating down the corridors of the ship.”
Caroline's eyes widened. “Whoa.” Cassidy was also wide eyed, but speechless.
Andy nodded at their reactions. “Exactly.” They continued, “Big trouble.”
Miranda had declared that there had been enough excitement for a while. The offending interface had been deactivated and returned to her office and very soon after they all had claimed seats in the 'Entertainment Room'. Miranda and Andy sat on the couch, with Patricia's head on Andrea's lap and the girls had each grabbed their favorite large cushions to lounge on the floor in preparation to watch 'a double feature'. They were nearly to the end of the first show when Andy spoke up.
“Is this the same narrative you were viewing the last time I was here?”
“No.” Caroline paused the movie and answered. “It's different.”
They glanced at Miranda, confused. “But, this is what was happening in that narrative as well, when I came to take my leave.”
“Oh.” Cassidy laughed. “Yeah, I guess it was.” She waved that off. “This is a romantic comedy. They stop the weddings a lot in movies like this.”
“Romantic.” Andy nodded as they reviewed the narrative in their head. “It is gratifying that the people with feelings for each other are able to spend their time together. A fitting end to the narrative.”
“Right.” Caroline nodded. “Putting two people together that aren't compatible is the worst. Especially when you know there is someone who is a better match for them very close by.” She pointed to the screen and explained. “She thinks that he is the one for her, but really this guy truly loves her. If she marries him,” Caroline pointed back at the first character, “then she will never be happy, because,” she again indicated the other character, “This is who she really loves too.”
Andy observed. “It seems quite complicated.”
“Love often is.” Miranda patted Andrea's arm. “It is one of the most complicated things in life, and oddly enough it is one of the simplest as well.”
“Hmmm...” Andy's forehead wrinkled. “Contradictory.”
“Yes.” Miranda gently squeezed the arm under her hand and patted it lightly once more before she rose from her seat. “That too.” She gestured to the screen. “I've seen this one before, so I'm going to go ahead and make some popcorn for the next one.” She grinned at her daughters, rolling her eyes at Cassidy's usual celebratory fist pump. “I'll be back in a little bit.”
Andrea tried to stand. “Should I assist?”
Miranda held up her hands to stop them. “No, you stay. I have no desire to bring my dog's ire down on me for taking away her favorite pillow.”
Shaking her head, Miranda was amused as she made her way to the kitchen. There wasn't normally a clicking sound when it was spoken, but alien language or not she knew a “Yes, Miranda.” when she heard one.
The credits rolled and Cassidy sighed. “Ahhh.. I love the ending on this one.”
“Yeah,” Caroline agreed. “It's the best.”
Andrea watched the visuals continue as the names scrolled across the screen. “The people will now live happily and the offspring will treat them both as a parent?”
“Yeah...” Cassidy nodded. “It's the best case scenario the child...offspring of a divorced,” she defined that word, “no longer married, couple can hope for.” She went on. “We've always hoped Mom would find someone to love her...” Glancing at her mother Cassidy went on quickly. “Not because we need another parent. We have two parents already, but because we want her to be happy.”
“Two parents...” Andrea shook their head. “That is very strange to me.”
“Well,” Caroline laughed. “It takes two...”
Miranda could feel her cheeks heating up and interrupted before anything further could be said. “That's enough of that!” She raised her eyebrows. “You know all those times we've said that was a conversation for another time?” Miranda watched her daughters nod. “Well, this discussion comes after ALL those.”
Andrea observed. “You do not wish to discuss human reproduction.”
Exhaling slowly, Miranda spoke quietly and decisively. “Human reproduction is a topic that should only be discussed at certain times... with the people's partners and if there are issues, with medical professionals. It is not a topic that I wish to explore with my children, until they reach an age that they are mature enough to understand all the ramifications of it.”
“I see.” Andrea decided to avoid the subject and simply changed the conversation topic completely. “Are we going to eliminate any more choices for my garment today?”
Miranda stood and helped Andrea climb out from under Patricia's head. “If we are going to investigate the South African options, we may have added more choices instead of eliminating any.” They walked together to Miranda's office and she spoke wryly when she saw the device sitting on her desk. “Hopefully we don't trigger any more alarms by using the interface.”
“We will not,” Andrea assured Miranda. “Kael cleared the device for use. They would not dare disobey me.”
Miranda sat in a chair opposite Andrea and regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. “You seem to have some sort of authority...”
“Due to my parent...”
“No, no...” Miranda moved her index finger from side to side. “Not because of your parent. YOU have some sort of authority.” She reminded them of their own words. “You said you had a 'title'... because of your parent. 'A title' Andrea. Children of military people don't have titles. No children have titles because of their parents unless they're...” Miranda blinked and realized exactly why Andrea would have a 'title' and voiced her conclusion softly, “...royalty.” She watched her guest's dark eyes lower and asked for confirmation. “Are you royalty, Andrea?”
“When we first arrived here, on this planet, the translating devices made an error. It was small, or so we thought. It really didn't matter all that much, and my parent was not bothered by the mistake.” Andrea looked up and took a deep breath. “However as advantageous the error was, it significantly curtailed the... importance of my parent's position.”
“The error made people, humans, more comfortable around my parent. Being an ambassador, even The Ambassador, made people more at ease, because after all they had ambassadors too.”
“But they are not a representative of your people?” Miranda was confused. “Wait, 'curtailed' their importance?” She shook her head, “How so?”
“The translator took 'representative' and gave my parent the title of ambassador.” Andrea reluctantly explained. “But the actual translation should have been... ruler.”
Miranda's forehead wrinkled. “King?”
“That is one of the things the translation program had issues with in the beginning. It did not know how to deal with your gender specific words, king, or emperor, or even queen, did not fit my parent's gender neutral position. The program should have been translating for the term 'ruler' but shifted to 'representative', instead and returned the title of ambassador.” Andrea pressed their lips together as Miranda spoke again.
“Your parent is the ruler of your people.” She was even more confused when Andrea shook their head negative. Miranda was speechless when Andrea clarified.
“My parent is the ruler of everyone.” They watched every tiny reaction happening on Miranda's face as she processed what Andrea was saying. “Every planet we know, they rule them all.”
Miranda felt a bit light-headed as she understood. “Andrea, that's...” Miranda again could not find the words to express what she was feeling and she was beginning to be tired of that state. Andrea seemed to leave her speechless more than any other being ever had. Then the thought hit her. “Andrea...you're including Earth in that statement.”
“But, nothing has changed.” Miranda shook her head. “All our governments are still intact. No transfers of power, no real violence other than the random protesters.” Andrea's words were just too difficult to process. “Nothing has changed.”
“But it has.” Andrea sighed and tried to explain. “The moment we arrived your world, it changed forever. You, humans, found out that you are not 'alone'.” They scoffed a bit. “Considering the vastness of space that idea is ludicrous anyway. However, our arrival proved the existence of... others, and there are, Miranda. So many others...” There was a moment of silence before Andrea spoke again. “Forgive me, but I must speak with my parent and I cannot demand that they speak your language nor does my communicator have the translation capability that the interface does.” Their lips twitched at the corners when Miranda nodded. They tapped their bracelet and waited a moment until The Ambassador's clear voice could be heard.
Andrea shot an encouraging smile at Miranda. “Umpathi'way, Dathetha'Ndiye noMiranda.”
My parent, I have been speaking with Miranda
Andrea admitted. “'Yayaz imek akho wenyan.”
They know your true position
Is that so?
Lowering their eyes, even though their parent wasn't in the room with them, Andrea responded. “E'we.”
Andrea nodded even though their parent couldn't see it. Miranda thought the next response sounded like a confirmation.
“Ngaba'yazi onke into?”
Do they know everything?
Andrea could not help but glance at Miranda and smile. “Ayizi'zonke zinto ko'dwa abazi'yatha.”
Not everything, but they are not stupid.
“Eli'ya kuba lihlabathi lak emva koku simk. Uya kafun abahlo abakrelek. Baxel'e into oza kuyenza.”
This will be your world after we depart. You will need smart friends. Tell them whatever you want.
Miranda watched as a bit of sadness seeped into Andrea's dark eyes and wondered what was being said. However, she didn't pry and remained silent while they spoke to their parent.
Thank you, my parent.
The Ambassador's warm chuckle filtered through the air. “Wamkeleki, tzala'yam. In'herx nQthr.”
You're welcome, my offspring. Enjoy the afternoon.
Andrea nodded and repeated their parent's sign off. “In'herx nQthr.”
Miranda had heard a similar phrase from Andrea when they had left last time and recognized it as a farewell. She spoke softly. “That seemed to go well.”
“Better than I expected.” Andrea smiled. “However, we should probably get to work on finding my garment...” They saw in Miranda's eyes the million questions she had for them, but Andrea had their own expressive eyes that held Miranda's for a pleading moment. “A discussion for another time, yes?”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Miranda nodded in agreement. “Another time.” She reached over to activate the interface manipulating the now familiar controls. “Now, let's see what we can find that is fashionable and comfortable, but will also befit your... title.”
Dark eyes widened at that. “If you can do that, Miranda, you will obtain mythical status among my people.”
Miranda laughed at that. “Oh, Andrea...” She scrolled through the selections on the display, deleting many of them rather quickly as she spoke, “Don't you know?” She ruthlessly deleted another choice with the flick of her fingers. “Dragons are already mythical.” She winked at her guest and was glad to see the bit of sadness that had appeared in their eyes was dissipating. They fell into casual conversation regarding some of the options, for clothing, music and flowers, they found and enjoyed an easy camaraderie over the next several hours. Even when Patricia came into the office and claimed her favorite pillow for a large part of the afternoon, or maybe, Miranda thought, especially because of that.
Miranda sighed and turned her chair away from her desktop. Mondays were usually tedious but this one had been moreso than usual. The rescheduling to make Friday a short day had made today one of the busiest mornings she'd had in a long while. It was only just nearing lunchtime and it already felt like she'd put in a full day. What made it worse though was the thoughts of Andrea plaguing her. She couldn't stop thinking about them, and missed them terribly. From the moment she had closed the door behind them last night, until she had fallen asleep, Andrea was on her mind. Not that it stopped once she fell asleep. She dreamed about them and when she woke up Andrea was all she could think about. Even when she was trying to concentrate on her work, Miranda found herself absently making little click sounds recalling some of the words Andrea had spoken in their own language. Miranda knew she would never be able to duplicate the sounds, but she couldn't stop herself from trying.
The memories of Andrea's voice speaking to their parent replayed clearly in her head. She gazed out of the large windows in her office, her attention focused on the huge ship hovering over the city. She knew that Andrea was somewhere on that ship, so close and yet they may as well be a million miles away. It was ridiculous. Miranda told herself to stop being such a foolish old woman. She had a job to do and needed to get back to it.
Andrea was an important person. They weren't sitting around moping, and certainly they had other things on their mind that were far more important than some foolish human woman they barely knew. She glanced at her desk where the interface device sat, untouched. She had brought it to the office today intending on using it to research Andrea's ceremonial garment, however so far she hadn't even had time to activate it. Which brought her attention back to the ship, and again Miranda wondered what Andrea was doing right at that moment.
As it turned out, at the exact moment Miranda was thinking about Andrea, Andrea was thinking about Miranda too. It wasn't actually that large of a coincidence, since both of them had been thinking about each other since the moment they parted last night.
Andrea paced in their rooms stopping to look out the window for a moment before they propelled themself back across the room. It was maddening to know that Miranda was out there somewhere in the city. They wondered if Miranda was thinking about them, but knew that was probably merely fantasy on their part. Miranda was an important person and had a job to do, responsibilities to take care of. Two of those came to mind immediately. They smiled as the images of Caroline and Cassidy appeared in their head. Saying farewell to them last night had been bittersweet for Andrea. It would be many days now before they would see the girls again. Cassidy had explained that when human parents were no longer joined, no longer shared a dwelling, the offspring often moved between dwellings, in order to spend time with each of the parents. Although Caroline and Cassidy would be at the townhouse this week, on the weekend they would be at their other parent's dwelling. Andrea nearly pouted that they weren't going to be able to see the girls for many days. It was terrible feeling, however, it wasn't nearly as bad as the feeling of not seeing Miranda for a much shorter time. Andrea again found themself at the window. They leaned against it, the transparent material cool against their forehead. Their eyes scanned the buildings below but couldn't pick out the one Miranda would be in now. Rolling their eyes at their own stupidity, Andrea grabbed their own interface device. Manipulating the settings, they scanned for the building address then zoomed in on the building itself and one certain window. Dark eyes softened when they saw Miranda at her desk, but her chair was turned around to allow her to look out the window in her office. Andrea watched the display wishing they could be there with Miranda. Seeing Miranda was nice, but being in her presence was better. Andy blinked when they realized what was on Miranda's desk next to her, an interface device. Andrea manipulated the controls on their interface and grinned when the one on Miranda's desk beeped, drawing Miranda's attention. They watched with satisfaction as Miranda reached for the device.
A tone from the device on her desk drew Miranda from her thoughts. Miranda reached out and touched the blinking light. She smiled as Andrea appeared on the display and their voice drifted through her office.
Having spent many hours replaying all the words Andrea had ever said in their own language while in her presence, Miranda recalled this particular one as when they had 'greeted' Patricia's sudden kitchen appearance. She smiled and responded. “Hello, Andrea.” She was rewarded with the sound that she was rapidly becoming familiar with and definitely loved hearing, Andrea's laughter.
“Do you speak my language now, Miranda?”
Holding up her hands to deny it, Miranda also laughed. “Only those phrases I have heard you speaking to my dog. I am still deciding if Patricia responds in a coherent manner or not.”
Andrea smiled at Miranda for a moment, then their expression faltered. “My apologies, Miranda. I'm sure you are quite busy.” They reached for the controls on their device. Miranda's voice stopped them.
“No!” Miranda assured them. “You aren't interrupting anything. I couldn't concentrate on work. A break is just what I need.” She looked at her watch. “It's nearly time for lunch anyway.” Miranda asked. “Have you eaten yet? Do you even eat lunch?”
“I am not on a schedule.” Andrea shrugged. “I eat whenever I am hungry, whenever I want.” They looked around their rooms. I cannot leave my rooms at the moment though.” They were dismayed at the missed opportunity. “It takes planning for me to leave the ship.”
“Of course.” Miranda sighed. “Wait a moment please.” She stood and walked to the door. Opening it quickly she stuck her head into the outer office. “Emily, have my lunch delivered. Get that salad that I like. Let me know when it arrives. Do not come into my office while my door is closed.” Miranda knew that last order was not necessary. Emily would never enter Miranda's office when the door was closed. She finished her instructions with the usual “That's all” before closing the door and returning to her desk. “Now, we can chat while I wait for my salad, and you can keep me company while I eat.” She smiled. “Unless you have something more important you need to do.”
“Miranda.” Andrea's gaze roamed over Miranda's face. “At this moment, I do not believe there is anything more important than speaking with you.” When Miranda's chuckle reached their ears, their blood pumped a little faster. When they saw Miranda gently rubbing the spot, just under her throat, Andrea smiled softly. “So what topic should we choose to discuss? Or would you rather engage in a language lesson?”
“I believe language lessons are hopeless.” Miranda informed her friend. “I will never be able to make the necessary clicking sounds to properly pronounce your words.”
“Of course not.” Andrea smirked. “Your tongue isn't long enough.”
“Wh...” Miranda saw the expression on Andrea's face and rolled her eyes. “You're kidding.”
Laughing at that, Andrea nodded. “It is what we tell offspring when they are just learning to speak.” They shrugged. “It does take a certain amount of dexterity though, and, although you can't see it, the roof of our mouth is a certain shape, allowing for the ease of our speech.” They nodded. “There is no shame for a human to fail at duplicating our speech.”
“Thank you.” Miranda propped her head up on her fist as she watched Andrea on the display. “I may not be able to speak your language, however I would love to learn to interpret it. Will you teach me some words, like the greeting, so that when I hear them I will recognize them? Perhaps then I will be able to follow at least half of the conversations you have with Patricia.”
Amused at that reasoning, Andrea relaxed back on a comfortable seat in their rooms and teasingly responded. “Listening to other's conversations is rude, Miranda.” The corners of their eyes crinkled as they spoke in a more serious tone. “I would be happy to.”
So Miranda found herself in a playful conversation that was basically an intensive language lesson. She had finished her salad and was just finishing a round of quizzing where Andrea would pronounce a word and Miranda would respond with its meaning when there was a knock on her door. A frown crossed her face as she glanced at the display, “It seems I must resume my day.” She watched Andrea reach forward and manipulate the controls on their device. The display on Miranda's interface disappeared, but Andrea's voice remained.
“I am still here, Miranda.”
Nodding at that, Miranda responded to the knock. “E'we.” Rolling her eyes at the giggle emanating from the device on her desk, Miranda spoke firmly, “Yes, come in.”
Emily entered, hesitantly, “Apologies for the interruption, Miranda, but Dalton's administrator, Ms. Keats, called.”
Miranda was on her feet immediately. “What has happened?!”
“Um...” Emily sighed. “The girls have been put into 'In-School Suspension', for fighting.”
Blinking at that, Miranda's knees gave out and she landed back in her chair, murmuring, “fighting.”
“Ms. Keats would like you to come in and speak with her, and the girls, this afternoon. She also mentioned Cassidy will need a new jacket for her uniform as hers got torn.” Emily was gaining more confidence about the situation by the moment. “I have cleared your schedule to be there at two.”
Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose and nodded, “'kosi..” She glanced at the device when a soft noise could be heard then she realized what she had done and spoke in English. “Thank you, Emily.” She waved the stunned assistant away. “Close the door on your way out. That's all.”
Andrea reappeared on the display. “Miranda?”
“Yes.” She sighed. “Parenting is always an experience. Good or bad it's an experience.”
“Will you grant me a favor?”
“Of course,” Miranda asked. “What is it you want?”
“Take the interface with you, so that I may... monitor the situation?”
Miranda teased. “Listening to other's conversations is rude, Andrea.” The response to that was the sound Miranda was beginning to love hearing.
Andrea laughed, then they explained further. “Be that as it may, I have a feeling that this may have something to do with... me.”
“Ah...” Miranda licked her lips and recalled Cassidy's disappointment when she had been told not to tell anyone about Andrea's visits to their home. “That is a distinct possibility.” Miranda asked, “Will this be problematic for you?” She elaborated. “I mean if people know you are visiting our home?”
Andrea thought about that for a moment. “It would be preferable if my movements were not broadcast to the general public. It will drive Kael to madness, but no, it makes very little difference other than a few more guards and an extra drone,” Andrea assured Miranda. “My movements were going to be reported soon anyway. I have observed the news outlets often follow participants of joining ceremonies, after the event is announced, especially if the participants are public figures.”
“True.” Miranda knew the news of Andrea's joining would cause a stir in the news and would be sensationalized in the gossip rags for a long time.
“Will that attention cause issues for you, Miranda?” They did not want to cause any problems for Miranda.
“Not at all.” Miranda shrugged. “I'm used to it.” She explained. “I often find myself in the pages of tabloids. They love to 'slay' the 'Dragon Lady'...” The look on Andrea's face stopped Miranda's comment and she waved off the rest of her thoughts. She assured Andrea, “It's not a concern. They move on soon enough. I will take the interface with me, but if the incident doesn't involve you, I will not activate it.”
“Right now I must get some things completed before I go.” There was still a magazine to produce after all.
“Of course.” Andrea nodded. “I too have some... things to attend. Until later...”
“Until later...” Miranda watched the display go dark and took a few breaths to center herself before she got back to the task of producing a magazine. She had to wait before she could tackle the task of being a parent although as she marked through a photo with her red pencil anyone who was listening closely enough would have heard her murmur, “fighting.”
Miranda found herself barely paying attention to the protocols necessary to enter the school. The stress of the day had been made worse by this incident and getting through it required somewhat of a disconnect on her part. Hefting her large bag to her shoulder, Miranda felt the outline of the interface device. It was reassuring. The only good thing about today was the lunch she spent chatting with Andrea. The receptionist looked up as Miranda approached the desk. She was a smart woman and knew an irate parent when she saw one, nodding when Miranda spoke.
“Ms. Keats is expecting me.”
“Yes, Miranda.” This was a prominent school with many children of important people attending, including some actors, scholars and political dignitaries, but the whole staff knew Miranda. “Her office is just...”
Waving off the directions, Miranda walked past the large circular desk. “I know the way.” She had passed the office many times traveling the halls of this school for various reasons, but she had never actually interacted with Ms. Keats. It was slightly amusing when she was almost out of earshot and the receptionist whistled slowly, speaking softly to herself.
“Wouldn't want to be those girls right now.”
Miranda did not look back but smirked and responded just as quietly, “Oh, no you would not.”
She reached the office and yet another, what she had begun calling in her mind, checkpoint. The assistant didn't say or react in any way to Miranda's entrance other than to gesture toward the open door on the other side of the room. Nodding, Miranda went in to find Ms. Keats at her desk.
“Ms. Priestly. It's a pleasure to meet you.” She winced remembering too late that this woman preferred to be called Miranda and glanced at the clock. She knew Miranda's reputation for being fifteen minutes early for everything. “Right on time.” She gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Please.”
Sitting on the least objectionable looking furniture, Miranda glanced around. “Where are my children?
“I thought we could speak alone for a moment, before we brought them in.”
“Very well.” Miranda placed her large purse on the chair next to her and turned her attention to Ms. Keats. Crossing her legs at the knees, Miranda rested her arms on the wide chair arms and waited a heartbeat before prompting the administrator. “Speak.”
There was a momentarily dizzying sensation that the office was no longer hers. Ms. Keats now felt she was in Miranda's office. It was the oddest thing she had ever experienced. “Well first I would like to say how shocked I was to see Cassidy and Caroline being brought to my office. They are exceptional children and as you know rather well-behaved aside from a few small pranks they have played on their friends. Small things children do are often able to be overlooked, especially when the parties involved are all amiable about it. Their behavior in the cafeteria today was just too much to ignore this time.”
Miranda nodded and spoke. “I take it that the people...involved in this incident are not amiable?”
“No.” Ms. Keats sighed. “Amanda has a loose tooth and will need to see a dentist soon.” The administrator winced. “The current bruising indicates that she's probably going to have a black eye as well, although I don't believe her nose is actually broken. She's waiting in the nurses office until her father arrives and her dentist appointment can be set.”
With widening blue eyes, Miranda shook her head. “Broken?”
“No.” Ms. Keats repeated. “I don't think so.”
Glancing at her purse, Miranda asked. “And the cause of this... altercation?”
“From what I understand, Cassidy was getting her meal when Amanda made a comment regarding her vegetarian choices. There were words exchanged in which some of Amanda's friends and some of Cassidy's friends, including Caroline, became involved. Cassidy at some point claimed that the aliens were also vegetarian and that led to another round with Amanda intimating that Cassidy was lying and that the aliens were horrible carnivores and that they would all come back and eat us, humans, soon.” Ms. Keats cleared her throat. “Cassidy took exception to that line of thought.”
With a sigh, Miranda nodded. “Yes. She would, as do I.” She leaned forward. “Will you go get them now? I should speak with them, but I need a moment.”
“Of course.” Ms. Keats rose from her chair. “I'll be right back.”
Miranda waited until Ms. Keats was gone before she reached into her purse and retrieved the interface device. Setting it on a cleared corner of Ms. Keats desk, Miranda activated it. Andrea appeared in the display immediately. Miranda blinked when she saw Andrea wearing the headcover and veil.
“Hello to you too.” Miranda smiled. “The situation is as we feared, although I am not sure how much of your movements have been revealed. Cassidy was defending your honor. One of her classmates did not believe that some aliens were vegetarian and seems to think you are all carnivores. Apparently, you are all just biding your time until you come back to feast on humans.” If the veil hadn't been in place, Miranda was sure she would have seen Andrea's jaw drop.
“That is... Miranda that's....”
Holding up her hand, Miranda finished the thought. “Ridiculous, I know.” She tilted her head slightly, “Here they come.” She saw the display wink out, but knew Andrea was still listening.
A moment later Ms. Keats returned to her office, ushering Caroline and Cassidy in front of her. She motioned the girls toward the small couch along the wall in her office. “You two can sit over there.”
Miranda watched them settle in and then spoke in full 'Mom' mode. “Cassidy Ann you know better than to use violence, and Caroline Marie you know better than to let your sister get into a fight!” The voice heard next was not from anyone in the room.
Miranda chuckled as all eyes glanced around before landing on the interface device. She spoke. “Andrea, you may show yourself.” The display again projected Andrea's veiled form. “You have something to say?”
“Full names.” Andrea turned to the girls. “Big trouble.”
Cassidy crossed her arms over her chest. “Amanda was being a butt.”
“Cassidy Ann!” Miranda was appalled at her daughter's attitude and was not thrilled when her sister agreed.
“It's true, Mom.” Caroline was totally in Cassidy's corner on this one. “Amanda is always teasing Cass about the vegetarian thing. She is always horrid because she doesn't like it here and is always talking about how great her own country is, but today she was especially mean. She thinks because her father is an ambassador at the U.N. that she knows more about the aliens than anyone else. But she was just spouting garbage. She didn't even believe that Andy likes popcorn. She said it was impossible and called us both liars for saying it.”
“This being is the offspring of an ambassador?”
Ms. Keats had been staring at the projection of Andrea, but Caroline's words forced her to speak up. “We have heard of incidents with Amanda and her attitude, but have not been able to prove any of the allegations.”
Andrea heard Ms. Keats words and narrowed their eyes, but continued to speak to the girls. “Do they truly wish to return to their country of origin? That is not a difficult task to complete.”
Cassidy's eyes widened. “You could do that?”
Andrea nodded. “I can.”
Miranda interrupted. “I do not believe that is necessary.” She set the conversation back on track. “This is not about 'Amanda' or her antics, Cassidy. This is about your reaction to them.”
“We do have a strict, zero tolerance policy regarding physical violence.” Ms. Keats spoke apologetically. “The in-school suspension today was only the initial punishment. I'm afraid that they will need to remain home for the next three days.”
Cassidy was shocked. “But our recital is on Thursday!”
“The recital is scheduled for Thursday night.” Ms. Keats smiled, without showing her teeth. “Since the suspension will be over when the school day ends on Thursday, you as well as Amanda will still be allowed to perform at the recital.” She gestured to Cassidy's hand. “If you can.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy lifted her right hand, flexing it slightly. “It does hurt some, but the ice helped.”
The simultaneous comments from Miranda and Andrea surprised Ms. Keats.
“You were injured?” “Do you need medical attention?”
“Nah... it just hurts a little.” Cassidy mimicked playing the piano and winced. “Should be okay by Thursday.”
Miranda saw the wince, and also from the corner of her eye saw the motions Andrea was making as they manipulated the controls on the device in front of them. Pushing that out of her mind, Miranda refocused on her daughters situation as she heard the administrator speak.
“Hitting someone hard enough to cause a nearly broken nose and a black eye tends to wreak havoc on the fist doing the hitting.” Ms. Keats spoke from experience. “Ice applied quickly often helps.”
Andrea asked what Miranda had not, yet. “And what is to be done to the other participant in this altercation?”
Ms. Keats glanced at Miranda who tilted her head, also interested in the answer. She raised her eyebrows, waiting for the response and Ms. Keats focused on the interface display. “She will also be subject to the zero tolerance policy and be out of school for the next three days.” There was a bit of relief, and a moment of silence, when Miranda nodded once. That relief was canceled when the assistant from the outer office poked her head in the door. “Um... Amanda's father is here.”
Miranda met Andrea's eyes on the display and smirked as the projection blinked away. She swiveled her chair around as the man stormed through the door. It was surprising that he had his daughter with him.
“What is the meaning of all this?” He gestured toward the girl he had dragged into the office with him. “My daughter was injured!?”
“Good God, calm down.” Miranda rolled her eyes and removed her bag from the chair next to her. “Sit down and we can discuss this like adults.”
His tone was harsh. “Do not speak of God, woman!”
Licking her lips, Miranda smiled, not a nice smile, a dragon smile. That one phrase and the tone it was uttered in told her all she needed to know about this man. She decided to tell him the truth, a quick summary of the situation. She looked directly at him, ignoring Amanda taking a seat next to Caroline and Cassidy, and spoke. “Your daughter is a bully and a liar.” She raised her eyebrows at the sputtering silence those words caused and continued. “My daughter took exception to that. They had words, that escalated into an unacceptable physical altercation.” She gestured to Cassidy and Caroline glaring at him defiantly. “They are being punished,” then indicated Amanda who had her face in her hands, crying, “as your daughter will be.”
“Any punishment my daughter receives will be delivered by me! Perhaps YOU need to be punished for being such a terrible mother!” He raised his hand and Miranda's eyes widened. However, as he brought his hand down toward Miranda's face everything in the office became tinged in blue and an odd air pressure stopped his motion cold. His own eyes widened as he tried to finish his strike and couldn't. He could, however, slowly lower his hand. Now he realized what he was seeing and recalled the briefing they had been given at the U.N. regarding the alien security fields. Violent motions were curtailed within the blue field and beings were prevented from contacting each other. He glared at Miranda. “How are you doing this?!”
“She is not.” Andrea's projected image again appeared above the interface. They were veiled, but their eyes were hard. “You were going to strike my... friend so I stopped you.” They informed him quite calmly, their voice at odds with the storm in their eyes. “You should be thanking me. Had you completed that blow I would have taken your hand off.” Waiting for the man to sink into the previously offered chair, Andrea turned to Miranda.
The eyes were serious, but Miranda could see a bit of mischief in them when Andrea asked. “Ngaba zakele, Miranda?” Are you injured, Miranda?
Running her tongue over her teeth, Miranda chuckled and responded with what she had learned during their language session. “H'yi.” No.
Andrea turned back to the man. “You are lucky that Miranda is uninjured.”
“Lucky,” he echoed.
“Yes,” Andrea assured him. “It is the only reason you are allowed to escape this encounter, unscathed.”
That caught his attention and he protested with his usual response. “You have no authority to...”
Andrea interrupted to assure him, in a tone as quiet and deadly as Miranda had ever used. “I have all the authority I need.” When he remained silent, they spoke again. “I am going to release the security field, and I would suggest that you remain seated.”
The security field dissipated, and they all took a relieved breath. It wasn't difficult to breathe while the air was tinted blue, but the slight pressure being released caused them all to inhale deeply.
“It seems to me that the administration of this institution has the situation under control. The policy they have in place clearly defines the parameters of punishment for this rule infringement and all participants will adhere to it.” Andrea nodded to Ms. Keats. “My congratulations for such an efficient resolution to the situation.”
“Th...Thank you.” Ms. Keats expression softened. “I appreciate that.”
Miranda could see that Ms. Keats did appreciate Andrea's words. She imagined it wasn't often that anyone complimented her on her job. She knew that affluent families were more likely to behave like Amanda's father, threatening the administrator to get their way.
“If you would, please open your office window.” Andrea touched a control in front of them and a small drone lowered to the level of the window, hovering there, waiting.
“Um.” Ms. Keats opened the window and stood back as the drone entered the room. “What is...”
Miranda was not concerned but she was curious. This was a much smaller device than the security drones that accompanied Andrea on their visits to the house. “What is this, Andrea?”
Andrea winked at Miranda then focused on the girls huddled together on the couch and spoke softly. “Girls, hold still while the Medical Drone scans you.”
All three held very still as the little flying machine got closer to them. The scan itself was painless. They watched a thin line of yellow light passing over them for a moment and then heard Andrea speak to someone outside the projection field on their end in their own language. They nodded and obviously gave an order then returned their focus to the girls. “Cassidy, hold out your injured hand.” They smiled when Cassidy complied without question.
The drone flew closer, nearly landing on Cassidy's wrist and a green glowing light traced back and forth several times from Cassidy's fingertips to just beyond her wrist. Then the light was gone and the drone was moving away. Cassidy flexed her hand and blinked. “Wow. Thanks Andy! It doesn't hurt anymore!”
The small device hovered in the air and Andrea spoke to the man in the room. “Do you wish for your offspring to also receive medical treatment?”
“Yes.” He nodded and added, “Please.”
The drone moved to Amanda, who looked frightened. They were touched when Cassidy spoke up.
“It's okay, Amanda.” Cassidy held up her hand and wiggled her fingers. “It won't hurt you.”
The drone's green glow lasted longer on Amanda's face, and was a deeper green on her nose, eye and mouth area, but it was still only a moment before the light was gone and the small device moved away from the girl. The bruising around her eye was gone and they all assumed her other injuries had also been taken care of. They all watched in silence as it flew slowly back to the window and out, before it quickly flitted up and away.
“Thank you, Andrea.” Miranda was grateful that Cassidy's hand didn't hurt anymore, but she was also appreciative that the girl Cassidy had injured was no longer in pain either. It was extremely thoughtful of Andrea to do that.
“Yes.” Amanda's father spoke up. “My thanks as well.”
“You are all,” They included everyone in the room in their acceptance, “quite welcome.” They turned their attention to Miranda. “Would it be an imposition if I were to come to your dwelling this evening, Miranda?”
“Not at all.” Miranda saw the expression on Amanda's father's face and smirked slightly. “You are always welcome.” Then she grinned at the projection. “Besides, Patricia misses you.” Her smile got wider when Andrea chuckled at that.
“I was told of a... movie I should observe and I would enjoy some popcorn as well.”
“Mmmm... ” Miranda watched the children in her peripheral vision, “with salt I assume.”
“You know that is my favorite.” Andrea smiled under their veil and knew that Miranda could see that in their eyes. “Until later?”
“Until later.” Miranda confirmed and smirked. “Don't be late.”
Pressing their hand against their chest, Andrea bowed slightly and said, “E'we, Miranda.” before the projection display disappeared.
Ms. Keats cleared her throat and spoke evenly. “I'm glad the children's injuries have been taken care of, but they will still need to be out of school for the next three days.” She spoke to Amanda to inform her what she'd already told Caroline and Cassidy. “You will still be allowed to perform at the recital Thursday night.” The relief in Amanda's eyes almost made the administrator smile.
The man nodded and stood, snapping his fingers to draw his daughter to his side. “Of course. We will obey the rules you set.” He put his hand on Amanda's shoulder and led her out of the office.
They all watched the father and daughter leave, then Caroline broke the silence. “I always thought Amanda was a huge jerk, but now that I've met her dad... I kinda feel sorry for her.”
Cassidy agreed. “Yeah.” She looked at the adults in the room. “I'm sorry I hit her.”
“Mmm...” Miranda nodded. “You will have a lot of time to think about just how sorry you are during the next three days.” She stood and picked up the interface device from Ms. Keats desk, slipping it back into her large purse. “Thank you again, Ms. Keats, for taking care of this situation so quickly.”
“Thank you, M...Miranda for being so understanding.” Ms. Keats congratulated herself for remembering not to call Miranda, 'Ms. Priestly'.
Miranda nodded and motioned for the girls to join her, no snapping required. “Come along, Bobbseys.”
They waved goodbye to Ms. Keats and followed their mother out of the office and through the halls of the school. They knew better than to speak to her right now. Once they got in the car would be soon enough. It would be okay though. They knew she wasn't mad anymore. She was never mad if she called them Bobbsey.
The doorbell didn't ring but Miranda knew instantly when Andrea arrived due to the now familiar bellow through the house.
“MOM! THEY'RE HERE!”
Cassidy held the door for Andrea to enter the house. The guards stayed outside as usual, but there were two small drones, larger than the medical one this afternoon but much smaller than the security one that now hovered over the house, that trailed behind Andrea. Each drone carried a package.
“Diya'bul, Cassidy.” They looked past the girl at the door and grinned at the mirror image one standing on the stairs. “Diya'bul, Caroline.”
“Hi, Andy.” “Hello, Andy.”
Cassidy stepped back, lowering her head. “I wanted to say thank you, in person, for helping me with my wrist. It was very nice of you.”
“Yes it was.” Miranda smiled as her daughter whirled around to see her standing there. She shifted her focus to Andrea. “And I too would like to thank you, in person, for protecting me. If he had hit me, it would have been very painful.”
“I would not have let him hurt you, Miranda.” Andrea knew for an absolute fact that if anyone hurt this woman or her offspring, those people would have to deal with their wrath and it would not be anything soon forgotten.
“Well...” Miranda absently stroked the spot just below her throat. “Thank you.”
“Speaking of protection.” They gestured for the girls to come forward. When they were both standing in front of them, Andy turned and gathered the packages from the drones. They handed one package to each child. “It is my turn to thank you, for standing up for my people. Your classmate was spreading lies about us and I thank you for being our...champions.”
Miranda stepped forward. “I'm not sure this is the type of situation that calls for gifts.”
“Please.” Andrea gestured for the girls to open the boxes. “It is important, to me, to thank them.” They grinned. “It is... tradition, to reward our champions.”
Miranda looked down into the pleading eyes of her children. She was quite proud of herself for holding out nearly an entire minute, before she nodded. “All right then.” Gesturing to the gifts. “Go ahead.”
Both girls tore into the gifts and squealed when they saw the contents.
“Oh wow!” “So Cool!”
They lifted the replicas of their school uniform jackets out and immediately tried them on. Cassidy smoothed down the front. “These are great! Thanks, Andy!”
Caroline nodded. “Yeah, they're amazing.” She examined the sleeve covering her arm. “What are they made of?”
Andrea glanced at Miranda then fluffed out their robes. “They're made of the same material my robes are created from.” They grinned and reached out, unnecessarily straightening the collar on Caroline's jacket. Leaning forward they whispered into Caroline's ear. “There may also be something in the pocket.”
Caroline blinked and stuck her hands in the pockets. When she removed them there was an item in her right hand. She looked at it and gasped. “Oh, Wow!”
Cassidy repeated her sister's action with the same result and the same exclamation. “Oh, Wow!”
Andy smiled and knelt down, holding out their hand, to show the girls a nearly identical bracelet wrapped around their own wrist. The gleaming metal bracelets the girls held were decorated with several designs, some of them the same as Andy's and some different. “They are communicators.” They grinned as the girls quickly put the bracelets on. “I set them to call me if you ever need me.” They looked up at Miranda who had moved closer during the gift opening. “You may also contact your parent with them.”
“But,” Cassidy pointed out, “Mom doesn't have one.”
Standing, Andrea locked eyes with Miranda and reached into a previously unseen pocket in their robes for the last of the gifts they had brought. Holding it out to Miranda, they spoke softly. “She does, if she wants one.”
Miranda took the bracelet to examine. It was amazing. The metal seemed to change color as it passed from Andrea to Miranda and it looked exactly like something Miranda would wear. The designs inscribed on it were also nearly the same as Andy's, but somewhat different as well. “This is extremely generous of you, Andrea.” Of course, her first instinct was to turn it down, but this time she did not only have two sets of pleading eyes, she had three. Although there had been times in the past, when Miranda had been able to withstand the double onslaught of the twins, she knew that she was entirely incapable of withstanding this triple threat. She nodded and slipped the bracelet on her wrist. “Thank you, Andrea.” The dark eyes focused on her and Miranda wondered if she would be able withstand Andrea's pleading eyes on their own. Another few heartbeats spent looking into those eyes caused Miranda to seriously doubt it.
Having had their gifts delivered and accepted, Andrea opened the door for the drones to exit the house and speedily return to the ship. As soon as the door was closed, they removed their headcover and veil. “Thank you for allowing me to be here this evening.”
“We love having you here.” Miranda smiled as the girls agreed, in unison.
“Yeah, you're cool.”
The corners of Andrea's eyes crinkled as they pressed their hand against their face. “My temperature is less than yours.” The familiar ticking of paws on the hardwood drew their attention and Andy laughed. “Diya'bul, Patricia.” They knelt to ruffle the thick fur at Patricia's neck. “Have you come to warm me?” The answering whuff made them all laugh.
Cassidy moved closer and held out her hand. “Andy? Would you show us how these work?”
“Of course.” Andrea wrapped their cool hand around Cassidy's wrist, just above the bracelet, then gasped and released the girl. “Is your injury healed?”
Nodding at that, Cassidy made a fist and rotated her hand in every direction. “Yep, it's great now.”
“Very well.” They began to reach for Cassidy's arm when Miranda's clearing throat drew all their attention.
“I believe we will all need some instruction on how to operate our beautiful new bracelet communicators,” Miranda's blue eyes twinkled at the tableau in front of her. “However, I do not believe the foyer floor is the best classroom.” She gestured to her right. “Perhaps the sitting room would be a better venue?”
Andy grinned and turned to Patricia. “Igumbi lokuhla' okan gang'at?” They laughed as Patricia pushed closer to Andy, knocking them over and practically lying on top of them. From under the pile of fur, Andy spoke through their amusement. “Patricia seems to prefer the floor.”
Miranda laughed. “You may give Patricia the choice between the sitting room and the floor all you want.” She gestured to the girls to drag the dog off of their visitor as she held her hand out to help Andrea up. “I prefer the sitting room.”
“I see my language lesson this afternoon was well absorbed.” They grinned. “However, you have been warned about listening in on other people's conversations...”
Miranda's eyes twinkled with mischief. “Andrea, you said it right in front of me.”
Taking hold of the offered hand they stood and pulled Miranda closer. “So I did.” They smirked and looked down at Patricia. “We shall need to be more covert in our discussions from now on.” When Patricia whoofed in response, Andrea winked at her and gestured Miranda toward the sitting room. “Shall we?”
The humph sound Miranda made caused chuckles all around, including Miranda and they all made their way to the sitting room, including Patricia. Miranda didn't mention that Andrea had not released her hand until they were sitting side by side on the large couch. Only then was the connection broken, only to be re-established when Andrea lifted Miranda's wrist to let them all see the bracelet. Andy proceeded to point out the controls they would use to contact the other bracelets. “I must apologize for the limited function of these particular units.” Andy explained. “I couldn't get them issued unless they were reduced in function. They will only contact each other, and mine.”
“That's okay, Andy.” Cassidy assured them. “We wouldn't have anyone else to call with them anyway.”
“Right.” Caroline agreed. “No one else we know has them and if we want to call any of our friends we'll just use our cell phones.”
“It's a very thoughtful gift, Andrea.” Miranda traced the patterns on her bracelet lightly. “It is good to know that I will always be able to get in touch with the girls.”
“As long as they wear them,” Andrea assured Miranda, “you can reach them.”
Miranda shook her head at that. “I believe the task will be getting them to take them off...”
Andy grinned. “They are waterproof. You can bathe, shower or swim with them, even in the ocean if you want. I would suggest not sleeping with them on.”
“Oh?” Miranda was curious about that, and so were the girls.
Cassidy frowned and looked at the bracelet. “Why?”
“Because,” Andy explained, “if you accidentally press the connection button while you sleep, I do not want to hear you snoring.”
“Ha!” Caroline pushed her sister lightly. “They're right! None of us wanna hear that!”
“Hey!” Cassidy pouted. “I do not snore!” She looked at the wide-eyed expressions turned her way and huffed. “I just breathe loud when I'm laying down!”
“Of course, Bobbsey.” Miranda bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. Cassidy was a bit sensitive about her snoring and the teasing had gone far enough. “Do we want to have a meal, or just popcorn with the movie?”
“I'm hungrier than popcorn.” Cassidy brightened. “Can we have pizza?”
“Can we?” Caroline put in her order. “I want sausage.”
“Very well then.” Miranda looked at Andrea. “Do you trust me?”
“E'we, Miranda.” Andrea nodded. “Of course.”
“Place the order Cassidy, Vegetable for you, two Margherita pizzas, and a sausage one for Caroline.”
Ignoring her new bracelet for the moment, Cassidy used her phone app and a few choice taps later the pizza was being prepared in a location a few blocks away. They made her favorite vegetable pizza. “Got it, Mom. I ordered a small breadsticks too.”
“Of course.” Miranda patted Andrea's arm as she rose from the couch. “I will also go ahead and make popcorn while we wait for the delivery.” That statement made her pause. “Will the guards let the delivery person come to the door?”
“They will.” Andy tapped their communicator and spoke to one of the guards outside, explaining that there would be a person bringing food to the door. Miranda followed bits of the conversation, but what was most familiar to her was the cadence of it. Andrea told the guards what was going to happen and what they were going to do about it. The guards in turn agreed and signed off with a quick, “E'we, 'Kosaza.”
Miranda nodded and waved her hands in their general direction. “You can all play with the bracelets while we wait for the pizza to arrive. I will meet you upstairs after the delivery.”
Andrea nodded and tried to contend with Patricia who had jumped up on the couch to take Miranda's place as soon as she had moved away. “We will try, Miranda.” Their hands stroked the large head that was now resting on their lap, pinning them to the couch.
“Don't worry. When the time comes we will rescue you, as we did in the foyer earlier.” Miranda winked at her daughters. “Right, Bobbseys?” She grinned at the simultaneous response.
Miranda left them all trying out the various settings on their bracelets. As she walked to the kitchen it amazed her that this day had started out so terrible, but then Andrea had made it almost one of the best days she could remember in a long time. Thinking back to today's events and the role Andrea played in them, Miranda automatically gathered the items needed for popcorn. She wasn't paying attention to the amount she put into the pan and popped a much larger quantity this time. She barely heard the doorbell and was pouring the snack into a large bowl when Cassidy's voice startled her making her jump and spill the popcorn all over the countertop.
“Mom! Food's here.”
Murmuring to herself, “I think I prefer the bellowing.” Miranda used the bracelet as she had been shown to respond. “Do you need help rescuing Andrea?”
“No.” Caroline took up the conversation. “Patricia got up when the doorbell rang.”
“I will meet you upstairs.” Miranda quickly cleaned up the mess, glad now that she had popped so much extra that the spilled bits didn't cause a shortage. She was walking into the entertainment room just behind the rest of her family. “Do not let Patricia eat the pizza. The tomato sauce upsets her stomach.”
“Yes, Mom.” “We know, Mom.”
Miranda set the bowl on the low table next to one of the pizza boxes. “I was making sure Andrea knew as well.” She smirked at their guest. “For all we know, Patricia will tell them that pizza is good for dogs.”
Andrea laughed at that, ruffling the dogs furry neck. “Did you hear that, Patricia. Miranda said you would stoop to telling falsehoods in order to get your way!”
“Please,” Miranda rolled her eyes. “Don't encourage her, Andrea!” She gestured to the boxes. “You should eat your pizza before it gets cold.”
They all watched Andrea take their first bite of pizza and waited for their reaction to it. Miranda couldn't take her eyes off of the brilliant smile they had after the first taste.
“This is delicious.” Andy took another bite almost immediately.
Miranda nodded and also began eating hers. “It is quite good.” She looked at her girls. “Shall we start the movie?”
“Yeah!.” Cassidy grabbed for the remote, only to be beaten to it by Caroline.
“I got it.” She pushed the appropriate buttons and the electronics in the room sprang on allowing her to select the movie they wanted. “This is a good one.” Caroline was glad Andy had chosen to watch this one. All the movies on the list they had given them had a theme, but this one was more appropriate than some of the others. Caroline hoped that her mother got the message it sent too.
They all settled in with their pizza while the movie started. Patricia just huffed and laid her head on Andrea's feet.
The credits were rolling, the popcorn bowl was nearly empty, the pizza boxes were empty and Patricia was sleeping on Andy's feet. Andy's attention was not on the screen though, nearly their whole consciousness was focused on the sensation of Miranda's hand holding theirs. They were grateful for Caroline and Cassidy's questions when Caroline stopped the playback and powered down the electronics.
“So did you like it, Andy?”
“Yes.” They thought about the movie and added, “Although, Rachel was attracted to Luce, before the wedding... she should not have married the man if she was attracted to someone else.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy shrugged. “It's just that they hadn't known each other for very long, so Rachel couldn't tell what she was really feeling for Luce, until they got to know each other better.”
“Ahh... you don't always instantly know...”
Miranda chuckled at that, automatically squeezing the hand in hers, before releasing it. “Despite what the movies lead you to believe, it's hardly ever instantaneous. You might be instantly attracted to another person, but feelings, always need time to... grow. Many times the instant connection you think you might have with someone is not enough to sustain a relationship.”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “What Mom is trying NOT to say, is that sometimes people only want to have sex with each other and sex is not enough to build a relationship on.”
Miranda inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “Yes, Caroline Marie, that is exactly what I was trying NOT to say.”
Andy grimaced at Caroline's wince and mouthed to the girl. 'Big trouble'. The girl's reaction to that was another eye roll.
“But the point is,” Cassidy took up the movie plot thread, “they figured it out in the end, and corrected the mistake. It would have been better if the marriage hadn't happened to begin with, but at least they figured out that it was the wrong thing for Rachel to do and she ended up with the person she loved. Really loved, not just sort of loved.”
“Sort of loved?” Andy wanted clarification on that. “There are different levels of love...”
“Yeah.” Cassidy pointed to Caroline. “I love my sister.” She moved her hand to Miranda's direction. “And I love my Mom.” Then she explained. “I love my friends at school, but I don't want to be partners with them. But when I find someone I want to be partners with, I will love them too, but differently.” She grinned at Andy. “I love you too, like a friend, or...” She started to say like an Aunt, but stopped that gendered word in her head and switched it, “the sibling of our parent or something...”
“Yeah.” Caroline agreed and looked at Andy. “We haven't known you for very long, but I love you too.” She added quickly. “Like the sibling of our parent or something...”
Miranda chuckled and spoke quietly. “We all love you Andrea.” Her eyebrows raised when they looked at her. “Even Patricia.”
Disregarding the Patricia remark, Andrea responded to Miranda's comment. “Like the sibling of your parent or something...”
Drowning in Andrea's dark eyes, Miranda agreed softly. “...or something.”
Cassidy piped up and asked. “Can you come back tomorrow?”
Caroline nodded. “Yeah, it's going to be super boring here tomorrow.”
Miranda couldn't disagree. “You are always welcome, however,” she informed the girls, “Emily was unable to secure a caretaker for you tomorrow. So either you will be coming to Runway with me, or I will be working from home tomorrow.” She winked at Andy. “Still boring, I'm sure.”
“If I could, I would.” Andy spoke with some resignation. “However, it takes a certain amount of preparation for me to depart the ship and I am supposed to leave tomorrow evening to meet Gang Chao Chen for a meal. I need to remain on the ship in order to prepare.” They fidgeted with their hands, picking non-existent lint from their robe.
Miranda noticed. “Are you nervous about that?”
Nodding, Andy licked their lips. “I was going to ask if you might possibly accompany me to that meeting.” They sighed. “I do not think I trust my own judgment when it comes to this individual.”
Now Miranda had a conundrum on her hands. She did very much want to comply with Andrea's request because it would mean being in their presence and she did not want to comply because it would mean being civil to the man who was going to marry Andrea. That thought filled her with such rage and jealousy she almost couldn't stand it. She also knew that she had exactly zero right to feel that way. “I would love to accompany you.” Miranda explained. “The issue is that I have so much work to do, and if I'm not in the office a lot of it will not be done.”
Andrea brightened a bit. “Miranda, do you trust me?”
“Do you trust me to care for your offspring?” Andrea watched Miranda's reaction closely.
“Yes.” Miranda was slightly surprised at that answer, but yes, she did trust Andrea. “But you said you needed to be on the ship tomorrow.”
Andrea smirked when the girls caught on and inhaled deeply, but knew they were holding their breathe until Andrea could ask, so they spoke quickly. “The girls could stay with me, on the ship, tomorrow. If it is acceptable to you.”
Miranda's heart stopped for a moment, then pounded harder than she'd ever felt it before. “On the ship...” No one went on the ship. During the entire time they had been hovering over the cities, no human had ever gone to one of the ships and she said so. “No one, no humans, go to the ships.”
“No one has the authority to invite anyone besides my parent, or me.” Andrea watched Miranda closely. “I am inviting them, and you.”
The girls couldn't stand it anymore and released their breaths with a burst of sound. They moved in on her, jostling her arms and shoulders. “Oh, Please Mom!” “Please, let us!” “Andy will take care of us.” “We trust Andy.” “Please Mom!”
“Alright... alright...” She held up her hands to stop the assault and looked at her wayward children. “This seems very much like a reward for your bad behavior at school, but I'm not sure I have a choice.” She turned to Andrea. “How do they get to the ship?” She could see the girls practically vibrating with excitement.
“I will bring a vehicle for them, in the morning and return with them to the ship. The vehicle will take us to the shuttle that will transport us up.” They smiled. “We will go to meet Gang Chao Chen in the evening. I am scheduled to leave at seven pm, your time. I will send a vehicle so you can come to the ship and we can all travel to the restaurant together.”
“You want them with you when you meet him?” Miranda now understood exactly how anxious Andrea was about this meeting.
“I trust their judgment when it comes to people.” They turned their large, dark eyes on Miranda. “Is that acceptable?”
“It would be preferable to see the ship beforehand, so I know what I'm sending my daughters into, but since I do need to be in the office early, after the fact will have to do. If you send a car for me at six, will that give you enough time to show me where you spent your day before we leave for the restaurant?” Miranda felt a flush of apprehension about that, a bit moreso when Andrea asked.
“Is it acceptable to send a vehicle for you alone?” They sounded regretful. “I will not be able to personally accompany that one.”
Nodding at that, Miranda stood. “Of course.” She held out her hand to encourage Andrea to rise as well. “And speaking of upcoming events, now that the movie is over and tomorrow's plans are set we should probably do a bit of work on our project before you return to the ship.”
Andrea took the offered hand and held it as they walked to Miranda's office. Neither of them noticed the knowing looks on Caroline and Cassidy's faces.
“What do you think of this one?” Miranda pulled yet another design to the front of the projection display. “The lines are good for your leg length, I think.”
“That is nice.” Andrea reached out to trace the lower part of the garment. “What design do you think we should enhance the fabric with?” They had ruled out some of the more generic shape patterns.
“I have a thought on that.” Miranda admitted. “However, I need a little more time to research it.”
“Excellent.” Andrea smiled and reached out for the glass of ice water Miranda had provided for them. They swallowed the last of the liquid and stood, immediately regretting the loss of Miranda's body heat next to them. “I believe it is time for me to go.” They patted Patricia on her head as they stood. “I will just go say farewell to the girls.”
“Very well.” Miranda deactivated the interface device as they left the room. Patricia whined at the retreating form and Miranda sighed. “I understand completely, Patricia.” She left the room, to go wait by the door.
They found the girls in the music room. “I am taking my leave.” They smiled when the children both rushed over to hug them. “I will see you in the morning, yes?”
“Yeah!” Cassidy pumped her fist in the air. “I'm so excited!”
Caroline promised. “We'll be ready when you get here.”
“Good.” Their eyes took on some of the excitement that was pouring off of the children. “Until tomorrow.” The simultaneous response made them chuckle.
The mirth was still causing the corners of their eyes to crinkle when they reached the downstairs door, and the waiting Miranda. “Thank you, Miranda, for allowing me to participate in this afternoon's events and for agreeing to accompany me tomorrow.”
“You are more than welcome.” Miranda thought back to the crisis at the school. “Your help with the school issue, the security intervention and the medical attention will never be adequately thanked. I owe you a great deal.”
“You owe me nothing, Miranda.” Andrea put their hand on their chest and bowed slightly. “It was my honor to help.” They moved forward and leaned in, brushing their cheek against Miranda's, as they whispered, “In'herx thr'nQ.”
Smiling at that, Miranda recognized one of the simple phrases Andrea had taught her, just that day. She knew it translated to 'Enjoy your night', but Miranda had a phrase to teach Andrea now, an alternate translation for the alien farewell. She leaned forward and gently pressed her lips to Andrea's cheek then whispered. “Sweet dreams.”
Andrea held Miranda's gaze for a long silent moment, before their bracelet signaled that the transport vehicle had arrived. Quickly putting on their head cover and veil, Andrea silently pressed their hand against their chest and bowed to Miranda, before leaving.
Miranda watched the guards surround Andrea as they walked to the vehicle and again waited to see the drone drop from its place above the house to trail the vehicle's path. It wasn't until she closed the door that she gently reached up to touch her lips and made a small whimpering sound. Looking down the hall she saw Patricia standing in the office doorway, looking at Miranda with large, sad eyes. With a deep breath, Miranda lowered her hand and shook her head at the dog. “Don't you tell them!”
Patricia watched Miranda walk up the stairs and whuffed quietly before making her way into the kitchen for a drink of water.
“What do you think it's going to be like?” Cassidy whispered into the dark room. She felt Caroline shift on the bed and heard the whispered response.
“I don't know, but I'm tired, so go to sleep or I'm just going back to my own room.”
“But... the ship!” Cassidy wiggled in excitement. “How cool is that? How can you possibly sleep?!”
Caroline sighed. “Because I'm tired.” She tried to get comfortable on Cassidy's bed. “And I want to be up early. Now shut up and go to sleep.”
Miranda stood at the door of Cassidy's room and grinned at the conversation. Of course the girls would have opted to sleep in the same room tonight. They usually did when one or the other of them was anxious about something. Going to the ship, that was plenty of reason to be anxious. Truth be told it made Miranda rather anxious as well, but she wasn't lying when she had told Andrea that she trusted them. Still, she knew sleep wouldn't be happening for her any time soon, so instead of going to her bedroom and preparing for bed Miranda went back to her office. Digging a sketchbook out of a drawer in her desk, Miranda opened it to the first blank page and twirled a pencil in her hand for a moment. The image of what she wanted to draw was set clearly in her mind before she touched the tip of the pencil to the paper. Once she started, however, she found it very difficult to stop.
Andrea stood in front of their parent's desk. They had been shocked speechless when they learned of the invitation Andrea had extended to the Priestly offspring.
Here on the ship?
Yes, my parent.
Andrea spoke softly. “Ngab'ahlobo bam.”
They are my friends.
“Oku kuthe' lukhul kuwe?”
This means so much to you?
“Uza nazo nokuba nd'the h'yi.”
And you will bring them even if I say no.
Andrea tried not to smile. “E'we.”
They watched as their parent pinched the bridge of their nose, a gesture they had to have seen done by humans. Andrea recalled Miranda's exasperation with her own offspring and spoke with a innocent tone.
“Ukua ngumzali kuhla' kungamav?”
Parenting is always an experience?
The Ambassador looked up sharply and chuckled as their expression softened. “RhoQ.” Always.
“Kakade ke, yenza oko ucinga ukuba kulungile.”
Of course, do what you feel is right.
Thank you, my parent.
You are welcome, my offspring.
Andrea put their hand to their chest and bowed before turning to leave their parent's office. Their parent's voice stopped them mid step.
“Kufuneka uXele', uKeal.”
You must tell, Keal
“Mna?” Me? Andrea assumed their parent would give the order.
The Ambassador chuckled at their offspring's wide eyes. “Ukuba ngumbntu omdal' kuhla' kungamav.”
Being an adult is always an experience.
Rolling their eyes, Andrea laughed. “RhoQ.” Always.
Miranda was up earlier than usual, odd because she had also remained awake longer last night than usual, so she was operating on minimal sleep. She had gotten quite a lot of work done last night though, which now seemed like a bad idea. Having it to focus on last night had been good, but now there wasn't much to do so her anxiety was building. Of course, she trusted Andrea completely. However, she knew that accidents did happen and at any time in the past, no matter where the children were Miranda would have been able to get to them, on her own. If the girls were on the ship and they needed her, she would not be able to get to them. That thought was causing her all manner of stress.
She prepared for the day and was in the kitchen feeding Patricia and changing her water while she waited for the coffee machine to work its magic. By the time the girls joined her in the kitchen she had already drank half of her first cup. It was their complete lack of stress that calmed her immensely. Naturally they were fine and going about their normal breakfast routine. They were going to be with Andrea all day, so why wouldn't they be fine? Here, there, it didn't make a difference. Andrea would protect them. Draining the last of her cup and pouring another, Miranda went over her schedule in her head. There were several meetings some that had been pushed back from Friday and then again when she ended up out of the office yesterday afternoon.
Her whole schedule seemed like all normal Runway business, until it wasn't... Andrea was going to send a vehicle and she was going to the ship, to see where her Bobbseys had spent the day. To visit Andrea in their home, instead of the other way around. And then, they were all going to accompany Andrea to meet, for the first time, the man Andrea was going to marry in less than two months. Miranda's stomach turned at that thought. Her free hand automatically went up to her mouth, her fingers touching her lips lightly. She recalled the softness of their skin when she kissed them goodnight and wished... Lowering her hand she pulled herself out of those kinds of thoughts and noticed Patricia looking at her. Narrowing her eyes at the dog, Miranda shook her head. Patricia licked her lips and yawned, wandering to the table to see if the girls had dropped anything tasty.
They finished their breakfasts and gathered the items they wanted to take with them for the day. Miranda had the interface device and her phone. The girls had their phones. They all had on their bracelets. Miranda had just put her coffee cup in the dishwasher when Andrea's voice sounded from the bracelets, making her jump.
“Cassidy, Caroline, are you ready to go?”
Miranda ground her teeth together slightly. “Remind me to ask Andrea about an incoming message chime.”
The girls laughed and nodded. “Okay, Mom.” They each looked at their bracelets when they beeped and simultaneously informed Miranda.
“The car's here.”
Miranda walked them to the door. When they opened it they were surprised to see two guards who immediately stepped aside to reveal Andrea, who was, as always, fully covered except their eyes that were shining with excitement. “Are you ready?”
“Yes!” “Yep.” The girls stepped to either side of Andrea and Cassidy spoke for both of them “Ready when you are.”
Andy winked at them then looked at Miranda. They pressed their hand against their chest and bowed, ignoring the soft sound the guards made. “Until later, Miranda. I will take good care of them.”
Nodding at that, Miranda smiled. “I know you will...” She watched as Andrea put one arm over each of the girls shoulders and guided them to the vehicle. It made her feel much better knowing the guards were there and her anxiety did lessen a bit when the ever present drone took its place over the vehicle. Andrea would protect them; they were probably safer with them than anywhere else on the planet... or above it as the case may be. As she stood there watching, Cassidy's voice made her jump.
“Mom... we're fine.”
Lightly tracing one of the outlines on her bracelet, Miranda responded. “I know. Have a good day, Bobbseys.”
Miranda closed the door and headed upstairs. There was one more thing she wanted to take to the office with her.
When the vehicle glided to a halt, they exited only to look up and see the shuttle looming in front of them.
“Whoa.” Caroline looked at the large craft. “I didn't know it would be so big.”
Andy nodded. “Sometimes, there are a lot of things to bring from the ship, guards...” they gestured to the vehicle. “Transport, and other various things so the shuttle used is quite large.” Andy walked with the girls as they had done this morning, from the car to the entrance ramp of the shuttle. Once inside, Andy showed the girls where they could sit. It wasn't like an airplane, this was more like a living room. Cassidy commented on it.
“This is nice.” Cassidy ran her hands over the material on the couch she had chosen.
“Yes.” The corners of their eyes crinkled when they smiled under their veil. “This is where we ride.” A gesture with their thumb over their shoulder pointed to a different part of the ship. “The guards have their own area. It's more like the airplanes depicted in the movies you watch.”
Caroline chose a comfy-looking seat and looked around. “Where are the seatbelts?”
Shaking their head, Andy's eyes were still full of amusement. “No need for that.” They glanced at their bracelet and nodded, more to themself than anyone else. “Here we go.” Everything was momentarily tinged with blue. Andy felt the minimal pressure takeoff caused and wondered if the girls felt it too. Then the blue haze went away. They could get up and move around now. Andy rose and gestured for the girls to join them at the viewport. “Look.”
Caroline and Cassidy stood shoulder to shoulder with Andy to see, and they both gasped as the ground fell away quicker than they had ever seen before. They had always liked watching the ground when they flew. People became ants until they disappeared, cars became toys before they disappeared too. Buildings got small until all they could really see was the color of the land, greens usually, but browns if they were in the west, or blue when they were over the ocean. That all happened slowly though as the plane would climb to its cruising altitude. This trip was basically straight up and before they knew it even the high-rise buildings were barely visible.
“I didn't realize it would be so high.” Caroline looked at Andy. “How high are we?”
“One hundred and five thousand six hundred feet.” Andy held up their hand to stop the next question and did the conversion for them. “Twenty miles.”
“What?!” Cassidy was astounded. “It doesn't look that high!” That information had never been disclosed to the public. All they had ever said was that the ship was high enough to avoid air traffic.
“The ship is big and we hold it this high so we don't impede your air traffic, and the sunlight can still reach the ground.” Andy explained. “We are well into the stratosphere.” She didn't go into the mechanics of the illusion that the ship was smaller and lower to the ground.
“What are your ships emissions doing to the ozone?” Caroline tried to look out the window again but just got dizzy. “I did a paper at school about the ozone layer...”
Andy reached out to tap Caroline's nose. “As far as we can tell, it's helping. What you call ozone is a by-product of the ship. It won't hurt the planet for us to be here,” they returned to their seat and mumbled as Caroline and Cassidy returned to theirs. “for as long as we're here.” They glanced at their communicator again and warned the girls. “Almost there.” The blue tinge returned a moment later and even though the trip had been smooth, they all felt the slight jolt when the shuttle landed. The restraining field was lifted and they all stood. “Come on.” Andy held hands with the girls, one on each side of them and led them out of the shuttle, onto the ship proper. The guards fell into place around them.
“Whoa.” Caroline looked around as much as she could between the guards. “How big is this ship?”
Andy responded, not stopping their forward motion, putting the dimensions into a form the girls might understand. “It's approximately the size of Manhattan.” They were jerked to a stop when both Caroline and Cassidy stopped dead in their tracks, as did their escorts. “Are you okay?”
Cassidy whispered. “I didn't know it was that big.”
Caroline shook her head. “No one knows that.” She thought maybe some government people somewhere had the information, but like the elevation it had never been broadcast to the general public. “Were they all that big?” She knew there had been a lot of ships in the beginning.
“No.” Andy assured them. “This is the largest one. Let's get to my rooms, and we can decide our activities from there. Okay?” Andy tugged their joined hands and they all started moving again.
They were walking down a corridor toward a door from which a bunch of beings had just exited. One of the guards broke away from the group and moved forward quickly, holding the door until Andy and the girls arrived. Andy led the girls inside a small room, along with two of their security escort. Both Caroline and Cassidy jumped when one of the guards spoke, gruffly.
Their Highness' rooms
They felt the floor shift a little and Cassidy smiled. “Oh! An elevator!” This made both girls much more relaxed. This was familiar.
When the doors opened, Andy led them out of the elevator. Two guards were waiting there to join them as they walked the rest of the short distance to Andy's rooms. A lone person was walking the other way down the corridor. They stopped upon seeing the entourage heading in their direction and stood back, against the wall with their head lowered. It was the normal thing to do and when the guards and the very important people they were assigned to had passed the person could go on their way. However, this time the whole group stopped. The person who had lowered their head wanted to look up, but knew it was against protocol to do so. That is until they were addressed by name.
Looking up, Jes'aQ smiled and placed their hand on their chest, bowing deeply, “Diya'bul, 'Kosaza”
Andy shook the hands in theirs slightly. “Girls, this is Jes'aQ. They are one of our best interpreters.” Andy grinned at the flush on Jes'aQ's cheeks. “Jes, this is Caroline and Cassidy, Miranda Priestly's offspring. I am their caretaker today.”
“The ones from the picture.” They nodded. “I remember.” Jes'aQ bowed to each girl. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Andy was pleased when the girls also nodded their heads in a pseudo-bow and spoke quietly almost in unison.
“Pleasure to meet you.” “Nice to meet you.”
“See this?” Andy released Caroline's hand for a moment to point at Jes'aQ's collar and the pin there. “It indicates that the person wearing it is an interpreter.” Andy retook Caroline's hand and made sure both of them were listening. “If something happens and we get separated, you can find a person with that pin and they will be able to understand you. I don't think it will be an issue because we don't plan on separating and even if we did, you have your bracelets to contact me, but 'just in case', you know you can ask for help from the people who wear these pins.”
“Okay, Andy.” “Thanks, Andy.”
“'Kosaza?” Jes'aQ's expression showed confusion and when Andy looked at them they asked, haltingly. “An...dy?”
Although they couldn't see it, Andy smiled. “It is a shortening of my true name, as they cannot quite pronounce it, yet.”
“Ah.” Jes'aQ nodded. “E'we. Kakade ke.” They translated. “Yes, of course.” A bit of amusement glittered in Jes'aQ's eyes. “Their tongues are still not long enough.”
Laughing at that, Andy nodded. “E'we.” They winked at the girls who were bristling, thinking they were being laughed at. Andy softened a bit because the girls reminded them so much of Miranda and they explained. “It's what we tell our offspring when they are first learning to speak. It just means that you are young and will learn with time.”
“Oh.” Cassidy thought about it and laughed. “That's kinda funny.” She looked at Caroline who was now grinning.
Andy was still laughing. “Have a good day, Jes'aQ.”
Again placing their hand on their chest, Jes'aQ bowed. “You as well, 'Kosaza.”
Nodding at that, Andy continued walking. It was a relief when the door to Andy's rooms closed behind them. Caroline and Cassidy looked around while Andy removed their head cover and veil. After barely a moment of thought, they removed their outer robes as well. They normally didn't wear anything other than what Miranda had termed their 'body suit' while alone in their rooms. They got the girls attention by clapping their hands together. “Okay, let me show you where everything is and then we can figure out what we want to do today. This is the room where I spend most of my time. As you can see there are lots of places to sit.” They were taken back by the stunned looks on both of the small faces. “What?”
“Um...” Caroline glanced at her sister who looked just as stunned as she felt and they both blindly sat on whatever seat was directly next to them. Caroline managed a soft chair while Cassidy was on a longer couch-type thing. “It's just, we've never seen you without your robes.”
“Yeah, you look so...”
“Human?” Andy frowned, their forehead wrinkled at Caroline's response.
“No.” Caroline shook her head to deny that and Cassidy agreed.
“Nope.” Cassidy took it to a different place. “I was going to say hot.”
Andy pressed their hand to their cheek and shook their head. “No, the same as ever.”
Caroline laughed. “Not temperature... it means you look good, attractive, sexy.” Caroline wasn't sure those were words that needed to be used but put it in more business-like terms. “You look like the models from Runway.”
“That is what Miranda said.” Andy smoothed their palms over their abdomen. The thought of putting their robes back on crossed their mind but the girls didn't seem to be uncomplimentary. They had just been surprised because of the difference the robes made in their appearance.
“Wait.” Caroline blinked. “Our mother has seen you, like this?”
Andy nodded. “Yes. The first night I visited your dwelling. Miranda took measurements so that we will be able to properly fit a garment to me.” Something about the way Caroline asked made them suspicious. “Why?”
Shrugging, Caroline relaxed back in the chair. “I'm just surprised she has seen you and isn't putting you on the cover of Runway.”
Rolling their eyes at that, Andy scoffed. “That's not even an option.”
Cassidy laughed and Caroline rolled her eyes. “Did mom tilt her head and look you up and down slowly?” She demonstrated what she meant. Andy's stunned expression was answer enough for Caroline and she nodded once. “It's definitely an option.”
Wanting the topic changed quickly, they gestured for the girls to get up. “Come on, I'll show you around.”
Now the girls were able to look around and take in their home for the day. These rooms were nearly as stunning as seeing Andy without their outer robes. “This place is huge!”
“It's no bigger than your dwelling, Cassidy.”
Caroline laughed. “It's not smaller either!” She thought this room would be as large as one entire floor of the townhouse, it was just all open.
Suddenly Cassidy took off running ending up on the other side of the room before turning around and yelling to her sister and Andy. “It's great!”
Cassidy, pulled her cell phone from her pocket and laughed. “And the signal here is super strong!” She sent a quick text letting her mom know they were okay then tucked her phone away and ran back across the room.
Before long they were all laughing and running not only in the first large room they had entered, but the connecting rooms upstairs as well. Andy made a note to tell Miranda that the girls didn't make as much noise on their stairs as they did on the stairs at the townhouse. They thought they could get at least an eye roll for that observation. They had been at it for a while. Andy was suitably impressed with the girls stamina when they both suddenly flopped down on the closest soft surface, which in this case ended up being the couch that Cassidy had claimed when they first arrived. Naturally it was Cassidy who spoke up. “Andy? What do you have to eat here? If we were at school, it would be our lunch time. I think our stomachs are still on school time.”
“Hmmm...” Andy thought about it for a moment. “Should we have some food delivered here, or do you want to go to the Food Hall?”
Caroline wondered about the term. “Food Hall?”
“It's where the people on the ship go to get their food.” Andy explained. “They can eat it there, or take it back to their quarters.”
Both girls did not miss the significance that everyone else on the ship had to go get their food, but Andy could have it delivered if they wanted. Their twin telepathy kicked in and after a second or two of looking at each other, both girls simultaneously turned toward Andy and spoke.
Nodding at that choice, Andy moved toward the stairs. If they were going to go out of the rooms, she would need to put on some robes.
Miranda was pleased with this morning's progress. The magazine was back on track and slightly ahead of schedule. After the text from Cassidy letting her know they had arrived on the ship and were in Andy's rooms Miranda was able to concentrate on her work. She was pleased enough to start lunch a little early and glad to have an extra-long free time before the next meeting was supposed to start. She pulled out the sketchbook she had brought from home and looked at the last drawing she'd done. It was nearly ready to show Andrea, but she wanted to do a little more research first.
She only felt slightly guilty for ordering a steak for lunch. It was Cassidy and Andrea who were vegetarian after all. While she waited for the delivery, she pulled the interface device out of her bag and quickly found the design she was looking for. What she didn't expect was the extra information the device now showed her. Information she had not paid attention to when she and Andrea were using the device after it had been upgraded to full functionality. Much like Alice falling through the looking glass, Miranda considered the new options available to her and jumped in.
She paused the display long enough to get her meal delivered and then she spent the rest of her free time leisurely eating her lunch and browsing through some very interesting information.
All too soon it was time to resume work. Miranda smiled at the updated drawing in the sketchbook and closed down the interface device, putting it away before crossing the room to open her door. She saw her next appointment, a new designer, waiting with a rack of clothing to show off. Waving them in, Miranda walked back to her desk, sat in her chair and leaned back, hands crossed over her stomach. “So, what do you have to show me?” She smiled. She realized it was a rather predatory smile when the young woman visibly swallowed. “By all means, move at a glacial pace...”
That spurred the woman into motion and the first outfit was displayed. Miranda's lips twitched, but didn't smile, or purse so the designer was encouraged and the next outfit was brought forward. Miranda had looked at the rack when it was wheeled in and knew they would be featuring this designer in the magazine. Not in this edition, however. It would be the next issue at least before there would be room in the publication for the space this collection deserved. She allowed the presentation to continue, just to have a bit more time to think about the design she had prepared for Andrea. And also to think about the upcoming meeting tonight. She did not want to meet Andrea's intended. She blinked when the designer's voice faltered. Miranda blinked and focused on the young woman's face. She looked like she was about to cry and Miranda realized she was frowning. Licking her lips, Miranda stood and assured the young designer. “My apologies, I was thinking about something else.” She locked her intense gaze on the woman's eyes. “I will feature your designs in Runway, but not this issue.” She assured the new artist. “Your work is lovely and I want to give it the space it deserves. If I tried to put it in this issue you would only get two pages.” Miranda patted the woman's shoulder. “I will discuss the details for next month's issue with Nigel. Please send him photos of each outfit.”
“Oh!” Nodding frantically at that, the young woman wiped her tears away. “I will... right away! Thank you. Thank you, Miranda!”
Andy held the girls hands, one on each side of them and asked. “Ready?” When they both nodded, Andy tapped their bracelet and the door opened. The two guards who were standing on either side of the door snapped to attention. They told them their intended destination. “Uk'tya ihol.” Food Hall.
The guards both touched their chests and bowed. “E'we, 'Kosaza.”
Cassidy glanced at Andy, but returned attention to their route when they started walking behind the guards. An idea was starting to niggle at the back of her brain but she needed more information. “Why do they have to go everywhere with you, Andy?” She noticed one of the guards glancing back at her when she used Andy's name. The interpreter had questioned that too. Cassidy had more questions, but they could wait. Especially when Andy jokingly answered her question.
“They're bored.” Andy grinned behind their veil when that answer made one of the guard's skip a step. “It gives them something to do.” They had actually asked that very same question to their parent. Here on the ship, hovering over this planet, was probably the safest place in the galaxy for them. Security guards were completely unnecessary. Their parent had just held up their hands in hopelessness, 'It is their job.' they had said and Andy couldn't argue with that because it was, in fact, their job.
They walked for a while and as they passed a wide door, Andy told the girls they would stop there on the way back to the rooms. They wouldn't say what was behind the door though, just that it was a surprise. A few more turns in the corridors led them to an even larger door than the one they had previously passed. The guards held the doors open and they walked in. Andy grinned as the girls again simultaneously exclaimed.
Caroline wasn't sure what she was expecting, but she didn't think this was it. She looked around trying to figure out why it seemed so familiar when Cassidy laughed.
“It's like we're back in Vegas.”
That was it, Caroline agreed with her sister. This looked just like one of the big buffet places they had gone to in Las Vegas. The only differences were the size, this one was much larger, and the food. Caroline couldn't immediately see anything that she recognized as food. Apparently Cassidy didn't either.
“We don't know what to eat, Andy.” Cassidy's grip on their hand tightened. “What if we're allergic?”
Andy considered the problem. “What Earth foods are you allergic to?”
“Nothing that we know of,” Caroline was nothing if not practical, “but what if we're allergic to some of this?”
Nodding at that, Andy again tapped their bracelet. A small medical drone immediately dropped from the ceiling and hovered near them. A voice asked.
“Ngaba ikhona ingxaki, 'Kosaza?”
Is there a problem, Your Majesty?
“H'yi. Sisilumko nje.” No. Merely a precaution. Andy winked at their companions. “Nceda ubeke ilis'” Monitor them please
Thank you, Doctor.
Andy gave the girls the gist of the conversation. “A doctor will monitor us while we eat just in case you seem to have trouble with any of the foods.” They glanced up at the hovering drone. “Remember the medical drone?”
Cassidy did remember and nodded. “Thanks, Andy.”
“Wamkeleki” Andy grinned and nudged Cassidy's shoulder with their arm. “You're welcome.” Dark eyes noticed Cassidy mouthing the word. They recalled that Miranda had done that as well, when learning new words. They were charmed at the similarity of offspring to parent.
Caroline was still overwhelmed. “What should we try first?”
“Hmmm...” Andy nodded to themself. “Let's start with my favorite and go from there.” They pulled the girls toward the food station that represented their own homeworld and held one of their very favorite things. Andy was sure the girls would love it too.
Miranda checked the time, again. She was becoming more and more anxious about the upcoming meeting. There were still two hours before the transport vehicle Andrea promised to send was scheduled to arrive, but Miranda was ahead of her own schedule now. Partially due to sending away two designers in tears. After the first lovely presentation this afternoon, the next two offerings were dismal. The last designer probably did not deserve the treatment they received and Miranda resolved to have Nigel meet with the man next week for a less biased opinion. That designer was Chinese in origin and at the moment everything from that region of the world just infuriated her. Knowing that a Chinese man was going to join with Andrea, not exactly against their will although not something that they had chosen for themself, was grating on Miranda's nerves. She also knew that she had absolutely no right to dictate what Andrea did. The feelings she seemed to be developing for Andrea were annoying at best. Naturally there could never be anything romantic between us, Miranda thought. All Andrea saw was someone who was trying to help them. She concluded, as she always did in her mind. So that's what I'll do. I'll help them.
In a few hours that help would come in the form of chaperoning the first meeting between Andrea and the man they were to marry. Miranda was not sure she would be able to form an unbiased opinion but Andrea had asked, so Miranda would be there for them. Her only hope was that her children would be able to see the man clearly. They were young, but Miranda trusted her girls' instincts when it came to strangers in general and men in particular. They had known Stephen was not the right person for her all along, Miranda sighed. She had just not listened.
With that in mind, Miranda stalked down to the Closet. The dress she was wearing was perfectly fine for working in the office, but the meeting tonight was going to be more business-like. She went directly to the section of the Closet that contained her favorite designer's power suits. Shuffling through the choices, Miranda's hand stopped on one that was very much like the one hanging in her closet at home. Pinstripes, with a white-collared shirt under the jacket. She nodded to herself. Taking the outfit with her, she folded it carefully over her arm, as she made her way to Accessories. There was a nice chunky gem necklace she had noticed that would go well with the open collar of the shirt.
The minions scattered as Miranda went about her business. They mostly just tried to stay out of her way when she had that look of concentration on her face. Even Nigel had not interfered with her odd, but fairly quick, trip to the Closet. He did wonder what she was up to though, and was slightly worried about whoever was on the other end of the focused editor's thoughts. When Miranda was in enough of a mood to wear a power suit like that, Nigel whistled softly as he shook his head, it wasn't a good idea to be the target of her attention.
Miranda hung the outfit up in her private bathroom before returning to her desk. She sorted through her emails, trashing a lot of them unread, simply because she could tell from the sender and subject line that she didn't need to read them. She did read a few and responded before allowing herself to check the time again. Unwilling to use the bracelet communicator, because an immediate response was not required, Miranda picked up her phone and sent a text to Cassidy asking how their afternoon was going. To her surprise there was a response right away.
“Hey Mom, It's going great! I was about to text you because I know the bracelet makes you jump and I wasn't sure if you were in a meeting. There was a mix up with the time of the meeting tonight. Can you be ready an hour earlier?”
Miranda looked at her watch again and spoke to herself. “In fifteen minutes?” Cassidy's text continued.
“We need to skip the ground transport. Elias Clarke has a helipad on the roof, right?”
“Yes,” Miranda informed her daughter. “I'm not sure it's large enough for one of the flying transports...”
“Andy says not to worry about that, just meet us on the roof in about fifteen minutes.”
Miranda was already moving toward her bathroom to change. “Very well.”
It didn't take even ten minutes for her to swap out her clothing and touch up her makeup. She loaded up a small bag with some hairstyling tools and some makeup samples. She assumed there would be some time on the way to the restaurant to make any sort of fine tuning her hair and makeup might need. She spoke to Emily as she walked out of her office. “I'm out for the the day.”
Emily's 'Yes, Miranda' response barely made it through the door that was closing behind Miranda.
She only stood on the roof for a moment when a ship approached the building. Miranda studied it as it approached and was impressed by the sleekness of it. This was not like the shuttle she had seen on the news videos. That ship was chunky and huge. This was more like a Gulfstream jet, sleek and although still larger than the human airplane she was comparing it to, it was not nearly as bulky as the shuttle. She was not surprised when it didn't actually land on the helipad, because as sleek as the ship was, it was still far too large for that. It was larger than the building tops. She was amazed they had gotten clearance to fly it so close to the buildings. Then she wondered why she was amazed and didn't have any idea what authority the aliens would abide by anyway. That was a thought that needed more examination, another time. What this flying vehicle did do was, silently, hover close and a door in its side opened. A ramp extended down the short way to the building, connecting the Helipad to the ship, and then Andrea in her normal head to toe robes and the girls appeared inside at the top of the ramp. They all gestured for her to walk up, but Cassidy also shouted.
Miranda walked up the ramp and as soon as she was inside, it was retracted and the door closed. “This is unexpected.” She looked around the interior and nodded to herself at the layout. It was indeed quite similar, although slightly larger, to the Gulfstream airplanes she had flown on before.
“Yes.” Andrea seemed anxious. “We must leave for the meeting with Gang Chao Chen or risk being late. I apologize for the haste. I will show you my rooms and the ship where your children spent the day after the meeting, I promise.” They directed Miranda to a soft seat. “Please, relax now. I'm told it will take approximately forty-five minutes to reach our destination.”
“Forty-five minutes?” Miranda narrowed her eyes at her grinning children. “Where are we going?” She couldn't imagine what restaurant they would be dining at that would take forty-five minutes to get to.
“He's Chinese, Mom.” Cassidy grinned from her seat at her mother's blank expression.
Caroline nodded, settling in to her seat but watching as her mother's eyes widened with comprehension. “Yep... We're going to China.”
Andrea held up a finger to correct the destination. “Beijing to be exact.”
Speechless, Miranda blinked when the blue tinge enveloped the cabin and the slight pressure of motion could be felt. She heard a muffled boom and then another, and another, ten in rapid succession, before the blue tinge dissipated a few moments after it had begun. Before her outrage at being basically kidnapped and taken to China of all places could register on her brain, Miranda felt herself surrounded by her children. The girls hugged her tightly and were talking a mile a minute about their day. Recalling how she had mused that Andrea looked like they were following a tennis match when the girls had double teamed them with excited conversation, Miranda felt doubly so. “Whoa!” She returned the hugs with one arm around each girl. “One at a time please, slowly. I take it you have had a good time today. You were good for Andrea and didn't get into any trouble?”
“It was great!” Cassidy smiled. “Andy's rooms are huge! As big as our house! And we got to run!”
Miranda glared at Andrea. “You let them run in your home?”
Andy pressed their hand to their chest. “My requests for them not to run in the house were about as effective as yours. I therefore decided to participate in their athletic practice.”
Sucking the air through her teeth, Miranda sighed as she translated. “You couldn't beat them, so you joined them.”
Andy smiled. “E'we.”
Rolling her eyes at that, Miranda looked to Caroline for another part of the story. “What else did you do?”
“We had lunch in the Food Hall.” Caroline excitedly waved her hands which Miranda deftly dodged. “It's like that big buffet we went to in Las Vegas, remember?” She paused long enough to see her mom nod then continued. “Except instead of the stations being for the different countries, they were for different Planets!”
Miranda went very still and again looked to Andrea. “You allowed them to eat alien food?”
Before Andy could speak, Cassidy jumped in. “Mom, it's okay. We were careful.” Reaching out, Cassidy carefully turned Miranda's head so that she was looking right into her eyes. “We're fine.”
Andrea approached the trio slowly, kneeling at Miranda's knee as they spoke, glad to see Miranda turning to look at them. “Cassidy voiced her concerns for possible allergic reactions, so I had a medical drone monitoring them while we ate.” They assured Miranda, “There were no problems. Most of the foods they tried were vegetation.”
“Most of them?” Miranda looked unerringly at Caroline. “You tried some alien meat?”
“Yeah.” Caroline shrugged. “It tasted like chicken.”
Unable to stop a burst of laughter at that, Miranda squeezed both of her children close. “Of course it did!” Releasing the girls, Miranda reached down to cup the side of Andrea's face. The fabric of their head cover and veil were soft, but not nearly as soft as her memory of their skin. “Thank you, for caring for my children.” She held the dark eyes in her gaze for a long moment, until an unfamiliar voice broke the tableau.
“Oh! I'm sorry I disturbed you!”
Dragging their gaze from Miranda, Andrea looked over at the new arrival. “Perfectly fine, Jes'aQ.” Andrea stood, but as they rose reached out to take Miranda's still outstretched hand and tug her up out of the seat. “I would like to, formally, introduce you to Miranda.”
“Hello, Miranda. It's a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine.” Miranda only hesitated a second. “You were The Ambassador's interpreter when they came to my office last week.” She blinked. Was it really only last week? Reveling in the sensation of Andrea's hand in hers, Miranda was unaware she was leaning against Andrea until they released her hand and put their arm around her waist. “I was impressed that you kept the conversation flowing.” She had reviewed that meeting in her head several times and had come to the conclusion that the translator was just for show. Nevertheless, they had done a very good job.
“Jes'aQ has been a part of my parent's entourage since I was a youngling.” Andy grinned. “They know all the languages.”
“I suppose I should keep them away from Patricia then...” Miranda smiled at the sound of Andrea's laughter.
“I stole Jes'aQ from my parent's entourage for the night because I wanted the best interpreter we had with me.”
“'Kosi, 'Kosaza” Jes'aQ looked at the humans and started to speak, “That means...”
Miranda held up her hand, still reveling in the closeness she was enjoying with Andrea. “I know what it means.”
“Yeah,” Cassidy nodded. “We do too. Andy taught us.”
Caroline spoke, proving their knowledge. “Thank you.” She glanced at Andy and grinned as she finished the translation. “Your Highness.”
Andy's eyebrows disappeared up under their head cover. “Your highness? I didn't teach you that.”
Caroline shrugged. “Well I can't say 'my Prince', or 'my Princess' because you're gender neutral, so 'Your Highness' becomes the translation. Because of your parent...”
“We will talk about this later.” Andrea shook their head. “It won't be long before we arrive, but would you like a drink?”
“Some water if you have it.” Miranda smirked. “Being kidnapped makes a person thirsty.”
Cassidy giggled. “Is there any of that fruit juice I tried in the Food Hall? It was good.”
Andrea nodded. “It is one of my favorites.”
Caroline agreed and they only waited a moment before Jes'aQ returned with four tumblers filled with the requested beverages. Andrea lifted theirs up under the veil to their lips, immediately draining a good portion of it in one drink.
Miranda sipped her drink and then set it aside. “As you pointed out we have some time.” She retrieved the large bag she had brought with her and pulled out the sketchbook she had been working on. “Perhaps you would like to see my design suggestion for your outfit?” She flipped through the pages to the latest one she'd been working on and turned the book around for them to see. She pointed to the drawing, “I thought these designs would complement the outfit, while also paying tribute to you and your heritage. You see?” She pointed to her wrist. “The designs on the bracelets gave me the idea.”
Andrea's continued silence as they looked at the drawing began to worry Miranda. “We can use any symbols or designs you want...” She sat down on the couch, a bit annoyed that her idea got no feedback whatsoever. Suddenly she knew what many of the designers over the years had felt while presenting things to her. “We can always look for other patterns...” Any further speech on her part was stopped by Andrea's very warm arms around her. “Oh!” Miranda struggled to return the embrace, the robes getting in the way. “I guess you like it then?”
“I love it!” Andrea pressed their fabric covered cheek against Miranda's and whispered into her ear, “It's perfect.”
Miranda laughed at that. “Well, it's far from perfect. We still need to figure out the color scheme and what material you want it made from, but with this cut... there shouldn't be an issue with wearing your body suit under it.” She patted Andrea's side and chuckled at how close Andrea was to her. “I think you've been spending too much time with my dog.”
“Oh!” Andy jumped up and apologized. “I'm sorry Miranda I just...”
“No, no...” Miranda grinned up at them. “I didn't say it was unpleasant.” In fact it was far more pleasant than she was prepared to admit. Caroline examining the sketch caught Miranda's eye. The small mop of red hair flopped from side to side as Caroline turned her head to examine the design. “You have something to add, Caroline?”
“The symbols shouldn't be solid.” Caroline said with finality. “They should be outlines, like on our bracelets.”
Miranda gestured Caroline over and took the sketchbook from her. She examined the drawing and then rummaged through her bag for a pencil. Flipping to the next fresh page, Miranda quickly sketched the outfit again and began adding the symbols in outline this time, instead of solid. “Like this?”
“Yeah!” Caroline nodded vigorously. “But not on the veil.”
“No?” Miranda erased the few she had put there. “Can you tell me why?”
Stretching up, Caroline whispered into her mother's ear. Miranda considered the words and smiled, tapping Caroline on the nose with her index finger. “Quite so.” She continued making modifications to the new drawing.
Andrea watched the pair discussing the drawing. It was fascinating to see them interacting like that and they were totally absorbed in the scene until Cassidy tugged on their arm.
“C'mon Andy, they're going to be a while.” Cassidy dragged them to a table, with a specific pattern on it, on the other side of the room. “Play a game with me while we wait.” Andy had shown them a few games this afternoon. This one was Cassidy's favorite. They'd had a table just like this in their rooms, which meant Cassidy even knew where the compartment was that held the pieces. She began to set them up.
Andy took one more look at the utter concentration both Miranda and Caroline had on their faces and turned to their current game partner. “Do you remember the rules?”
“Not all of them,” Cassidy confessed. “But you can remind me.” She pointed her finger at Andy. “No cheating!”
Pressing their hand against their chest, Andy gasped. “I would never...” They narrowed their eyes at the soft sound Jes'aQ made, and laughed when the interpreter mimed zipping their lips and faded away into the other room.
The rest of the trip was spent in pleasant silence, with Caroline and Miranda working on the design for a little while longer, and then setting it aside to watch the game Andrea and Cassidy were playing. The game ended with Andrea the victor, but Cassidy now had a much better understanding of the rules and vowed to win the next game. They laughed and put the pieces away because it was getting close to time to reach their destination. Caroline and Cassidy settled into the chairs and Miranda and Andy opted for the couch. The twins exchanged smirking glances at that.
The blue field again held them in place as they felt the vehicle begin to slow. It just occurred to the three humans that all during the flight they had not experienced one bit of turbulence, not even a tiny bump. The blue dissipated and Cassidy spoke up. “It doesn't even feel like we're moving...or are moving.”
Andy chuckled at that. “I can assure you we have been.” They gestured to a small portal window. “It was too dark for most of the trip but you can watch on the way back, until it gets dark again. It will be mostly ocean for the first while, but you might like to see it from a different perspective than you ever have before.”
The pilot's voice filled the cabin and Andy translated. “We're approaching the landing pad.” They explained. “It's a Helipad on the roof, the same as when we picked you up Miranda, so we will walk down the ramp to the building where the restaurant is located. Kael made sure of that.”
“Will there be a welcoming party on the roof?” Miranda wondered how they would know where to go after they landed.
“I believe there will be a guide.” Andy nodded. “I don't think... he, will be there. I believe we will meet him downstairs.”
“Mmmm...” Miranda didn't think much of the man's hospitality. Not meeting Andrea himself was not a good sign as far as she was concerned. However, this wasn't even strike one against him, in Miranda's book it was at least strike ten. Andrea had brought her along to evaluate the man in an unbiased way but there was absolutely no way she was going to be able to do that. Miranda was sure that all this meeting was going to do was give her more ammunition to hate him.
The door Jes'aQ had disappeared through earlier opened and they entered the room along with a file of eight guards. They marched in rows of four to the door and opened it. The the ramp extended to gently touch the helipad below. Miranda was impressed with the pilot and made a note to ask Andrea about introducing them. Three guards stepped onto the ramp and took two steps forward before Andrea gestured their visitors forward to stand about a step behind the front guards. Two guards flanked them and then Jes'aQ and the last three guards fell in behind. They moved forward as a group, the guards surrounding Andy and their guests at all times.
They cleared the ramp and it retracted, then the door closed and the ship moved away. Andy noticed their companions seeming to be nervous about the transport being gone so they assured them. “The ship will remain close. We have only to call it with our bracelets and by the time we get to the roof it will be here.” The group stopped in front of the lone man standing next to the roof access stairwell. He spoke a spate of Mandarin Chinese and Jes'aQ translated.
“Welcome to Beijing. My employer Gang Chao Chen is excited to meet you. Please, follow me.”
Miranda felt Cassidy tugging her sleeve and she looked down at her daughter. She pressed her finger against her lips and winked. Cassidy nodded and stayed quiet.
Their group followed the man down the stairs and into an empty restaurant. The only table that was occupied had a lone man sitting while several people stood behind him. There were no other chairs at the table. Miranda gave him half a point for standing up when their group approached the table. His greeting left something to be desired although Jes'aQ did soften it somewhat.
“Welcome to my city.”
Andrea spoke English, allowing the interpreters to convey their message. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
He snapped his fingers and gestured to one of the people standing behind him who jumped into action grabbing a chair, placing it across the table from their boss. Jes'aQ conveyed his words. “Please, sit.”
Andrea caught the eyes of one of their guards, glanced at Miranda and the girls and raised their eyebrow in question. The guard snapped to attention. They moved to an empty table and picked up three chairs. Carrying the chairs to the table and arranging them next to the chair 'Kosaza was going to use.
“Are you telepathic?”
“No.” Andrea focused their dark eyes on their intended groom. “My guards just know that I would want my guests to sit with me.” They took their seat and nodded as Miranda and the girls also settled in. They were grateful that Miranda took the chair next to theirs.
It was an awkward silence for a moment before Gang Chao Chen gestured to another of his lackeys who took off through a door across the room. “I've ordered the meal for us.” He somewhat glared at Miranda and the girls. “I didn't realize you would have companions.”
Miranda bristled at that until Andrea casually reached over to hold her hand. “My companions and I will share the meal you have selected for me as I'm sure you have selected a nice variety of dishes for me to try. I have confidence your choices will comply with the dietary requirements my people conveyed to yours.”
He paled a bit then nodded. “Of course they will.”
The interpreters were watching each other closely trying to maintain at least a small amount of civility. Jes'aQ had already encountered Gang Chao Chen. They had been with The Ambassador when he had approached them to discuss this... arrangement. He most likely didn't remember Jes'aQ at all, unlike Miranda who had recognized them almost immediately.
Everyone's attention was drawn to the lackey coming back through the door, along with several more people carrying several dishes. Andrea watched dispassionately as a large roasted duck with its head still attached was placed in front of them. Other dishes were also set on the table, bowls that contained obviously sliced up meat prepared in various ways. There were a few small bowls with vegetables and some servings of rice. It was apparent that Gang Chao Chen had not paid attention at all to anything regarding them. Controlling their disappointment, Andrea made a show of looking over the choices. “A large variety indeed.” They accepted an empty plate, and set it on the table in front of them. “I'm sure my companions will be well satisfied with this selection.”
The man's phone chimed and he picked it up. “Excuse me a moment.” He stood and walked away, as he answered the call.
Miranda glanced around and asked. “Is there a restroom I may use?”
“Us too.” Both Caroline and Cassidy squirmed in their seats.
The interpreter nodded and spoke to one of the other lackeys then gestured. “Follow him. He'll show you where it is.”
Miranda stood. “Thank you.” She and her daughters left. Miranda only felt a little bad about leaving Andrea by themself and consoled herself that Jes'aQ and the guards were still with Andrea. They walked slowly behind the lackey and were rewarded by hearing the man on the phone speaking quickly and fairly loudly to someone. Since he was speaking in Mandarin Chinese, and thought he was out of hearing range of the interpreter, he most likely thought he was safe saying whatever he wanted.
“It's covered from head to toe, but its eyes are huge and dark. So weird.” He scoffed. “I don't even care what it looks like. I won't be spending that much time with it anyway. As soon as the ceremony happens and I get what I want, it can just rot in the penthouse for all I care.” There was a slight pause. “Doesn't matter. The stock prices are going to go through the roof as soon as the news hits so be prepared.”
Miranda was furious although no one would be able to tell. She actually did smile and thank the man, in English, for leading them to the restroom although he probably didn't understand her and she actually did use the restroom. After the girls were finished and they'd all washed their hands, Caroline spoke.
“We have to stop this wedding.”
Miranda sighed. “Yes.”
Cassidy sounded sad. “Andy's going to be all alone.”
“No.” Miranda assured her daughter. “Andrea has their parent and the people they know on the ship. It will work out fine. But we cannot make a scene here. We will tell them, on the way home.” She did not see the girls exchanging looks.
Caroline and Cassidy both knew something that their mother didn't, and yes, there would be a discussion on the way home, but it was not going to go the way their mother thought.
They returned to the table and noticed that although Gang Chao Chen was eating, Andrea's plate was still empty as were the plates in front of Miranda and the girls' seats. None of them were hungry now anyway. Miranda reached out to hold Andrea's hand and noticed it was rather cold, much colder than she had ever felt before. “Are you all right, Andrea?”
“Did you know, Miranda,” Andrea's tone was oh so casual, “that my species has rather extraordinary hearing?”
“I did not.” Miranda sat back in her chair. There would be no discussion on the ride home. If Andrea heard what they had heard, they would cancel the wedding themself. The rest of the meal was awkward with him encouraging them to eat and them not taking even a grain of rice.
Finally when he was finished eating, he wiped his mouth and threw the napkin on the table. “It was nice to meet you at least, even if you didn't eat.” He gestured to the table. “Next time I will have my parents with me and if you disrespect them like you have me today, it will be very bad. I will not tolerate this sort of behavior.”
“I believe.” Andrea stood causing the guards to snap into formation. Cassidy and Caroline jumped to their feet and Miranda too rose quickly, “that you are mistaken as to who has disrespected whom. I don't believe there will be another meeting.”
He paled at the words and didn't wait for the translator. “There will be another meeting! We are getting married.” He smirked. “It's all over the news.”
Cassidy and Caroline grabbed their phones and gasped when they brought up the news apps. There were headlines on all of them about the upcoming ceremony. All of the timestamps showed that it was 'breaking news' only a few minutes old. The first one to report it was a Chinese news outlet. They glared at the man knowing he had started it and Cassidy wanted to wipe the smug look off of his face. She practically snarled at him and spoke, clearly and distinctly in Mandarin Chinese, “You're a pig.”
Andrea tilted their head, chiding Cassidy clearly and distinctly in Mandarin Chinese. “You shouldn't insult pigs like that Cassidy.” Then they spoke their own language. “Siyahamb'”
Jes'aQ automatically translated. “We're leaving.”
As they walked toward the stairs leading back to the roof Gang Chao Chen yelled and ranted behind them.
“You can't go back on your word! You have to go through with the ceremony. It's been announced! I will be your mate and you will have to do what I say. You will tell me what I want to know! I won't die like my grandfather! You will do what I say!”
They quickly made their way back to the roof where the ship was waiting with the ramp extended. The group didn't even slow down to enter the ship. It wasn't until the blue field enveloped them and the series of sonic booms happened that they started processing what the man was ranting about to their backs as they walked away. The security field faded and they all looked at each other in disbelief. As usual, Cassidy was the first to speak.
“He's a butt.”
“Cassidy Ann!” Miranda sighed and shook her head. “Yes, Bobbsey. He is.”
The girl crossed her arms over her chest. “I'd have called him a butt to his face but I didn't know the Mandarin word for butt.”
Jes'aQ spoke immediately telling Cassidy the Mandarin word she was looking for.
Miranda glared at the interpreter. “Do not encourage her!”
Jes'aQ held up their hands in surrender and remained quiet.
“I had hoped...” Andy started, then they just shut down. It was very quiet in the cabin. Jes'aQ escaped into the back room with the guards.
They spent almost half the trip in silence until by mutual consent Caroline and Cassidy approached Andy. Cassidy spoke quietly. “Andy?” She put her hand on Andy's arm and shook it lightly. “Andy, I'm sorry he was such a butt, but don't worry okay? We're here for you.”
“Yes.” Caroline placed her hand on Andy's shoulder. “It will be okay.”
They didn't get a response from Andy and they both sent pleading looks to their mom. Miranda nodded and moved to join them. Kneeling next to Andrea's chair, Miranda rested her hands on Andrea's knees and looked up into their eyes. “My children are extremely smart and correct, Andrea. Everything will be fine.”
“How can it be?” Andy shook their head. “It won't ever be fine after the ceremony.”
“There won't be a ceremony.” Miranda tried to make Andy understand. “You don't have to marry him.”
“Yes.” Andy sighed. “I do.” They covered their face with their hands. “You have no idea how much is at stake here.”
“Andy?” Caroline was glad to at least get a response when they turned to look at her. “When we get back to the ship, can we go to the Food Hall? It wasn't time for dinner when we were in China, but by the time we get back to New York it will be our usual time to eat.” She reminded Andy. “And you promised to show Mom the ship, where we spent the day.”
“I promised.” Andy blinked.
“You did.” Miranda reminded them. “And honestly I believe by the time we arrive I will be a bit peckish myself. This Food Hall Caroline is so enamored with sounds interesting.”
The rest of the trip was not exactly awkward, but there was a sort of sadness around Andrea that nothing seemed to breakthrough, not even winning the rematch Cassidy insisted on playing. When they hit New York City they didn't stop. The ship they were in went directly to the main ship where Andy lived. Andy did perk up a bit when the ship door opened. “C'mon, we'll get something to eat and then I'll show you my rooms.”
Miranda tried not to react when they left the small ship they'd been traveling in. The size of the ship they were now in was much larger than she had realized. She followed Andrea and the girls down the wide corridors and was surprised when the guards didn't fall away. When they entered the Food Hall Miranda was suitably impressed. It was, just as Caroline said, very much like the buffet they had experienced in Las Vegas. She saw Cassidy tug on Andy's robe and they bent over for the girl to whisper in their ear. Nodding, Andy touched their bracelet and a small medical drone dropped from the ceiling to float just over their heads. A raised eyebrow prompted Andrea's explanation.
“Cassidy was worried that you might be allergic to something, and I believe she may try different things this time.”
“Ah.” Miranda looked at her daughter and smiled. “Very thoughtful.”
Caroline grabbed her mother's hand and dragged her to the station Andy had shown them the last time. “This one is Andy's home world.” She picked up an empty plate. “It's all good.”
Cassidy agreed as she made her selections. “They grow good stuff there.”
Miranda ignored the use of the word stuff and agreed as she looked directly at Andy. “They certainly do.”
At the girls urging Miranda tried several dishes including Caroline's space meat that did indeed taste like chicken. She noticed that Andy wasn't eating much and decided that the samples she had already eaten were plenty. “I think I'm full. Would it be possible to see your rooms now?”
Nodding at that, Andy stood and sent the medical drone back to its resting spot on the ceiling. They left the Food Hall, again surrounded by guards, until they reached Andy's rooms. As they entered, two guards remained at the door and the others disbanded. The moment the door closed Andy ripped the headcover and veil off and their robes were on the floor a moment later. They were pacing around the room much like a caged animal.
“Andrea... please. You don't have to...”
“I do!” Dropping into the nearest seat, Andy again covered their face with their hands. “You don't understand.”
“Then make me understand, Andrea.” Miranda was exasperated. “Why do you feel you must go through with this ceremony?”
“He has the means to protect me, and he's a representative, a member, of the largest group on the planet.” Andy sighed. “That is always how it is.” They shrugged. “When we find a new planet, my parent finds a member of the largest group and joins their offspring to them before they leave. That offspring's presence on the planet indicates my parent's ownership of that planet.” Andy took a deep breath. “It's protection. No other race will bother a planet if one of us is in residence on it. They are too fearful of my parent's retribution if they do.”
“Offspring...” Miranda questioned. “Your parent's offspring?”
Andrea clarified, “My...siblings.”
“Mom,” Caroline drew Miranda's attention. “After we ate this afternoon, Andy showed us a planetarium. They showed us all the planets that their species controls, all the ones that their parent rules.”
Cassidy nodded. “There are a lot of them, Mom.”
Miranda questioned Andrea. “And what happens to a planet that doesn't have this... protection.”
“The others come, the races that hate us, the species that need things far more than we do. They plunder the planet, kill the inhabitants....” They looked at Cassidy. “My species will not eat humans, but there are others who would.” They focused back on Miranda. “And if I am not here, they will come.” They laid it out in no uncertain terms. “This planet will be decimated. Nothing will survive.”
“I need to speak to your parent.” Miranda asked, “Is it possible to set a meeting with them?”
“Yes.” Andy felt a flicker of hope. They weren't sure Miranda could actually do anything to help, but Andy almost smiled. If anyone could do something, it would be Miranda. “I'm not sure when. Their schedule will be more hectic than ever now that news of the ceremony has been broadcast.”
“Andrea, listen to me. I will not allow you to marry that pig. Do you understand? It is absolutely out of the question.” Miranda was firm on that point. “I will speak to your parent.” She sighed. “Right now though, I believe we should be going home. How do we get back down to the ground?”
Quickly re-dressing, Andy gestured to them as they walked toward the door. “Come, I'll show you.”
Only the two guards who had been guarding the door followed them as they went back to the hangar bay where the ship they'd ridden in earlier had docked. They walked to a door and Andy knocked and stepped back. The door flew open but the words that were going to be said died before they could escape the disheveled person's open mouth. Instead, there was only a surprised, “'Kosaza?”
“K'te, uzabasa ekhya?”
K'te, Will you take my friends home?
“Kakade ke, 'Kosaza.” K'te pressed their hand against their chest and bowed.
Of course, Your Majesty
“'Kosi, K'te.” Andy reached out to the woman standing next to them, wrapping their arm around Miranda's waist. “Zikhethekil' ku'”
Thank you, K'te. They are special to me.
K'te fastened their uniform jacket and nodded. Their kind eyes raked over the group. “Ngoko ndiyabon'”
So I see
Andy turned and hugged Miranda. “K'te will take you home.”
“Wait.” Cassidy slid between her mother and Andy. “You aren't coming with us?”
“I cannot.” Andy sighed. “I can't leave the ship right now and the vehicle K'te will need to transport you won't carry six anyway.” They hugged Cassidy tightly. “I will see you again, soon.”
“Six?” Caroline's forehead wrinkled and then smoothed. “Oh, the guards.”
“Yes.” Andy glanced at the stoic, ever present, guards. “Kael would be very upset with me, and them, if I slipped away from them and went to the planet. Don't worry. K'te is our best pilot.” They lightly tapped the tip of Caroline's nose with their finger. “Remember how smooth they kept the flight to China?”
“This was our pilot for that trip?” Miranda nodded. “I had meant to compliment them on their skills.”
They were all surprised, including Andrea when K'te spoke, in English.
Cassidy looked at their collar and shook her head. “You speak English? But you don't have an interpreter pin.” She automatically reached up to tap the place on her collar a pin would be on K'te.
They shook their head and spoke slowly. “Just beginning to learn.”
Caroline and Cassidy smiled and simultaneously responded. “Na'thi!”
That made them all laugh. Miranda noted that there was even a little chuckle from Andrea which reminded her that she still had business with Andrea's parent. “I do need to speak with your parent, Andrea. As soon as possible. Whenever they are available, I will adjust my schedule accordingly.”
Nodding at that, Andy moved in to press their fabric-covered cheek against Miranda's bare one. “In'herx thr'nQ, Miranda. Sweet dreams.”
Switching sides, Miranda pressed her cheek against Andrea's and whispered, “While thinking of you, my dreams can be nothing but sweet. In'herx thr'nQ, Andrea.” She saw the astonishment in Andrea's eyes when they pulled away from the embrace and Miranda chuckled. “I too am beginning to learn.”
Caroline and Cassidy jostled Andy with their hugs goodbye and soon they were led to a craft, slightly larger than a ground vehicle, but far smaller than any of the flying transports they had seen so far. If the ship they had taken to China had been equated to a Gulfstream airplane in Miranda's head, then this was somewhere between an ultralight and a Cessna. They settled into the seats just behind the pilot and after the oddly reassuring checks that they had always seen pilots do, K'te turned to them. “Idil'si?”
Miranda didn't know that word and neither did the children. She did know a response though. “Intoni?” What?
K'te thought for a moment then brightened. “Address?”
“Ah.” Miranda nodded and judged the size of the vehicle. “You can land on the street in this?”
“Good.” Miranda gave them the address for the townhouse. The liftoff was so smooth that she would not have known they were moving except that through the windows she could see the hangar going past. Then the blue tinge surrounded them and the frame of the hangar bay door swept by the window to be replaced with dark sky. The security field was lifted and for a few minutes they could see the lights of New York City below them. It really did look very peaceful from up here. Quicker than they thought, their vision was again filled with blue and the ship slowed. Luckily there were no cars parked on the street, there usually weren't. K'te landed perfectly in front of the townhouse just where Roy and the other drivers parked when they came to take her to work.
The door opened and Miranda began to depart, but unlike when she exited other cars she turned and spoke softly to the pilot. “'Kosi, K'te.”
They smiled broadly and put their hand on their chest with as much of a bow as they could manage while sitting, speaking slowly. “You are welcome.”
Miranda and the girls walked to the door. She was well aware that the ship did not depart until they were inside. It was a bit of nicety that did not escape Miranda. These aliens, these people, seemed inherently... polite. If that was so, she hoped she wouldn't lose her temper when she spoke with Andrea's parent. It wouldn't do to have them think she was some sort of raving lunatic, although if that would help Andrea's cause she didn't care if the entire world saw her that way. The girls declared they were sleepy and after quick goodnight hugs they were off to bed. Miranda, however, was not sleepy at all and made her way to her office. Patricia trailed behind her, the dog's eyes shot accusing looks at her when she realized that Andrea was not with Miranda tonight. With a huff, Patricia settled for laying down at Miranda's feet. Miranda activated the interface device and reached for her sketchbook, only to find it was not in her bag. She gasped when she realized where she must have left it. With a sigh, Miranda shook her head and knew there was nothing she could do about it now, other than let Andrea know the sketchbook had been misplaced. She tapped her bracelet to contact Andrea.
“Miranda, is everything okay?”
“Yes, Andrea. We are all safely at home and Patricia misses you terribly.” She smiled as that pulled a small chuckle from Andrea. “I wanted you to know that I think I left the sketchbook on the transport we took to China.”
“Yes. Jes'aQ saw it and brought it to me.” Andrea hesitated. “There are a lot of drawings. Did you do them all?”
Miranda leaned back in her office chair and closed her eyes. “E'we.”
“I don't know what to say...” Andrea paused again. “Miranda, your drawings make me look...”
“Beautiful.” Miranda finished the sentence. “But they don't show even half of how beautiful you really are.”
“I need an audience with your parent.” Miranda assured Andrea. “We will work out your problem with... that man.” She repeated. “I need to speak with your parent.”
“I will find out when they are free.” Andy added. “I will send the sketches back to you.”
“No.” Miranda shook her head even though Andrea couldn't see her. “I don't need it. I can draw the dress again. I just wanted you to know we were home and let you know I had forgotten it on the ship.”
“Okay.” Andy exhaled softly. “Then, good night, Miranda. Again.”
“Yes.” Miranda echoed Andrea's words. “Good night, again.”
Miranda stayed up until nearly midnight scanning through the 'news' outlets for the stories regarding Andrea's joining. It was obvious that the man had sent the information to the news outlets himself. There was more information about him than about Andrea, which was natural since not many people knew too much about them. Andrea was extremely sheltered. However, knowing what she knew about the man put everything in a different light. He was simply hard-core using Andrea for his own gain and didn't care anything about them. Her own connection to Andrea hadn't come up until the early hours of the morning, after she had gone to bed. She only knew that the connection had been made when she woke to find the press on her doorstep.
It required several phone calls to secure her working from home status for the next two days. But that probably would have happened anyway, since the girls were not yet allowed back in school. It was well after breakfast when Helen arrived. Miranda returned her good morning greeting but was concerned. “Did the press give you any problems getting in?”
Waving off that concern, Helen tied on the apron she normally wore around the house. It was her favorite because it had large pockets in the front that came in very handy most of the time. “Nah, I just came in the back. They never want to talk to anyone who uses the back door.”
Reassured by that, Miranda explained that she would be staying home with the girls for the next few days and apologized for the extra work it might cause. Helen waved off that concern as well saying that it was no trouble and not much extra to prepare lunch for all four of them instead of just herself. Miranda set a reminder for herself to include a bonus in Helen's pay for this week.
Oddly enough she had gotten quite a bit of work done from her home office, using video conferencing, and by noon Miranda was pleased with the progress being made on all the issues currently in production. The one closest to the print deadline was slightly ahead of schedule and the next one looked to be almost a week ahead of its print date. A knock on her office door made her blink and she called out, “Come in, Bobbseys.”
“Mom, we're hungry. Are you ready for lunch?”
“Yes.” Closing down her laptop, Miranda saw the interface device sitting on her desk. She picked it up as she moved to join the girls. “Let's go see what Helen has for us, eh?”
It turned out that soup and sandwiches were on the menu, but Helen deferred eating with them. “I ate while I was cooking,” she explained, “and I noticed that we were low on some things. Would you mind if I run to the store while you're eating? I'll be back to clean up and finish up some things this afternoon.”
Miranda nodded. “If you truly aren't hungry, please do whatever it is you do to keep this household running so smoothly.” She lifted a spoonful of vegetable soup. “This is delicious, by the way.”
Helen grinned. “I know Cassidy likes it.”
They all looked at Cassidy who they had caught with her spoon in her mouth. She swallowed quickly. “What?” She gestured to the bowl. “It's good!”
Rolling her eyes at that, Helen took off her apron and folded it before putting it in a drawer. She grabbed her coat and headed out the back door to avoid the press and take the easiest route to the store she wanted to patronize.
Miranda barely waited for the door to close behind Helen to use the interface to contact Andrea. It hurt her heart a bit when even the usual greeting from them seemed depressed.
The projection showed Andrea in a disheveled state, the headcover and veil obviously hastily put on. “Hello, Andrea. Our housekeeper isn't here, if you want to remove your veil it's okay.” Miranda grinned as Patricia, having heard Andrea's voice, jumped up next to her, her front paws on the table. “I believe Patricia misses your face.”
Pulling the headcover and veil off, tossing them aside, Andrea riffled their fingers through their hair to settle it and turned to see Patricia looking at the display. “Diya'bul, Patricia.” They smiled, for what felt like the first time in ages when Patricia gave a short sharp bark in response. “I was wondering if you had gotten the chance to ask your parent about a meeting with me.” Miranda knew that time was growing shorter and she very much needed to speak with The Ambassador.
“The person who schedules their time was supposed to get back to me.” Andrea reached for their headcover and veil. “One moment.” The display cut out and they all looked at each other when Patricia whined at the abrupt departure.
“They'll be back, girl.” Caroline, who was the closest to Patricia reached out and ruffled the fur on the dog's neck. “It's okay.”
They all jumped when Andrea reappeared suddenly. “My parent is in a conference call right now but it is scheduled to be over in about thirty minutes. They will have about ten minutes until the next scheduled meeting. If you can leave soon and think that is enough time for your conversation they can let you talk to The Ambassador then.” Andrea emphasized, “You will need to be ready to leave when K'te gets there with the transport.”
“I can do that,” Miranda informed them. “But the street is not as clear as it was last night. There are a lot of reporters gathered around my front door. Although I am not opposed to squishing them under the transport, I don't think the law, or their families, would like it very much.”
Shaking their head at that, Andrea assured her. “K'te will take care of it. They are on their way.”
“I will be ready.”
Nodding at that, Andrea waved and disconnected the call.
Caroline finished her sandwich while Miranda and Andrea had been talking. “Way to go, Mom!” She picked up her plate and bowl and put them in the dishwasher. “I wish we could go with you to keep Andy company, but I'm not sure we should.”
Cassidy agreed. “Yeah, it would be great to be on the ship again, but it sounds like it's going to be a serious meeting.”
“It will be.” Miranda thought ahead, trying to figure out what to say to The Ambassador. She wondered if she should change clothes. Going into this with a power suit would make her feel more confident, but for some reason trying to intimidate them didn't seem to be the way to go. So, she opted to remain in her more casual, work-from-home, clothing. Hoping a parent-to-parent talk would go over better.
It was a good thing she decided not to change because she would have still been in the middle of dressing when Cassidy bellowed from her post at the front upstairs window, “SHIP'S HERE!”
With a sigh, Miranda let the bellowing pass and prepared herself to run the gauntlet of reporters. She had just opened the door when a drone emerged from the underbelly of the ship. It hovered over the door and when Miranda stepped out it emitted a column of blue around her. Miranda smiled and walked at her normal speed as the drone hovered over her, surrounding her in the security field and keeping the reporters questions muffled. One of them was from a gossip page and tried to get near her for a photo. His motion was too quick and the security field bounced him away. If Miranda hadn't been in such a hurry she would have laughed at the sight of him on his butt. Once she was in the craft and the door closed, the drone returned to its place under the ship and K'te turned to her.
She settled into her seat still a bit uncomfortable that there were no seatbelts. “Yes, please... and thank you for the escort.”
“'Kosaza said I could not crush the crowd.”
Miranda chuckled, settling into her seat as the security field filled the cabin and they lifted off.
Miranda stepped out of the hangar bay and stopped short. “Andrea?”
Andy stepped forward, only their eyes visible as usual. “I couldn't come to the planet to get you, but I can walk with you to my parent's office.”
“Very well.” Miranda followed Andrea's lead through the corridors of the ship amused that the guards shadowing them were so quiet. “Do they speak at all, Andrea?”
“Sometimes.” They sighed. “But it's usually just to say...”
Miranda smirked and finished their sentence with a bit of an ironic tone. “'E'we, 'Kosaza' ?”
Andy rolled their eyes and nodded. “Yes.”
They arrived at a door with a guard on either side. Andrea opened it, without any interference from the stoic guards and gestured for Miranda to walk through. Inside there was a receptionist office with another door just behind and to the side of their desk. Andy didn't say anything but the person behind the desk gestured to the door. Entering The Ambassador's inner office, Miranda was surprised to find Jes'aQ there and realized that Andrea was surprised as well. She turned to speak to Andrea. “I need to talk to your parent alone.”
“It's okay.” Miranda patted Andrea's arm. “Trust me.”
Nodding, Andy spoke softly. “I will be waiting for you at the hangar to say farewell.”
“Okay.” Miranda winked and watched Andrea leave before turning back to face The Ambassador. She watched them for a moment then spoke, in English. “I need to speak to you... alone.”
Jes'aQ translated what The Ambassador was saying. “Do you speak my language now? If so then...”
“No, no.” Miranda interrupted. “I don't speak your language.” She focused on her target, “but you do speak mine.” From the corner of her eye she saw Jes'aQ shake their head to deny the accusation but was absolutely not surprised when The Ambassador spoke, clearly and distinctly to Jes'aQ in English.
The shock on the translators face was priceless, but Miranda did not have time to enjoy it right now. When they were alone in the room, she turned to The Ambassador in full dragon mode. “I need you to explain to me why.”
“Why you are going to allow Andrea, your offspring, to join with this pig of a man. A person who does not love them. Who will hurt them. Who will absolutely not treat them with the respect they deserve. Why?” Miranda was nearly pleading with them. “Why?”
“A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ must be joined.” They repeated what Miranda had already heard. “He has made his case. He has the wealth to keep her well and secure. He has status.”
Miranda scoffed. “A lot of people have those things.” She refrained from pointing out that she had those things and asked again. “Why this man, specifically.”
“He is Chinese.” They saw Miranda's confusion and explained further. “He represents the largest group on the planet. Chinese people are nineteen percent of this planet's population. A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ must be joined with a representative of the largest group of sentient life on the planet. There is no time to find someone else.”
“Why?!” Miranda shook her head. “Why must they be joined? I don't understand the rush, the necessity.”
The Ambassador nodded and stood. “Follow me.” They walked out of the office with Miranda close behind them. The guards shadowed them until they came to a wide door. The guards took up their customary station on either side while The Ambassador's palm unlocked the door and they entered.
Miranda looked around the cavernous room. It had to be the largest part of the entire ship. She stood on the walkway, against the railing and looked both up and down. “What is this place?”
They went to a control panel on the wall and after a few button presses the room went dark for a second then lit up with countless flickers of light. “This is a... map. It is a representation of the space we control.”
“The Planetarium,” Miranda murmured then spoke clearer. “My daughters said that Andrea brought them here during their visit.”
“Did they?” That was obviously news to The Ambassador. “This is not a place for offspring.” Dismissing that transgression, they continued, touching another control so that many of the points of light fell away, but a great number remained. “These represent the worlds that we control.”
Miranda began to understand exactly how vast this person's... empire was and her stomach began to feel sick. It got even worse when they continued speaking.
“Whenever we find a 'new' world, it becomes ours.”
“Andrea said that.” Miranda nodded. “They said Earth was yours too, now.”
“Yes.” The Ambassador agreed. “It is now, and will be for all time, ours.”
Miranda used the same argument on them as she did on Andrea. “But nothing has changed, all the countries are the same, all the governments, the same...”
“Obviously I cannot be on all the planets all the time.” They gestured in a sweeping motion to the vastness of space. “Planets must lead themselves. We just come from time to time to reap the benefits of the worlds.” They continued their explanation, touching a control and bringing one of the dots forward so that they could see it clearly from their vantage point. “This planet was one of the first we discovered. It is very near our home world. My offspring met one of the natives and they were joined. It is a lovely world that has several types of vegetation unlike any other planet we know.” They continued the tour of planets, switching views quickly, hopping through several planets making note of each place, telling Miranda that their offspring was joined to a native and the unique items that were found there. Then the display paused on what looked like a rock floating in space. This too was a world that they had discovered. Miranda listened while they told her about how lovely it was, blue oceans teeming with life and green vegetation, how very Earth-like it was, but it had nothing really of value to offer their people. So they left that population in peace and moved on.” Here they paused in the narrative.
Miranda could feel her heartbeat increasing, dreading what they were going to say next.
When they began speaking again, it was worse than Miranda had feared. The Ambassador and their people were not the only space-faring species in the galaxy. There were others, far worse than The Ambassador's people were. They explained that while their people would find planets and take what they needed from them, they wouldn't bleed the place dry. They would nurture it, keep it for future use. They might seem like predators, but they were more like farmers and knew better than to kill ALL of their prey. Nurturing things for use in the future was their way.
The other species were not so future thinking. Those species would swoop in on unprotected planets and strip them bare. They would take and take everything they possibly could and burn the rest. Nothing survived those species' onslaught. The planet they were looking at had been left unprotected and had paid the price. From then on, The Ambassador explained, there was always at least one of their species left on the planet. One of their offspring. And so long as they were joined to a representative of the largest group on that planet, the others would not come. The perceived threat of that many beings, of having that much resistance, fighting for the planet was enough to keep the others at bay. The knowledge that the member of their species left on the planet with the largest group of natives on their side, along with the surety that The Ambassador's forces would be called down upon them, kept the scavengers away. Three more planets came into view, all dead in space like the first decimated one. They explained that on these three planets the offspring had stayed, but had joined a group smaller than some of the others there. For the other species that was enough of a risk to take and they plundered those planets.
Miranda focused on something. “Three of your offspring were killed...” Miranda couldn't even imagine the rage she would feel if something happened to her girls.
“Many of my offspring have died.” They paused for a moment. “It is why A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ is so protected.”
Nodding at that, Miranda persisted. “I still don't know why it has to be so soon. Why him? Why the rush?”
Another planet came to the foreground. “My presence is required here." They gestured to the planet being shown. "I need to leave soon to get there. It is why the other ships that first arrived here have already gone.” They laid out the obvious. “This planet will be unprotected when I go. A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ must be joined, and soon.” They intoned the consequences. “Or this planet will burn.”
Miranda felt a tear rolling down her cheek. “Andrea knows all this.” It was not a question. Andrea had told them all this already, just not about the part where their parent was leaving.
They spoke kindly now. “There is nothing on this planet that we want. Despite your human arrogance, you are not unique. There is absolutely nothing here that we need and you are too far from anywhere to be any sort of military benefit.”
Miranda sniffed and wiped the tear away, even knowing the answer she asked. “And if there was something you wanted?”
“We would take it.”
Nodding at that, Miranda felt helpless. “Then why not just let us burn? Leave. Why do you care?”
“Honestly?” They spoke truthfully, “I don't. Not really. It would be a shame to see such a beautiful world die. It has been a nice place to visit but it would not have an effect on my life if it were gone.”
Wiping her tear away, Miranda shook her head. “You're lying.” It wasn't an accusation, it was a statement of fact. “You like this planet.” She explained herself. “When you first started speaking about finding new places and leaving an offspring there, I equated it with the practice of leaving a flag on a newly discovered land.” She gestured to the planets floating in the 'map' in front of them. “But it's more like the sign out in front of someone's home declaring that the home is protected by a security system. A warning for potential trespassers, thieves and other criminals not to go there. Using your child...offspring like that...” Miranda didn't care that she was speaking to the ruler of countless worlds. “You're a terrible parent.” She grabbed the railing in front of her in a white knuckle grip. “And I should know, because I am one too.” She got back to her initial accusation. “But you would miss this planet if it were gone. You like it here. You said so yourself, and this is a place you can come to, to relax and escape the rigors of ruling such a large empire, even for a short time. This is your summer home, or maybe winter home. Your retreat. Even I have one in upstate New York. I haven't been to it in a while but I would miss it if I couldn't go to it, if it wasn't there. Just like you would miss Earth if it were gone.”
“There are other places I can go to take my rest.” They held up their hand to stop her next question. “A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ on the other hand, is another story. They love this planet. I have seen them going over the videos and since spending time with you they have grown even more fond of this place.” They tried to convey the depth of their offspring's feelings. “They will join with the man because they don't want to see this planet burn, because of you, Miranda. You and your offspring. They do not want you to die.”
The blood was pounding in her ears. “Because of me...” Andrea was going to subject themself to this man's cruelty for who knew how long, for her? “I can't let them do that.” She confessed. “The thought of him mistreating Andrea... it makes me want to kill him!”
“Don't.” The Ambassador cautioned. “Our species is quite long-lived compared to yours and when we join, it is for life. We do not require a mate to create offspring, but when we join our lives are bound with our partner's. There is no 'divorce'. Our pairings are to the death, literally. When one partner dies, so does the other.” They clarified. “If he dies, so will A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ.”
“But... what happens when your species joins with one that has a shorter lifespan?” Something tickled in Miranda's memory.
“Invariably our lifespan is somewhat decreased and the lifespan of the other species is significantly lengthened.”
“How would he know that?” Miranda could hear Gang Chao Chen's ranting in her head. “He said 'I will not die like my grandfather'.” She shook her head and gasped as things became clearer. “When I was first doing research on him to find out the traditions for the ceremony, I looked into his background. His grandfather passed away quite young, only a few years older than what he is now. His current businesses are mostly dealing in electronics. However, his family made their original fortune in textiles. He probably wants your technology, but I'm sure he's also looking to use your methods of weaving to use in his textile business. He is probably planning to use the bulletproof material to increase his fortune by selling it to the military forces of every country.”
“How would he know it's bulletproof?” The Ambassador's eyes narrowed. They would be checking their office at the U.N. for listening devices, again, tomorrow.
“But he also wants the longer life joining with Andrea will give him.” She sighed. “If Andrea is joined to this man, it won't matter if the other species come. Once the military forces on this planet all have bulletproof uniforms, we'll tear ourselves apart.”
“I don't see any other way.” The Ambassador hoped they had made Miranda understand. “They are willing to do this, to save your planet from the known threat.” They shook their head regarding the materials in question. “He will not be able to manufacture our fabric. The metal needed is not present on this planet.” They assured Miranda. “You will be safe from yourselves.”
“But Andrea won't be.” She knew the kind of man Gang Chao Chen was, had seen them time and time again in country clubs and swanky parties. These were men who didn't care who they hurt as long as they got what they wanted and people close to them weren't the ones being hurt; that was bad. But when they didn't get what they wanted they still didn't care who they hurt and it didn't matter if it was people close to them or not; that was so much worse. There was a knot in her stomach that was not going to go away any time soon. “They will be locked in a relationship with someone who hates them.”
“My offspring is willing to do that, to safeguard this planet. Do you understand now, Miranda?” The Ambassador seemed to be sympathetic toward her. “This joining cannot be stopped. Everything must continue as planned. I can see that you care for A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ. Will you continue to help them prepare for the joining?”
It took everything she had to find her voice, and even though it was the smallest word, it nearly killed her to say it.
Miranda's steps faltered when she saw Andrea waiting for her. With a deep breath she continued on and not caring what the guards thought about her having physical contact with their 'kosaza, she linked arms at the elbow with them.
“Miranda, are you okay?” Andrea's eyes conveyed their worry.
Patting the arm linked with hers, Miranda nodded. “I will be.” She smiled and leaned into Andrea's form for a moment. “Will you be able to attend the recital tomorrow evening? Caroline and Cassidy are looking forward to it. I know they would love it if you were there.” There was confusion in those dark eyes now, but Andrea responded.
“I would be honored to attend.”
“Good.” With another pat on the arm, Miranda disengaged their elbows. “I will not have time to work on the project much for the next few days, but please join me for the evening meal at the townhouse Friday night? I should have made some progress by then.” She stepped into the waiting transport, nodding to K'te as she found her seat. Andrea stood in the doorway, not allowing it to close. “I will try to contact you when I can on the interface device.” She held up her bracelet. “This thing always makes me jump when the girls call me on it.”
“Oh!” Andrea reached in and, holding Miranda's hand gently, manipulated the controls for a moment before reluctantly letting go. “It will chime now, before you get a voice message/connection.”
Andrea leaned forward, hiding their face from K'te. They unfastened one side of their veil and pressed their uncovered lips to Miranda's cheek. “I will see you tomorrow evening.”
Miranda nodded not moving to return a kiss to Andrea's uncovered cheek, before the veil was back in place. “Until then.”
Andrea backed out of the transport and waved as it rose from the deck heading toward the bay doors. Miranda was surrounded by blue as she raised her hand to wave back and then the transport was out of the hangar bay heading toward the ground.
Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose and allowed the verbal onslaught from her children. She deserved it. “They have their reasons.”
Cassidy crossed her arms in front of her as she flopped back on the couch. “Andy's parent is being a butt!”
Miranda sighed. “I really wish you would find a new phrase, Cassidy Ann.”
“Well they are!”
“I know, Bobbsey, but it isn't a nice thing to say.” Miranda tried to relax back into her favorite chair. The whirlwind trip to the ship and the emotionally draining talk she'd had with Andrea's parent were taking their toll. All she really wanted at this moment was a nap.
“What's a nice way to say someone is being a butt?”
Miranda laughed a bit at that. “I don't know, Bobbsey. The next time we see Andrea we can ask them.” Miranda lost herself in a memory. “Andrea has a word for everything.”
Caroline asked. “When will we see them again?”
“They're going to try to attend the recital tomorrow.” Miranda smiled when Cassidy did her trademarked fist pump. “And I hope to see them on the weekend to discuss their robes for the ceremony.”
“What?!” Both girls were shocked. “You're still going to help them with that?”
“Of course,” Miranda admonished them. “Andrea is our friend. They have decided that they want to do this and as their friend we must help.” Miranda impressed the point on her children. “We cannot stress them about it. That isn't fair to them.” She held up her hand to silence the immediate protests. “But this is a puzzle we need to solve and we can use this time to figure out how to help Andrea. We need time to figure out how to get them out of this joining.”
“So while we're figuring out how to get them out of it, we're going to help them do it?”
Miranda again forced herself to say that word she didn't want to say at all. “Yes.”
Cassidy pouted but asked. “Mom, how are you going to get them out of it?”
“I'm not sure, Bobbsey.” Miranda tried to smile. “But I am going to try my very best.” She watched her children carefully. “Until then we are going to be Andrea's friends.” She amended that statement. “No matter how this turns out, we will be their friends. Always.”
Both children nodded and moved to hug her. “We love you, Mom. You'll figure it out.” Caroline sighed. “We need to go do our homework. Our teachers emailed our assignments.”
“Okay then.” Miranda winked at them. “Off you pop.”
She also decided to get some work done and headed toward her office. The interface device was there, but at the moment Runway business needed to be taken care of. She could research a couple of things she wanted to know, later.
“Will they be here?” Cassidy looked out from behind the curtain into the rapidly filling auditorium. “I see Mom.”
“They'll be here.” Caroline alternated between shaking out her hands and rubbing them nervously. “They said they would.” She noticed a girl glaring at them and glared right back. “Do you have something to say Amanda?”
“You two are pathetic.” Amanda was angry that she had missed school. The stress of being in her home all day with her father was more punishment than anyone deserved. “You keep trying to make us believe that one of those things actually likes you.” She sneered. “They aren't even human, it doesn't even have feelings.”
“You're the one who doesn't have any feelings, Amanda.” Cassidy held herself back. She knew from experience that hitting someone in the face hurt her hand as much as their face. “Andy is the best.”
“Yeah?” Amanda dug in. “Well if it cares so much about you, why isn't it here?”
“They'll be here.” Cassidy was frazzled. Worried about her performance and Amanda's taunting just made it worse. Giving in to her urge, Cassidy tapped her bracelet. “Andy, are you there? Where are you? The recital is about to start.” Relief washed over her when Andy answered right away.
“Sorry I am late.” They replied. “The parking lot was full and it took K'te a while to find a suitable landing space. We are having to walk some distance in order to get to the school. You know how difficult that is with my shadows.”
“Oh... how many tonight?”
“Eight, and two drones. It's why we needed the larger transport.” Andy felt very secure inside the living wall of guards. “We will be there soon.”
“Great!” Cassidy relaxed a bit. “See you soon.” She looked over to see Amanda making a mean face and stuck her tongue out at the horrid girl. She didn't know what Amanda's problem was, other than she was as big a butt as her father was, but Cassidy was tired of it.
There was a bit of a crowd at the entrance of the school. Two of the guards broke away from the group to stand on either side of the big glass doors while both of the drones rose to hover over the school building. The remaining six guards reformed so there were two in front of Andy, one on each side and two behind them. They liked this configuration better because the two in front were slightly apart and they could actually see where they were going. It also allowed them to cut through the crowd quite easily. The door marked auditorium also gained two guards as Andy entered the room. Now with two guards in front of them and two behind, forming a sort of box around them, Andy could see the filled seats. Their entrance caused a bit of a stir and Andy watched as if in slow motion as Miranda turned in her seat to see them. The smile on Miranda's face stole the breath from Andrea and they walked down the aisle between the chairs to where Miranda was, now standing. It had only been a day, and a night, but Andrea was so happy to see Miranda that they nearly cried.
“Andrea.” Miranda stepped to one side. “I saved you a seat.”
“'Kosi, Miranda.” Andrea sat in the indicated seat and glanced up at the guard towering over them. “Ndiza kuba apha. Khusela igumbi.” I will be here. Secure the room.
The guard pressed their hand against their chest and bowed before leaving to carry out their orders. Andy used their bracelet to contact Cassidy. “Finally here. Sitting next to your mom.”
Miranda spoke softly. “The girls will be the last to play.”
“Last?” It seemed like a slight against the girls to Andrea. “Why?”
“My fault I'm afraid.” Miranda admitted. “They always schedule the girls last in case I can't make it on time.” Miranda rolled her eyes, “Or they don't believe I would remain for the entire show if they played early in the program.”
Andrea looked into Miranda's eyes and confessed, “I'm here as much for you as I am them.” They leaned close and whispered, “I would spend the entire time looking into your eyes if I could.”
Tilting her head, Miranda questioned, “Andrea?”
“We need to talk Miranda. Tomorrow night?”
“Of course, I'm looking forward to our dinner.” Miranda smiled, not showing any teeth. “But even if we didn't already have plans, I told you, you are welcome any time.”
“Good.” Andy settled into their seat, linking their arm with Miranda's on the armrest their seats shared. They twined their fingers in Miranda's and turned their dark eyes to the stage just as the lights lowered and the first child walked out with a guitar.
They watched performance after performance amazed that the offspring were so talented. They didn't know any of them until one walked out on stage. This one Andrea recognized as the girl, Amanda, that Cassidy had struck during school three days ago. Tonight she carried her instrument with her. A previous child had also played this instrument that Miranda had told them was a violin. They were prepared to hear a similar performance to the other violin. They were not prepared for this. From the first sound drawn to the echo of the last note fading away the entire performance was beautiful. They didn't even realize they were crying until Miranda handed them a handkerchief to wipe their eyes while the girl was taking her bows.
There were two more performances before Caroline walked out on stage and sat at the piano there. She visibly took a breath and began to play. Andrea had heard it before when the girls had practiced at home, but in this setting they were awestruck. When the song was over the applause was deafening, and Andrea clapped wholeheartedly in addition to making some loud resonating clicks. Caroline bowed to the audience and left the stage, only for Cassidy to take her place. When Caroline's applause ended, Cassidy began to play. Again this performance was far superior to the practice at home. Cassidy took her bow and then all the performers returned to the stage. They all bowed in unison and Andrea stood while applauding the children. The whole crowd stood to pay tribute to the performers.
Miranda tugged Andrea's arm to the left. “We should go congratulate the musicians.” She explained. “They will be in the entrance area.”
Andrea tapped their bracelet and informed the guards that they were leaving this room and the guards in the auditorium filed out behind them. Miranda walked slightly in front of Andrea, but still by their side. It amused Andy that the crowd parted for Miranda almost as quickly as they did when they were walking with their guards in front. The performers were all speaking with their teacher and some of the parents who had already made it out of the auditorium. They all turned to see Andrea's entrance. Some of them stared and some averted their eyes. Andrea was used to that. It was the similar to the reaction they got on the ship when people stood back and bowed when they walked past. They went directly to the person Miranda told them was the instructor.
“Those were amazing performances.” Andrea bowed slightly. “My compliments to your teaching methods.”
“Thank you.” The teacher wrapped her arm around two of the students. “I'm very proud of all of them.”
“As you should be.” Andrea's gaze swept around the room. “As they should be. All of their performances were excellent.” They turned to Amanda and informed her. “Your performance in particular brought me to tears.”
The girl's forehead wrinkled. “You cry?”
Andrea nodded. “On occasion. When something touches me deeply. Your music was beautiful.” Turning to Caroline and Cassidy Andrea opened their arms, inviting the girls in for a hug. They both converged on Andrea.
“Thank you for coming tonight.” “So glad you made it!”
Andy enjoyed the contact. “You did so well! It would have taken a lot to make me miss this.”
“Mom always comes to our recitals, but she did miss one once.” Caroline grinned at Miranda. “It took a hurricane to keep her away.”
“I see.” Andrea looked at Miranda. “I understand those can be quite formidable.”
“They can be.” Miranda agreed. “It is unwise to trifle with a force of nature.”
Dark eyes crinkled slightly at the corners. “Someone should have informed the hurricane.” Andrea's amusement was evident in their tone. “I'm sure it never made that mistake again.”
The girls giggled and Miranda pressed her lips together tightly for a second before she responded to the teasing. “It did not.”
Andrea's bracelet chimed and they checked it quickly. “K'te informs me that the parking lot has been cleared of enough vehicles for them to gather us there.” They turned to all the children who had crowded next to their teacher, with their parents on the perimeter of the group. Andrea addressed them formally. “Uwudlale kakuhle umculo. 'Kosi ngala mava.” They saw confusion in some of the small faces and translated themself to the group. “It means, you played the music beautifully. Thank you for this experience.”
They bent at the waist slightly and tilted their head in a pseudo-bow. “Many many thanks for sharing your talent with us.” Turning to Miranda they asked, “Would you like a ride home? I'm sure K'te would be happy to take you.”
Turning down that ride was ridiculously difficult but Miranda knew it was also not practical. “I'm sure you have the large transport. That won't fit on my street.” She chuckled. “And I don't want to be stuck on my roof.” Patting the arm under hers, Miranda assured Andrea that they would be fine with a regular car and a regular driver.
With a subtle hand motion, Andrea's guards formed up around them and they left the building.
A moment later Miranda's bracelet chimed, and she heard Andrea's voice over a strange sort of static sound.
“There are many reporters here.”
“Thank you for informing us.” Miranda meant it. It was nice to be prepared before you walked into a Press feeding frenzy. “Why is this connection so bad?”
“I'm in a security field.” Andrea spoke as they walked up the ramp to the ship, then their voice became clear. They had obviously boarded the ship. “The bracelet communicators don't work as well inside security fields. Interface Devices operate just fine, but the bracelets utilize a different method.”
“I see.” Miranda nodded even though Andrea couldn't see her. “Thank you for the warning regarding the press.”
“Miranda.” Andy paused for half a second. “A drone will be waiting.”
A longer pause, then a soft, “You always seem to take care of us... 'Kosi, Andrea.”
“Kakade ke, Miranda, rho'Q.”
Of course, Miranda, always.
Miranda allowed the girls to say goodbye to their teacher and their friends while they waited for Roy's text to signal that the car was waiting. They fell into step beside her and she draped one arm around each of their shoulders, leaning down a bit to semi-whisper. “The press is here. Andrea has sent a drone to help us through the crowd, so stay close.”
The surge of reporters when they stepped outside was a bit shocking, but it was short-lived when Miranda and the girls felt themselves surrounded by the now familiar blue of a security field. The nature of the field forced them to walk at a steady pace which was slower than Miranda normally would when running a press gauntlet, but it also muffled the questions the reporters were shouting at them, allowing them to ignore them rather easily. When they got into the car the field continued. Miranda imagined the drone was hovering over the roof of the vehicle, like it did when Andrea left the townhouse. She informed Roy. “It's just a security field. You can drive. When the reporters are out of the way it will dissipate.” The car began to move and just as Miranda had said, about a block later the blue field faded away.
When they approached the townhouse Miranda looked out the window and saw the hoarde gathered on her front steps, again. After the dramatic exit she had made with K'te they had crawled back into the woodwork. Now it seemed they had crawled back out again. The car came to a stop and it surprised them all when the blue field suddenly surrounded them, again. The girls grinned at each other and linked elbows as they walked in front of Miranda to the door of their home.
Miranda saw from the corner of her eye as she closed the door the drone had moved upward, slowly. Not the quick motion most drones had taken when returning to the ship. After setting the alarm, she used her bracelet as they walked up the stairs to signal Andrea letting them know she wanted to speak with them. The response was immediate.
“I just wanted you to know that we made it into the townhouse without incident.” She winked at her daughters, who were grinning at her, and questioned their erstwhile protector. “Andrea, is there a drone hovering above my house right now?” She thought she knew the answer, but was surprised when Andrea's response was the opposite.
Miranda blinked. “No?” Caroline and Cassidy's eyes widened then they heard Andy's continued response and started laughing.
“No, Miranda.” Andy paused. “There are three and they are not hovering. They have landed on your roof.” Andy spoke in a no nonsense tone. “They are keyed to each of your bracelets and are assigned to you until security has determined that they are no longer necessary.” They continued to explain the new safety measures, “The two for Caroline and Cassidy will accompany them to school tomorrow and remain over the buildings they are in. They will also be present as they travel to their other parent's dwelling and remain over that one as well, merely as a precaution. Yours will go to your office with you and remain over the building until you exit it. Security fields will be automatic if there is a threat, but they can also be controlled with your bracelets. I would ask that Caroline and Cassidy wear the jackets I gave them as well.”
The girls had stopped laughing and moved closer to Miranda. They spoke to Andy through Miranda's connection. “We will, Andy.” “Thanks, Andy.”
“In'herx thr'nQ, girls.”
Cassidy glanced at her mother and responded to the farewell. “Sweet dreams to you too, Andy.” Both girls hurried into their respective bedrooms. The recital had lasted quite a while and they were tired. Plus for the first time in three days, they had school tomorrow.
Miranda continued into her own bedroom. “It was very thoughtful of you to send the drones, Andrea. I do appreciate it.”
“It is partially my fault that you are in the middle of this, Miranda.” Andrea sighed. “It's the least I can do until this entire mess is all over.”
“Always protecting people,” Miranda murmured. “Still, it is quite thoughtful of you.” She didn't want to end the contact, however, it needed to end. “Good night, Andrea. I will see you, tomorrow night. Sweet dreams.”
“Until tomorrow night... In'herx, thr'nQ, Miranda.”
Taking off her bracelet, Miranda laid it on the nightstand next to her bed then went into the ensuite bathroom to finish her nighttime ritual. Once her makeup was removed and she was in her nightgown, Miranda looked at herself in the mirror and scoffed, scolding herself fiercely. “You are an old fool! Running to their parent like you did, demanding the joining be terminated as if you had the right. Like they would ever want you...like that.” Blue eyes glazed over at the memory of their soft lips on her cheek, and her lips on their even softer cheek. Climbing into bed, Miranda tried not to think about the future, tried not to think about her sweet Andrea locked into a relationship with a man that they knew was wrong for them. Tried not to think about those large, dark eyes watching her. Tried not to think about the lithe body under the robes they always wore. Miranda tried not to think about all those things and failed miserably. Closing her eyes, the thoughts were all mixed and jumbled in her brain. Even though the hateful man was in there somewhere Miranda's formidable brain filtered him out, leaving her only with the thoughts of her beautiful, thoughtful Andrea causing sweet dreams indeed.
“Nigel, have you made any progress on those designs I sent?”
Looking up from his position, hunched over the light table in front of him, Nigel quickly took off his magnifying glasses. If he was shocked to see Miranda in his office he didn't show it. “Yes, they sent word a few minutes ago that they were finished. Shall I have them brought to your office?”
“Yes.” Miranda began moving toward the exit, having learned what she wanted to know. “Have them ready to go when I leave for home by five this evening. That's all.”
“Wow.” Nigel shook his head and immediately made arrangements to pack the robes for travel. The fact that Miranda was taking them herself and not having them couriered was not lost on the man. He also realized that the designs themselves, while as innovative as anything he'd ever seen, were quite plain. The amazing idea that Miranda was going to 'finish' them herself was just a little too much for his brain to handle, so after the robes were ready he got back to work.
Miranda stalked the halls of Runway, wishing that they were the wide corridors of the ship. She wanted to see Andrea, and she wanted to see them now. It was this restlessness that propelled her out of her office and to Nigel's. This need to move was a little maddening and she resolved not to be too harsh with Cassidy when the child felt like running, not if this feeling was anything close to what Cassidy dealt with when the urge to run struck her. Glancing at the time, Miranda sighed. It was only mid-afternoon. Unable to justify leaving early on a Friday, she returned to her office and began ruthlessly weeding out the emails that had accumulated in her inbox. She marked many of them as Junk so she hopefully wouldn't have to deal with them again. No matter how many she marked Junk though, more always found their way into her inbox. It was quite annoying. Her mind wandered to other annoying things, such as the most annoying question that had been going through her head ever since Andrea had said that they needed to talk.
What does Andrea want to talk to me about?
Miranda thought that they would probably just chastise her for the possessive way she confronted The Ambassador. She had the sick feeling that Andrea was going to say they could no longer work together. Would she be able to handle a life without Andrea in it? Miranda knew the answer to that question was an unequivocal 'No'. Honestly, she knew, a life without Andrea in it was no life at all and truth be told if she had to choose between being without Andrea or watching the world burn... Miranda shook her head and spoke softly to herself.
“I'd light the damn match myself.”
When the clock hit five pm exactly Miranda hastily gathered her things and walked out the door. Holding the robes by their hangers, the zippered clothing bags covering them completely, she draped them over her back as she left. She spoke as she passed between her assistants desks. “I will be out of the office until Monday morning. No book tonight.” She looked over her shoulder as she pushed through the main doors. “Have a good weekend.”
Emily looked across the office at the newest hire. Both of their eyes were as wide as they could go. A weekend free when the girls were at their father's was unheard of and, extremely out of character. Despite the presence of actual aliens on the planet, the second assistant used a phrase from a pop/culture movie. “You think she's a pod person?”
Emily scoffed. “Of course not.”
Shaking her head the newbie shrugged, “I dunno. She's spending a lot of time with those aliens...”
“Do not ever let me, or her, hear you say that again, or you will be sacked on the spot. You have to be blind not to see that Miranda is quite fond of 'those aliens'.”
Opening her mouth to speak, Emily's glare, a fair imitation of Miranda's own dragon 'look', stopped her and Emily began the task of closing down the office for the weekend. Despite her protests, Emily knew that there was something a bit 'off' with Miranda though, and as the silence reigned in the office, if a person were to listen very closely, they would just be able to make out the quiet chant spoken in Emily's voice.
“I love my job... I love my job...”
Miranda did not get nervous. She was the editor-in-chief of the premier magazine in the fashion industry. She made and broke people's dreams, making decisions that guided the path of a billion dollar industry and affected millions of jobs. Sitting at Cassidy's vantage point, Miranda rubbed her hands together cursing her sweaty palms, and sighed admitting to herself that she was nervous. She had done everything she could think of to prepare for her dinner with Andrea. The table was set, the food was ready, there were flowers, and candles, and Miranda was so nervous she doubted she would be able to eat anything.
She started to berate herself. What exactly do you think is going to happen you old fool? Andrea's coming here to tell you to back off, to tell you they have to go through with this joining. Why do you even think they would feel anything for you other than friendship? Of course there had been moments. There were things Andrea had said, or done, which gave the impression there might be more, weren't there? But what if that was the miscommunication Andrea was talking about? What if Andrea didn't know what they were saying when they said it? But their parent had said Andrea cared for her, right? They said the entire reason Andrea was willing to endure this 'joining' was for her and the girls. Was that true?
Miranda saw the transport stop in front of the townhouse and oddly 'heard' the ghost of Cassidy's bellow echo in her head. “SHIP'S HERE!” She moved from the lookout and went downstairs quickly, noting that there was a certain sound created when a person goes down the stairway very fast. She opened the door just as Andrea reached the top of the stairs. Two more steps and Andrea was inside. It had only been one day, and one night, since she had seen them but Miranda felt like it had been forever. And now she was more nervous than ever. It was so bad, that she thought Andrea's voice sounded softer than usual.
For a long moment they simply stood, in the entrance way and looked at each other. Miranda got lost in Andrea's deep brown eyes until she realized what she was doing. Licking her lips, Miranda smiled and opened the closet door where she normally kept her coats and where the assistants put the dry cleaning when they delivered it. Just inside the door there had been hooks installed. “I put hooks here, for you to hang your headcover, veil.... and robes, if you want. So you will always know where they are.”
“'Kosi, Miranda.” They removed the veil and headcover hanging them up. “This was extremely thoughtful of you.”
“Are you hungry?” Miranda gestured to the kitchen. “The food is ready.”
“I...” Andrea paused and nodded hesitantly. “Yes, we should eat.”
They walked into the kitchen and Miranda spoke. “Since it's just the two of us, I thought we could eat in here...”
“That sounds lovely.” Andrea finally looked away from Miranda's face and blinked at the flowers and the lit candle. “This is...”
Miranda sighed. “Overkill, I know.” She pulled a chair out for her guest. “Please, sit.”
Andrea settled into the chair, “Thank you, Miranda.”
Quickly plating the dish, Miranda brought their meals to the table. “I hope you like it. It's pasta, with pesto sauce.”
Andy took a bite and nodded, complimenting it. “Delicious.”
They ate in silence, both finishing about half of their portion before pushing their plates away. Andrea looked around and asked. “Where is Patricia?”
That drew a sharp spate of laughter from Miranda. “Of course you would ask.” She finally had a smile on her face. “She went to the groomer's today and I asked them to board her tonight.” She patted Andrea's hand and assured her. “Patricia loves it there. They have an Alaskan Husky dog that she gets along with well. It's not like a kennel with cages, she stays in their house. She'll be back tomorrow.” Miranda admitted. “It just seemed like the conversation you wanted to have was going to be serious.” She tried to lighten the mood. “I wasn't sure if you wanted Patricia listening in...”
“I see.” Andrea nodded. “Yes... we do need to talk.” They exhaled softly. “I think there are some... miscommunications that have occurred.”
“I thought that might be the case.” Miranda wanted to cry. “Perhaps we should take this to the sitting room?” She blew out the candles but left the plates on the table.
Once in the sitting room Miranda sat in the chair and Andrea took the couch. The silence was deafening but Miranda was not about to break it. It seemed like an eternity before Andrea began speaking. “You spoke to my parent.”
It wasn't a question, but Miranda answered anyway. “Yes.”
“They told you what I did, about the others.”
There was a bit of relief in Andrea's tone now. “So you understand now.”
“No.” Miranda stood abruptly and began to pace. “I don't understand any of this Andrea!” She ran her fingers through her hair. “It's barbaric. He will hurt you. He will...” Miranda couldn't even vocalize what she thought the pig of a man would do to Andrea, her Andrea. “I can't stand the thought of you with him... I can't!” It was totally out of character, completely against everything anyone knew about her, but Miranda collapsed on the couch next to Andrea and wrapped her arms around them. The feeling of their arms around her caused an almost hysterical sob. She buried her face in the curve of Andrea's neck. “You can't marry him.”
Long fingers threaded through Miranda's hair as Andrea made nonsensical sounds to soothe Miranda but then spoke softly. “I must.” Andrea spoke with an even tone, but the intensity caught Miranda's attention. “This planet, everything and everyone on it, will die if I don't. I can't let that happen, not if I can do something about it.”
“You're too noble.” Miranda shifted slightly, unable to move much, unwilling to release Andrea. She turned her head slightly and pressed her lips against the soft skin on Andrea's neck. There was a shift, and a moan. Miranda gasped and stood, moving away. “I'm sorry... I know you don't...” Her words were stopped by long fingers pressing against her lips. She hadn't even seen Andrea get up.
Andrea took a deep breath and lowered their hand to caress Miranda's jaw. Threading their fingers through Miranda's hair and guiding the woman closer. They bent slightly, their lips close enough to Miranda's that she felt their words vibrating against her. “This is the miscommunication I was talking about.” They closed the distance making gentle contact between Miranda's lips and their own.
Miranda had a thousand questions that all completely left her mind when the pressure of Andrea's lips on hers increased. All she wanted was for this to continue, forever. There was a whimper when they broke apart, but Miranda wasn't sure who had made that sound. “Andrea?”
“Sit... I will be right back.”
She watched as Andrea walked out of the room. She did sit, and she heard a door open and close. Andrea walked toward her, clad only in their body suit.
“I do not need my robes here.”
Snorting at that, Miranda had the lecherous thought that Andrea didn't even need the bodysuit if it was left up to her. Then those long arms were around her again and Miranda didn't have any thoughts, lecherous or not, past kissing this beautiful being in her arms. She didn't know how long it had been when Andrea slowly pulled away from the kisses, continuing to hold Miranda tightly.
“I've wanted to do that for so long.”
“You have?” Miranda was a bit confused and now all the questions flooded back into her head. “But I thought...”
“Mmmm... yes.” Andrea sighed, snuggling into the embrace. “You thought that because our species does not require another being to reproduce that we have no desire for physical contact.” They gazed down into Miranda's wide blue eyes. “That is a common misconception among you. Using your terms, 'gender neutral' does not equal 'asexual'. We are people, emotional, passionate. Simply because our species is not divided into genders does not mean we aren't attracted to others whom we want to physically be with. Sometimes it is only the want to be with another being peripherally, to watch narratives or participate in activities.”
Miranda supplied the label. “Friends.”
“Yes,” Andrea agreed. “Friends.” They continued to speak. “But there are others whom we want more from. Not just peripheral closeness. Being physically close for us is the best way to show another being how much we feel for them. How much we care.” Andrea studied Miranda's expression and pushed on. “That is how I feel about you.”
“You do?” Miranda was shaking now.
Not letting their eye contact break, Andy nodded. “I do. There is no other person in this galaxy that I want to be physically close with, only you.”
Miranda seemed to have trouble breathing but managed to push a small word from her vocal cords. “Oh.”
“In seven weeks, I will be joined. Once that happens I will no longer be able to be with anyone else.” Andrea felt a tear rolling down their cheek, but they didn't stop it. “Until then, I want to spend that time with you.”
“I...” Miranda shook her head. “I don't know if I can do that.” She asked them, pleaded with them. “How can I have you and then let you go?”
“I can't!” Miranda vehemently protested. “I can't let you marry him.” She stopped Andrea from speaking and emphasized. “Not him.” She gestured to the air. “Choose someone else. The whole point is that he represents a group that make up nearly twenty percent of the population of the planet.... pick someone else! Anyone else!”
“It doesn't matter. The joining will be purely ceremonial. I must join them, but I will never be with them. I looked it up and the term is 'in name only'.” Andrea was resigned. “Anyone who is chosen...It may as well be him, it doesn't matter. None of them will be you.” They shifted, swinging a leg over to straddle Miranda on the couch. “Can we discuss this later?” They leaned down and kissed Miranda. “Can we just for a little while, forget about everything else and just...” Their lips pressed into Miranda's and all hope of discussion ceased. There were only lips against soft skin wherever it could be found.
When they broke away from each other, Miranda took a moment to move away and get a drink of water. She stood with her back to Andrea, next to the small bar holding the refreshments, and sipped her drink slowly. She knew that Andrea had not moved from the couch. Miranda stood there, thinking... thinking about everything, all the ramifications, all the consequences.
“Andrea.” Miranda set her drink down and moved to kneel in front of them. “If you are doing this, joining him, because you don't want me to die... then it won't work. Because having you for seven weeks, and then being forced to let you go will kill me as surely as any unseen threat from space will.” She held their hands and kissed the warm fingertips. “But I am human. Our lifespan isn't very long in the grand scheme of things. I only have twenty or thirty more years anyway and I imagine some of that at the end won't be pretty.” She stopped Andrea from speaking and continued. “Elderly humans, Andrea, are fragile. Skin sags, bones become brittle, organs begin to fail...” She licked her lips and tried to calm her racing heart as she spoke. “I told the girls that you are our friend, and that we should stand by you, help you prepare for this joining.” Miranda shook her head. “But I can't be your friend.” She spoke quickly holding Andrea tightly so they wouldn't run away. “I need more and if I can only have more for seven weeks,” Miranda closed her eyes and nodded, “then I will take it.”
Andrea stood, sweeping Miranda up into a hug and twirling her around the room. “Thank you.” They punctuated their thanks with kisses on Miranda's face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The last kiss landed on Miranda's lips and deepened, conveying a depth of feeling they had yet to find the words to describe.
When that kiss ended, Miranda was shaken to the core. She wanted so many things and now after only a few minutes she wasn't sure that she had done the right thing. They still had seven weeks, but Miranda looked up into the large, dark eyes that she loved and swallowed hard. She missed them already. “I know that our time is short, but I need some time to wrap my head around this...” Miranda backed off a bit. “Can we, slow down a little?”
“Yes,” Andrea nodded. “Of course, whatever you need.”
That, Miranda thought, was a lie. Because what she needed was Andrea, forever and she wouldn't get that. “Okay.” She tried to think of a way to calm things down a bit. “Oh!” She took Andrea's hand and pulled them toward the stairs. “Come with me.” Miranda smiled because Andrea's laughter was infectious. It lasted until they got to Miranda's bedroom. She released Andrea's hand and entered her closet returning with several items. Unzipping the first bag, Miranda presented the first of four robes for Andrea to choose from. When she had chosen the style, Miranda would finish it with the designs.
They were meant to be Andrea's joining robes, but that was seven weeks away and until then Andrea was hers, all hers, so Miranda chose to think of these as robes Andrea would wear just for her. Which they would. Miranda would see them in them far before the ceremony. Andrea would wear them for her, first. They would never think of him when wearing, or even thinking about these particular garments. They would always think of her. The one who made them, specifically for them.
Andrea stepped into the dressing area of Miranda's bedroom, just in front of her closet, and pulled on the first robe. It was amazing, the way it flowed around them, but Miranda tilted her head and looked at it up and down slowly, then instructed them to “Try the next one.”
They tried on all four offerings, trying to ignore the fact that Miranda would help them put the garment on and more often than not helped them remove it. After all four had been tried, Miranda wanted to know their opinion. “Which do you like best?”
“The first one.” Andrea smiled at the memory. “It felt the best when I moved.”
“Excellent. It is the one I based the most on the fashions of your people.” Bagging up the others, Miranda left the chosen garment out for them to examine. “Now, we must decide if you want it made out of your material, or ours.”
“Yours.” Andrea was sure. She didn't need the protection their material would provide, because she would be wearing her body suit underneath. Miranda had designed it that way. “What it is made out of now is perfect.”
“Very well.” Miranda breathed deeply. “I will put the finishing touches on it, and it will be ready when it is time.”
“So.” Andrea moved closer. “Now there is nothing left for me to do in this matter?” They reached out, turning Miranda around to face them. “No reason for me to be here anymore.”
“Of course there is a reason.” Miranda slid her arms around Andrea's torso. “We must make the most of the time we have left.” She laid her head on Andrea's chest. “Stay with me.” Looking up into wide dark eyes, Miranda almost begged. “Don't leave until you have to.”
“There are things I must do... on the ship, at the United Nations... my parent is going to hand the Ambassadorship over to me in the next few weeks. When they are gone I will be the one consulting with the U.N. on various matters. I need to be there for them to... get used to me.” They kissed Miranda's forehead. “I can do that while you are at your work.”
“I am not going.” Miranda shook her head. “I will still have to work from home some, but I won't be going into the office unless absolutely necessary and believe me, it will NOT be necessary.” She explained in a very business-like tone, “I have quite a lot of accrued vacation time, since I never take vacations. Even the days I spent at home with the girls weren't actually vacation days. I was working from here.” Miranda assured them and herself. “I can do the minimal amount needed to get the magazines produced and still be here with you during the time we have left. I suppose I can go into the office when you have to be on the ship, or at the U.N. but I will remain home for the majority of our time together.” She felt a knot in her stomach. “Six weeks and six days is all we have.” Miranda swallowed hard and nodded, mostly to herself. “I will inform them all on Monday.”
It was still early and Miranda said so. “Would you like to watch some television, or a movie? I can pop some popcorn.”
“No, Miranda, there isn't anything I want to do, other than take you to bed.” Andrea admitted. “I am nervous though.”
“Oh?” Miranda smiled. “I am too. It's why I need time.” She asked. “Do you think we can just sleep on this first night?”
“No.” Andrea was honest. “I want you physically near though, so if you want to sleep then I will stay next to you.”
“A compromise then.” Miranda smiled. “I'm going to go back to the kitchen and tidy up. Which is another complication. Are you going to wear your full robes, headcover and veil while my housekeeper, Helen, is here? I can give her the time off too, but the house is going to be a mess in a very short time.”
“We'll cross that bridge when we come to it?” Andrea grinned when Miranda snorted laughter.
“I suppose we will.” Miranda sighed. “I suppose we will.” She asked, “Would you like to come downstairs and help me tidy the kitchen? Then we can both prepare for bed.”
Andrea placed their hand on their chest and bowed. “I agree.”
In a very short time the kitchen was spotless, but it was still rather early. Miranda guided Andrea into the sitting room where she put some music on, classical played by an orchestra, and began to dance with Andrea. She realized there wasn't enough room to do the actual waltz, but after sliding her arms around Andrea, they began to sway together to the music. It was soothing and arousing at the same time.
When the music faded out, they remained in each other's arms swaying to the melody in their heads until Andrea spoke. “Miranda.” They waited for Miranda to look up at them. “Take me to bed.”
Miranda silently held their hand and led them back upstairs. They walked through the bedroom to the bathroom before Miranda turned to Andrea and warned her. “I have to take my makeup off now. I look... different, without it.” She saw Andrea blink and tilt their head slightly.
“This is something you are nervous about...”
Nodding, Miranda proceeded to remove her makeup. She looked into the mirror and saw Andrea fully absorbed in watching the process. With no small amount of trepidation, Miranda turned to face them and was completely unprepared for their reaction.
Andrea reached up to gently trace their fingertips over Miranda's now makeup free cheek. “You are beautiful.” They leaned in to kiss her bare lips. “Why do you hide your beauty behind the mask?”
“I actually think you mean that.”
“I absolutely do.” Andrea shook their head as they leaned against the sink counter. “Has someone told you otherwise?”
“Oh yes.” Miranda sighed. “Everyone really. Our society puts a lot of stock in looking good, and wearing makeup is one way to conform to the societal standards.” She confessed. “My ex-husbands would also tell me I looked bad without makeup and wanted me to wear it all the time.” She shrugged. “But it's bad for your skin to do that, so I continued to take it off at night. They were not happy.”
“They are idiots.”
Miranda blushed. “Thank you.” She gestured to the room. “Do you need to do anything to prepare for bed? Wash or...”
Andy smiled and shook their head. “No.” They gestured to their bodysuit. “I merely have to take this off.”
“Oh.” Miranda tried to control her racing heart. “Would you like some privacy?”
“No need.” Andrea walked back into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. “I am nervous though. Much like you taking off your makeup, removing my bodysuit will reveal the... real... me.”
“You're nervous that I won't like what I see?”
“I am not human, Miranda.” Andrea gestured to their body. “People have all sorts of jokes about my species being reptile-like, or whatever other strange theories they have regarding us, but one thing they have correct is that we are not human, not mammalian. I do not have...” they gestured to their chest, “breasts.” Their hand dropped to their stomach. “I do not have a... belly button.” They watched Miranda carefully as they continued, “My proportions are different and the area between my legs...”
“Stop.” Miranda shook her head. “Just stop. This anatomy lesson is not necessary. I do not love you for your body. I think you are beautiful, for sure, but it is your kind heart and, your intelligence that make you so attractive. I think we need to work on your misplaced sense of nobility, but for the most part you are perfect to me.” She moved closer. “I look forward to finding out more about you, both how you look and how you think. You are beautiful to me.”
Andrea lifted their left hand and unfastened their bodysuit at the right shoulder. It fell away from their torso easily and they lowered their eyes when Miranda gasped. Strong fingers under their chin lifted their face up to meet Miranda's.
“You are beautiful.” Standing between Andrea's legs, still covered in the bodysuit, Miranda pressed forward laying Andrea back on the bed, blanketing them with her body. Miranda was still wearing a shirt though and very quickly Miranda realized she did not want to be wearing it. The shirt, along with her bra came off quickly, tossed haphazardly to the floor. Then she was skin-to-skin with Andrea and it was glorious.
Miranda was amazed at the smoothness, and she reveled in the expanse of skin she was now able to explore. She loved being able to touch and lick certain places that made them moan.
Andrea too was exploring and Miranda gasped when they kissed her breasts, each one with equal attention.
It became their goals to make each other gasp and moan.
Much later, still clothed from the waist down, Miranda and Andrea lay together on the bed, eyes closed, quietly tracing one another's bare skin wherever their hands landed. It was just languid moments filled with mutual exploration of places their hands had already been. Andrea broke the silence.
“Miranda?” They waited for the soft Hmmm response before they asked. “You love me?”
“Mmm...” Miranda chuckled and turned her head to kiss the skin under her cheek. “I wondered when you were going to call me on that.” She paused for a heartbeat. “Yes. I love you.”
“That is fortunate.” Andrea shifted, cuddling closer to Miranda. “Because I love you too.”
“Mmm...” Miranda just drifted in the peace of the moment, wrapped up in Andrea's arms. She didn't know when she fell asleep, or for how long. When she woke, their arms were no longer around her, but Andrea was stretched out next to her on the bed. Their bodysuit was back in place and they were smiling. “Andrea? What time is it?”
“Late...or early depending on your perspective.” Dark eyes continued to watch Miranda. “Do you need anything? It has been several hours since we ate.”
“No.” Miranda grumbled and realized what state of dress she was in and chided her lover. “You are overdressed. Don't you sleep?”
“I can sleep, or not, as I choose.” Andrea traced a crease in Miranda's cheek, caused by a wrinkle in the pillow she had been laying on. “I chose to remain awake and watch you sleep.”
“Mmm...” Miranda shifted closer mumbling, “Creepy stalker... I knew it.”
Andrea laughed. “I didn't watch you the entire time.” They leaned down. “I prepared us a meal while you slept.”
One sleepy blue eye opened. “You did?”
“Well... I tried, but I am unsure how to use the food preparation devices in your kitchen,” they admitted. “So I had some sustenance brought in.”
“You got delivery?” Miranda's one open eye and looked at the clock. “Who delivers at three am?”
Dark eyes crinkled at the corners, “I had some things brought from the ship, via drone. The Food Hall remains open at all times to serve those coming and going from their shifts.”
“Ah.” Miranda chuckled. “It wouldn't matter.” Both blue eyes now watched Andrea as she spoke teasingly. “They would do anything for their 'Kosaza.”
“What?” Miranda shifted to press her ear to Andrea's torso. “Can't say as I blame them.” She sighed. “I suppose we should get up and eat then. I wouldn't want the food to get cold.”
Andrea winked and tapped Miranda's nose. “Ah... I took into account our penchant for talking so much before we eat. The food is currently in a stasis field. It will remain warm until we are ready to consume it.”
“Seriously?” Miranda now shifted to prop herself up on her elbow. “I didn't know you could do that.”
“Yes, it's similar to your... insulated containers, however this utilizes a field like the security field. It's smaller, about the size of your cell phone. It fits on most sized containers and keeps whatever is inside hot, or cold, until it is consumed.”
“That's amazing.” Miranda shook her head. “You would make a fortune selling those. Delivery services and restaurants would be clamoring for them.”
“They cannot be manufactured here.”
“Ah, let me guess.” Miranda chuckled. “The key mineral necessary for their creation doesn't exist on this planet.”
“Correct.” It troubled them that Miranda had automatically tried to make money from the stasis module and then they understood. “Miranda. We cannot enjoy this time together if you are continually thinking about what happens when it is done.” They gently lifted Miranda's face to meet their gaze. “I understand that you want me to have currency of my own, but you don't have to worry about it. I promise you.” They kissed Miranda gently. “I would ask that you please just enjoy this time we have together. Forget about what comes after. Can you do that?”
“No.” Miranda was honest in her assessment of her feelings. “I don't believe I can totally do that. But I will try. I will finish making the robes because in my mind they have nothing to do with...him, and are simply for you.” She nodded. “And of course, I will do anything for my 'Kosaza.”
“No.” Andrea shook their head. “Not 'Kosaza to you, not 'princess' or 'prince' or even 'your highness'...that is a name people who don't know me, aren't close with me call me. Or they use it as a teasing name...as you did earlier.”
Miranda's eyes were glittering with mischief now, the little glint of knowing a surprise was coming, as she informed Andrea in no uncertain terms. “Well, I'm not going to go around calling you A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ all the time.” She was not disappointed when Andrea's eyes became wider than she had ever seen them before.
“You can pronounce my name!”
Laughing at that, Miranda nodded. “When I spoke to your parent.” She reached out blindly to hold Andrea's hand. “They said your name so many times. I can still hear it in my head and now I can reproduce it, as you said, with a fair amount of accuracy.”
“I like the way you call me.” they dragged out the syllables, “Ahhn drayy Ahh”
“Yes, well.. that will most likely be the default.” Miranda sniffed and tried to maintain her most intimidating dragon look. “If you hear me saying A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ again you will know what it means...”
Again Andrea's eyes went wide and they were barely able to whisper. “Big Trouble.”
“Mmm.. with a capital T,” Miranda nodded. “Indeed.”
They had been up for a while. After eating most of the food Andrea had ordered from the ship, they put the rest back in the stasis field. It was on the counter in the kitchen waiting for them to return. They were lounging in the entertainment room with a movie on, not really watching it when Miranda glanced at the clock. “Oh. The groomer will be here with Patricia soon. Will the guards let them through?”
“Yes.” Andrea absently ran their fingers through Miranda's hair. “I informed the guards last night and they would have relayed that information to their replacements.” They sighed. “I tried to get Kael to let the guards go back to the ship. The security drones are sufficient protection, but Kael insisted.” They shook their head. “They're so paranoid.”
“They just want you to be safe.” Miranda closed her eyes to savor Andrea's hands in her hair. “It's their job.” She opened one eye. “You know, having guards surrounding the house and the drones overhead pretty much announce that you are here.”
“Yes,” Andrea shook their head again. “That was my argument too. Kael just says that people already know I'm here because of all the press coverage, so they want me protected.”
Miranda laughed, and continued laughing for a long moment until Andrea huffed.
“What's so funny?!”
Wiping a tear of laughter from her eye, Miranda smiled. “I forgot about the Press!”
Wrapping their arms around Miranda Andy spoke softly. “So you can forget... it's a good start.” They kissed the top of Miranda's head and turned their attention to the narrative that was playing. “What are we watching?”
Miranda pulled her gaze away from Andrea's face and watched the screen for a moment. She winced when a masked character pulled out a chainsaw and began chasing one of the other characters. “Obviously the RomCom movie we started watching ended. This seems to be one of those horrible slasher movies that channels like to play during the Halloween season.” She checked the time again and shook her head. “Ten am on a Saturday though doesn't seem like the time.” She found the remote and turned the whole thing off. “Although,” she thought about the date. “Halloween is getting close.” From the expression on Andrea's face Miranda realized they had no idea what she was talking about and spent the next several minutes explaining about Halloween, and the candy, and the costumes.” When the doorbell rang, she excused herself. “That will be the groomer with Patricia. Be right back.”
Andrea waited upstairs in the Entertainment Room, thinking about what Miranda had told her about the upcoming holiday. She had said that it was one of Caroline and Cassidy's favorite times of year. They were glad that they would be here to experience it with the girls and wondered what they could do to make this year's celebration extra special. Walking out of the room, they listened as Miranda thanked the groomer for keeping Patricia overnight and heard the door closing. Descending the stairs quickly, and quietly, Andrea made it almost to the first floor before Patricia's large head turned toward them.
“Diya'bul, Patricia.” They barely stepped off the last step before Patricia had responded with a quick bark and practically pushed Andrea to the floor. They managed to sit on the bottom step and ruffled the ecstatic dog's fur around her neck while trying to hide the majority of their face from the welcoming licks.
Miranda just grinned at the scene and waited for the furor to die down. After a few moments, Patricia was calm enough to allow Andrea to look up. “I told you, she missed you.”
Andy laughed and nodded. “You did.”
Patricia headed toward the kitchen while Miranda moved closer to Andrea, holding out a tissue. “You have dog drool on your face.”
Laughing Andrea accepted the tissue and wiped away the evidence of Patricia's greeting. They had just taken a step toward the kitchen when a crashing sound made them move quicker. Upon arriving in the kitchen they saw the stasis field had been disrupted and the plate under it was knocked off of the counter. Patricia was now laying on the floor in distress. She seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“Patricia!” Miranda rushed to her pet's side. “She's choking!”
Andrea hit their bracelet and a med drone dropped from its place on the ceiling. They held Miranda away as the drone quickly scanned Patricia and then enveloped the animal in green light. Two extensions came out and opened Patricia's mouth slightly then another extension, a tube this time, entered her mouth. The blockage was cleared, and the extensions were retracted. Then the green light intensified around Patricia. Miranda hid her face, feeling her forehead pressing against Andrea's torso, unwilling to watch her beloved pet die. A cough from Patricia made Miranda turn around.
“Patricia...” She broke away from Andrea and knelt next to the large shaggy head hugging it to her. She kissed the top of Patricia's head and looked up at Andrea. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Of course,” Andrea pressed the controls to return the med drone to the ceiling. It settled back into its place as if nothing had happened. They looked at the report the incident had generated and nodded. “She choked on those little rolls we like so much.” They reached out to pet Patricia, “You must learn to eat them one at a time.”
“She has always eaten so fast.” Miranda sighed. “We will have to be more vigilant in clearing our leftovers from now on.”
“Yes.” Andrea also petted the dog who remained laying on the floor. They were sure Patricia was enjoying the attention. They stroked down the length of Patricia's body, from her head to her hindquarter. Miranda spoke up.
“Oh.. be careful there.” Miranda gently rubbed Patricia's head, “St. Bernard's have trouble with their hip joints, because they grow so fast and are so large. She often has a lot of pain in that area.”
Andrea smiled and patted the hip under her hand. “It's okay, Miranda. The med drone fixed that too.” They grabbed a handful of fur and gently shook it. “No more pain, right Patricia?”
Patricia got up and jumped around a little before standing on her back feet, her front paws on Andrea's shoulders, and licking Andrea's face. Andrea laughed. “Wamkeleki, Patricia.” Andy held the large shaggy head in place so that they could look directly into the dog's eyes, translating the laughing comment they had made in a serious tone. “You are welcome, Patricia.”
The rest of the weekend went smoothly. Miranda and Andrea enjoyed the quiet time watching movies, with Patricia at their feet. They prepared meals, listened to music, danced and to both of their amazement sang. Each of them were enthralled with the other's voice as they explored the musical genres of this, and some other worlds. They also spent joyous time exploring each other in the privacy of Miranda's bedroom.
They weren't so wrapped up in each other that they weren't ready for the girls return. Caroline and Cassidy burst through the front door fast enough that Miranda worried about the hinges.
“Is Andy here?” “Where's Andy?!” They looked around frantically and spotted Andrea coming out of the kitchen. “Andy!” The girls ran down the hall to greet them, calling over their shoulders, “Hi, Mom.”
Miranda shook her head and looked down at Patricia standing next to her. “Now we know where we rate.” She chuckled when Patricia whuffed in response. “Exactly.” Realizing what she had just done Miranda rolled her eyes and ruffled the hair on Patricia's neck. “Now they've got me acting like you answer back.” Miranda walked toward the kitchen determined to get at least a small hug hello from her own children.
Patricia was panting slightly, her tongue hanging out, looking for all the world like she was smiling.
“So you're going to stay here?” Cassidy stopped eating, fork halfway to her mouth. “You're going to live with us... until...”
“Yes. I'm going to live here with you,” Andrea nodded and glanced at Miranda, “until.”
Caroline nodded. “Good.”
“We are going to endeavor to live in the moment and enjoy ourselves. We will leave the future to take care of itself.” Miranda smiled at her children's incredulous expressions. “I know, that is not my usual style.” She glanced at Andrea. “But these are highly unusual circumstances.”
Cassidy spoke around the bite in her mouth. “Well that's the truth.”
“Cassidy Ann! Do not speak with your mouth full!”
“Sorry, Mom,” Cassidy apologized, still speaking around the bite in her mouth.
Miranda rolled her eyes, Andrea chuckled then stopped suddenly when Miranda spoke again. “A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ, don't encourage her!”
“Ohhh...” Caroline grinned at her tablemates. “You two are in trouble....”
Andy exchanged glances with Cassidy as Caroline mouthed. 'Big Trouble'.
Miranda's low voice rumbled across the table. “Caroline Marie...”
Caroline made a small sound and closed her mouth quickly.
Andy looked at Miranda noticing the mischievous gleam in her eyes. They spoke in an amused tone. “And what do we call you, Miranda, when it is you who is in 'big trouble',” This merely got them a round of laughter from the girls.
“Don't be ridiculous, Andrea.” Miranda scoffed. “I am never in that much trouble.”
That set off another wave of laughter from the girls.
Andy's eyes widened, and one look at Miranda's smirk had them nodding. “I see.”
The days passed quickly. Quicker than Miranda would have believed. She had only gone to the Runway offices a handful of times and was pleased with the way Nigel and the others were handling the publication details. The girls continued to attend school with no further incidents of violence and Andrea seemed content to remain in the townhouse when they were not required to be at the United Nations, or when they made a brief visit to the ship. They were never gone long and every night was spent at the townhouse. There were no further meetings with Gang Chao Chen, although there were a few video calls. Andrea had made their feelings on the subject extremely clear. They did not want to have anything to do with the man, but they would be at the appointed place at the appointed time for the ceremony. Miranda used her time to complete the ceremonial robes for Andrea and when they were finished they were hung in the closet, waiting for the time they would be put to use.
The nights were passing even quicker. Miranda hated that she was only human and had to sleep for so long every day. Andrea said they didn't mind and usually distracted Miranda with the mutual exploration they had enjoyed since their first night together. They had progressed to full nudity within a week after their first experience and the feelings between them grew with every encounter.
Miranda often thought about that first time, seeing Andrea fully naked. Andrea was nervous, worse than when they dropped the top half of their suit the first time. For Miranda it was amazing, so much more of Andrea's smooth skin to explore, learn. She knew now exactly which spots would make Andrea whimper when she touched, kissed and licked them. Miranda set aside her sketchbook and lost herself in memories. She murmured to herself. “Three weeks and four days left.”
Complying with Andrea's request, Miranda tried to forget about the future. She did try. But the countdown was always in the back of her mind. Three weeks and four days. Knowing that Andrea would not be back from the ship for at least another hour Miranda pulled the interface device toward her. It had occupied the corner of her desk for a few weeks now, not even activated. Now Miranda used it to call up the hateful percentage numbers. No matter what permutations she tried, Chinese people were the largest group. Nineteen point eight percent of the human population. With projections that it would be up to twenty percent within the next five years. Shaking her head, Miranda deactivated the device and pushed it back to its usual place. She wiped a tear from her eye and resolved to do her best to make Andrea's last days with them good ones.
Three weeks and four days.
“Morning, Andy.” Caroline took a bite of her cereal, swallowing her bite carefully before speaking again. “Where's Mom?”
“I believe it's called 'sleeping in'.” Andy grinned at the astonishment on Caroline's face. “I'm going to start the coffee. Perhaps that will draw her downstairs.” They looked around. “Where is Cassidy?”
“Bet it will.” Caroline gestured to the backdoor. “Cassidy is outside with Patricia.”
“Ah.” Andy had learned quickly that Patricia went outside to 'do her business'. They were glad that the facilities humans used for that function were also able to be utilized for their own, although they didn't use them nearly as often. They went about the process of starting the coffee brewing.
Cassidy returned to the kitchen, “Hey, Andy.” She washed her hands and poured herself a bowl of cereal. “What are you and Mom going to do this weekend while we're at Dad's?”
“What?” Andrea shook their head. “This isn't your weekend to be with your other parent.”
“No, but we asked him to adjust the schedule.” Cassidy shrugged. “This way we can be here for...”
“For Halloween.” Caroline jumped in, glaring at her sister. “See.. go to Dad's this weekend, so we'll be here next weekend for Halloween. Then we'll alternate again, his place the week after and back here the week after that.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy smiled a little hesitantly. “See... so this way we'll be here for... Halloween. I think they want to take Ian trick or treating this year anyway. He's old enough.”
Nodding Andrea saw perfectly. The girls would be here for the holiday they love, but it also meant that they would be here the weekend before the ceremony. So they will be here, for Miranda, after the ceremony. Blinking away the urge to cry, Andrea spoke softly. “I see.”
“What do you see?” Miranda took the last step down the back stairs into the kitchen. “Do I smell coffee?”
“The girls are going to their other parent's this weekend, so that they may be here for.... Halloween.” Andy smiled and reached for Miranda's favorite coffee mug. “And yes, of course you smell coffee.”
“Yes.” Miranda accepted the mug. “James called to say he would be a bit late. Apparently young Ian was being especially difficult in letting his father leave.” She sipped her coffee and hummed appreciatively. “He will be here soon.”
“Do you want to meet Dad today, Andy?” Cassidy knew the last time he had picked them up Andy had been at the U.N. “I can ask him to come in if you want.” She was glad that the reporters had left. They were persistent, but three weeks of nothing but the occasional person coming or going within a security field was too much for them. Their time was better spent going through someone elses trash or whatever it was they did for their so-called stories.
“You have time to decide, Andrea.” Miranda sipped her coffee. “He will text when he arrives. Your robes and veil are in the front closet.”
Andrea still wore the outfit that covered them from head to toe when they were out in public, but they hardly ever wore anything other than their body suit while in the house. There were a few days when they wore them while Helen was present, but they decided that it would be best if she didn't come in for a while. As the date for the ceremony got closer Andy would be busier, so Helen could come in while Andy was away, on the ship, or at the U.N. Since this was a temporary thing, Helen agreed to a long vacation. Miranda insisted on paying her anyway. Three weeks and four days. Andy knew it was time. They were going to have to show themself eventually. Starting out slowly seemed like the thing to do, and the girls other parent seemed like the logical place to begin.
“I will meet them, but I will not wear my veil, or headcover.”
“Are you sure, Darling?” Miranda knew how protective Andrea was of showing their face.
Caroline and Cassidy hid their grins. Miranda didn't do it often, but every once in a while lately she had called Andy 'Darling'. When they'd heard it the first time they'd nearly called their mom on the gendering term, but they realized that it really wasn't. Women often called their male significant other 'darling' too. Andy didn't seem to mind either, so they let it slide. It was still cute though, when she did it... It meant she was super relaxed, letting her guard down just a little. The tone of voice also made them believe that it was time to get the heck out of Dodge. Both girls quickly exited the room, unnoticed by either of the adults in the room.
“I'm sure.” Andrea nodded. “There is a press conference scheduled at the United Nations next week that I had planned on attending unveiled. My parent also believes it is time to reveal my appearance. Before...”
“I see.” Miranda asked carefully. “Do you wish for me to join you at that conference?”
“I wish... many things, Miranda.” Andrea sighed. “I wasn't sure I had the right to ask.”
“You have the right.” Miranda assured them. “You're one of the only three people on this planet that does.”
“Miranda...” Whatever they were going to say was halted by Cassidy's voice.
Miranda rolled her eyes, put down her coffee and checked her phone. “Of course, he didn't bother to let us know.”
“If he comes in, I will meet him.” They reached out to pull Miranda to them. Taking advantage of the empty kitchen, Andrea kissed Miranda quickly but thoroughly. Then echoed Miranda's earlier statement, “You also have the right, S'thandwa, to ask me anything.” Andy promised. “You always will.”
Miranda nodded, then grinned. “I call you 'darling' and you return the favor in your own language.”
“E'we, Miranda.” Andrea assured her. “You are the only one I will ever call that.”
Miranda rested her forehead against Andrea's torso and sighed before turning to face the man standing in her kitchen. “Hello, James.”
“Are you having an affair with one of your models now?” He glanced around. “I thought...”
Smirking Miranda shook her head. “Of course not. James,” she gestured to Andrea, “meet, A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ.”
Andy turned and very formally tilted their head in a pseudo-bow, “Diya'bul, James.”
James was speechless. Miranda took pity on the man. “James, thank you for agreeing to shift the girls schedule. We do appreciate it.” He blinked and nodded.
“It's no problem Miranda. You know I love having them.”
“Oh, cool Dad, you met Andy.” Cassidy wrapped her arms around his waist. “They're pretty aren't they?”
“Yeah.” James nodded. “She sure is, Sweetie.”
“Dad!” Cassidy rolled her eyes. “They... it's they... Andy's species is gender-neutral. No he or she... get it?”
“Right... right...” James sighed and looked at Andy. “Sorry.”
“Uxole'we.” Andy tilted her head and spoke somewhat haltingly. “It is okay. Mistakes... happen.”
Miranda knew that wasn't the exact translation of the word Andrea had said. But she supposed the real meaning, 'you are forgiven' was probably a bit too much like a royal pronouncement for Andrea's liking. She suppressed a smirk because she suspected James wouldn't like the tone of it either. Pretending to speak English haltingly was also a bit of diplomacy that was going to serve them well at the U.N.
Caroline came in and moved past her Dad and sister to give her Mom and Andy a hug goodbye. “See you on Sunday.”
Cassidy took her turn hugging her Mom and Andy. “See ya Sunday.”
They not so gently pushed their Dad out of the kitchen. He managed to say good bye before the girls had him ushered through the door.
Andy turned to Miranda and smiled. “Alone at last?”
Patricia let out a series of short barks and a growl. Andy laughed and ruffled the fur on Patricia's neck. “Yes, of course you're still here too.” They asked Miranda, “What is... chopped liver?”
Miranda rolled her eyes at that. “Don't even try it... I know you don't actually talk to her.”
Andy grinned and winked at Patricia. “E'we, Miranda.”
They knew each other by heart now. Andrea knew every single curve, fold and nook of Miranda's body, which places she liked to be touched, which places she didn't. They knew and took advantage of that knowledge whenever possible to make Miranda's senses overload to the point of release.
Miranda also knew Andrea's body, every line and curve, every dip and hollow and Miranda used that knowledge just as well as Andrea did. Every touch, every kiss and lick were given the purpose of bringing absolute joy to Andrea. Every time they were together like this was one more memory for them both to hold on to and it was always glorious.
“Mmmm?” Miranda snuggled closer. This was one of the things she loved most, just being close, talking. “What is it my Darling?”
“I want you to know... that, I would like to run away with you.” Andrea gathered Miranda into their arms, rolling the woman nearly on top of them and kissing the top of her head. “I would take you and the girls and Patricia... I would find the fastest ship and we could all go somewhere else, live somewhere else, together.” They sighed. “If I thought you would allow it. If it meant being with you forever, I would let this world burn.”
Miranda kissed the center of the torso under her cheek. “I have had that thought myself.” She looked up into astonished eyes. “But it is you who won't allow it. Your sense of duty and honor won't permit any actions like that.”
“I wish I could.”
“You're breaking your own rule, Darling. No more thoughts of the future...” Miranda began placing kisses on Andrea's smooth skin circling around one of the areas that was among Andrea's most erogenous zones, teasing them ruthlessly. She smiled against their skin when they squirmed under her. “Patience, my Darling.”
“Miranda...” Andrea whined.
“Shhhh....” Miranda continued her slow, tortuous, circles moving ever closer until finally reaching the place Andrea most wanted her. Their back bowed and Andrea cried out as Miranda continued her ministrations until they collapsed back on the bed. “There now...”
“Yayingakhole'ki leyo.” Andrea looked deeply into Miranda's eyes and kissed her. “Uyamangali'”
“You always say that.” Miranda grinned, being told the experience in general and her in particular were incredible never really got old.
“It's always true.” Grinning, Andrea began to reciprocate the kisses, mimicking the slow circling that Miranda had done, just in a different way. They kissed down Miranda's neck, pressing a long kiss into the spot Miranda always caressed, just below her throat, then continued down to pay attention to Miranda's breasts. Circling each nipple with kisses before enclosing each one in their mouth to give the different textured skin extra attention. Then they moved on, downward, paying special attention to the curve of Miranda's hip and the slightly different textured skin just below Miranda's belly button. This was one of their favorite things about Miranda. There were so many textures to explore. They contented themself with finding new ways to make Miranda gasp, moan and cry out. They did not like to tease Miranda for too long though, just enough to make her begin to shake, just enough to cause her hips to involuntarily shift, just enough before reaching the point of no return and pressing their tongue against the exact spot that Miranda needed for her entire body to tense for a long moment and then relax completely.
“You are amazing.” Miranda concentrated on slowing her breathing and heart rate. “Absolutely Amazing.”
Andrea chuckled. “You always say that.”
Shifting to their favorite position, side by side so each could gently caress the other, Miranda nodded. “It's always true.”
Tugging the covers up over them, Andrea curled around Miranda. “The girls will be in school during the press conference at the U.N.”
“It's fine.” Miranda snuggled into the warm nest. “They'll see it on the news.”
“I'm nervous about revealing my appearance.” They exhaled. “It's going to bring a lot of questions.”
“Because you're so different from the others?”
“Because I'm different from my parent.” Andrea inhaled sharply when Miranda's fingertips brushed across a particularly sensitive spot. “Because we do not require a second being, our reproduction has been 'classified' as asexual. Which by your definition is... correct.” They kissed Miranda's forehead. “However, our offspring do not always look like the parent being. That is a difference between our biology and the biology of every other asexually reproducing being your scientists know.”
“So you are going to baffle them.”
“Yes.” Andrea laughed. “That is probably an understatement.”
“You can't explain it to them?”
“No.” They shrugged. “They will have to open their minds to what the term 'asexual reproduction' means. There are many beings, most in fact, that are not gendered. Your species is almost unique in that aspect. The diversity on this planet is staggering to us. There are so many variations in your species, according to region. Your concept of reproduction and adaptation is far different from ours but also similar. We did not intend on discussing these concepts at this stage of our contact.”
“Concepts?” Miranda was interested now. This was new information about Andrea and her people.
“When one of us has an offspring, we do not need another being for... help. There is no other being that needs to add their DNA to create the offspring.”
“Right.” Miranda nodded. “With you so far.”
“The oddity is that, although we do not need another being to create an offspring, we do have the ability to utilize other beings DNA if we wish. If we know a person, are impressed with, or inspired by, or admire someone... another being... or if we are physically close to them... our offspring will resemble that being and not ourselves, if we want them to.” Andrea gestured to herself. “I look like I do, because my parent has always been greatly enamored by a being that has long brown hair and large brown eyes, although their proportions are smaller than the average size of my species. My parent has always admired them and when it came time for them to have an offspring, that offspring...me, looked like the person they admire. It doesn't have to be that way. Many of my parent's offspring, my siblings, look like my parent.” They saw that Miranda was quiet but paying attention and continued. “The people on the ship are mostly all very similar because, as you have deduced by now, it is a military ship. The crew are all chosen for their skills and trained in a similar manner, but as with all military there are people who stand out. Heroes I guess. Those beings are often sought after for physical closeness. So after generations of being trained similarly and generations of offspring most military beings have all grown with the same proportions, the same build, the same bearing. On my home planet we are a somewhat diverse people with all sorts of heights, hair color, eye color... many differences. But on the ship, with the military crew, they are all very similar. But we are also all the same. Here, often just by looking at a person you can tell what their lineage is, what region of this planet their ancestors came from. I cannot think of any other planet where that is true, not even my homeworld.”
“Ah... so you reproduce asexually, only if you want? That is amazing.” Miranda thought about that. “It will cause a lot of questions and concerns, for sure.” Miranda knew that humans tended to obsess over other people's sexual habits, not to mention the various legislation trying to control reproduction. “Not the least of which is that this is a military ship, as were all the others that were here correct?”
Andy nodded. “Yes.”
“And you are telling me this now because...?” Miranda shifted so that she could see Andrea's face a little better.
“Because there are going to be a lot of theories about how we reproduce. Asexual? Sexual? Most of them will be wrong because, according to human definitions, it's actually somewhere in between. Something humans aren't ready to understand yet.” They sighed. “But when it comes time for me to have an offspring...”
Looking directly into Miranda's eyes, Andy spoke softly. “When it comes time for me to have an offspring... they will look like you.” They reached up to gently push the lock of hair that always fell across Miranda's forehead away. “White hair, blue eyes... any offspring I have will have those characteristics and probably more.”
Their mouth twitched between a grin and a smirk. “I would expect them to have your attitude as well.”
Miranda snorted. “Well now you're just asking for trouble.” Her expression softened. “Thank you for telling me and thank you for giving me such an honor.”
Andrea nodded. “I... using someone else's likeness for offspring without asking them is... well, it's just not done. So, I'm asking. Is it acceptable to you?”
“Acceptable?” Miranda smiled. “Yes, of course.” Her eyes sparkled. “I can't wait to meet them.”
“Oh.” Andrea swallowed hard. “Miranda, I'm sorry. I didn't...” Andrea rested their forehead on Miranda's shoulder and spoke quietly. “It will be some time before I have any offspring.”
“Quite some time.” Andrea wished they'd never brought up this subject. “I'm sorry.”
The regret in Andrea's face made Miranda realize what they were saying. Andrea was not human and Miranda was. “I will never get to meet your offspring, will I?” Their response was devastating.
“Probably not.” They held Miranda close, feeling the odd shaking and knowing that Miranda was crying. “I'm so sorry, Miranda.”
They continued to hold Miranda until the crying stopped and her breathing evened out. Then they continued holding her while she slept for the next few hours.
Andrea looked up from the book they were reading to see Cassidy's concerned expression. “Sweetheart, what's wrong?”
“That's what I was going to ask you.” Cassidy moved to sit on the couch next to Andrea, leaning up against them. “You're down here reading, and Mom is upstairs in her office... Supper was pretty quiet too. It's been that way since we came back from Dad's.” The young woman asked softly. “Is everything... I mean... are you and Mom okay?”
“Yes.” Andrea closed their book and wrapped an arm around Cassidy's shoulders. “Miranda is just... coming to terms with certain realities. That often takes time.”
“Is this about tomorrow's press conference.” Cassidy shook her head. “When people see you there's gonna be a lot of talk.”
“Oh?” Andrea was interested in whatever Cassidy was thinking. “About what, do you think?”
“You don't look like your parent.” Cassidy shrugged. “Most people won't even think about it, but that's gonna freak some people out, the science types.”
“Yes.” Andrea waited to see what else Cassidy had on her mind. The way this child's brain worked fascinated them. It was so similar to Miranda's thought processes.
“Caroline and I were talking about Dad misgendering you.” She looked up. “We know why he did it and we can't really blame him, but we know he was wrong.”
“You know why?” Andrea hadn't thought about it after the incident. There had been a lot of that at the beginning of their visit here. Many people called their parent 'he', at first. It had taken several months and a fairly massive PR campaign for the majority of people to begin using the they/their pronouns when referring to their species.
“It's because your features are pretty feminine, by human standards.” Cassidy reminded them. “Remember when we first saw you, and we said you were pretty?” She shrugged. “Dad is older than we are, so it's harder for him to think about individual people as something other than he or she. By the time we were ready to come home though whenever we talked about you, he had started using the they/them pronouns all the time.” Cassidy smiled. “He's learning.”
Andy jostled Cassidy's shoulder and nodded. “Yes, eventually, people will learn. I'm not concerned.”
“Good.” Cassidy squirmed out from under Andy's arm and stood. “I'm glad you and Mom aren't fighting.” She sighed. “We don't have much time left and I don't want things to be tense around here for the last three weeks.”
“I agree.” Andy smiled and watched the doorway for a long moment after Cassidy had gone through it. Three weeks. Resting their head on the back of the couch, Andrea looked up knowing that Miranda was upstairs, in her office. They had found Miranda in there, several times, utilizing the interface to look for alternatives to the event that was now, as Cassidy reminded them, three weeks away. Miranda was always frustrated after those sessions with the interface. None of the permutations ever came up with a larger percentage than they had found using the group labeled Chinese people. Andrea had even jokingly said once that perhaps they should join with Patricia. To which Miranda replied that there were fewer dogs in the world than Chinese people and fewer still purebred St. Bernards. It drove home for them the absolute frantic search Miranda was doing to try to stop the joining. Searching for everything, even the ridiculous, was bordering on madness. Andrea wished there was a way to distract Miranda. It was overworking her brilliant mind and they needed a way to help her take a break. They wanted to spend time with Miranda now, while they could, instead of being separated while Miranda futilely attempted to stop the inevitable.
They went upstairs and found the girls. “Can you help me?”
“Andy?” Caroline put her phone down. “What's going on? Cassidy said you were okay...”
“I want to surprise Miranda, but I don't know how.” Andy explained. “Is there something I can do, or somewhere I can take her? She needs a break...”
“Tonight you mean?” Caroline shook her head. “I don't know. Normally when she needs a break we go to the house upstate for a few days, but you have to be at the press conference tomorrow and we have school.”
“I would take her to the ship, but that isn't the best place right now. It would probably just agitate her more.” Andy ruffled the short hair covering their forehead.
“Mom gets focused on details.” Caroline exchanged looks with Cassidy. “Sometimes she forgets to see the big picture.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy agreed. “She's all about the minutia,” It had been a shared joke with her sister ever since the media had dubbed their mother 'the Devil in Prada'. “The devil is in the details after all.”
Caroline gave Andy the only advice she knew. “You need to shake her focus and make her see the big picture.”
“The big picture... Hmmm...” Nodding, Andy thought about it. “Thanks girls. Would you mind if your Mom and I leave for a little while?”
Both girls waved off that concern. “We're old enough to stay by ourselves.” “And our security drones are on the roof.” They both assured Andy, “We'll be fine.”
“Thank you.” They left the room quickly, heading to Miranda's office. As they walked up the stairs, they used their bracelet to contact K'te and make plans for their outing. They also contacted Kael. That was a tougher sell, but they finally relented. It was all set, so all they had to do was... They knocked on the door to Miranda's office. It took a moment for the acknowledgment and they poked their head in before entering. Deactivating the interface device, Andrea held out their hand to Miranda. “Miranda... Come with me.”
“What?” Without even thinking about it Miranda took the offered hand and stood. “Where are we going?”
“It's a surprise.” They urged Miranda to move.
“Should I change clothes?” Miranda was wearing one of the outfits she had gotten used to wearing around the house. It was just a comfortable sweater and pair of slacks.
“You look wonderful. However, I must put my robes on quickly, K'te will be here soon.”
Miranda had never seen Andrea put on their robes so quickly, but it was apparently necessary as they had barely gotten dressed when K'te arrived in the small ship that could land in front of the house. The girls were at the door assuring the adults that they would be fine for a while. Miranda was appeased that the guards would remain outside the house and the drones were on the roof so she allowed herself to be guided out the door to the waiting ship.
Once they were moving, what seemed to be straight up, Miranda asked. “Andrea, where are we going?”
“Still a surprise, but we have to go to the ship first. This craft is not suitable for the trip I want to take so we will have to change. The other vehicle is waiting in the hangar bay. I made sure Kael would have it ready.” Andrea shifted their veil aside and brought Miranda's hand up to their lips. “Trust me.”
The trip was silent until they got to the main ship's hangar bay. When Andrea guided Miranda through the bay to the second vehicle Miranda stopped. “Andrea what is this?” She had compared the other vehicles to a Gulfstream jet, a Cessna plane... this though, this seemed more like the equivalent to a fighter jet. Mostly because it was relatively small and there were only two seats that were in line with each other not side by side.
“Get in.” Andrea helped Miranda into the 'back' seat of the plane and quickly latched the straps attached to the seat. Then they climbed into the front seat also strapping in. The canopy slid into place around them and locked. Andy did a quick check of the controls even though they knew that Kael had already, personally, checked them. Then they started the engines. “Here we go.” Andy taxied them through the hangar, moving faster as they neared the door. The blue safety field slammed around them as they shot out of the bay. It was exhilarating and terrifying for Miranda but she trusted Andrea. They seemed to be going straight up. Three more ships exactly the same as theirs fell into formation with them and she heard Andrea speaking through the communication system.
“Oku kukungakhathali, 'Kosaza”
This is reckless, Your Highness.
Andrea laughed and replied, “Wavuma. Kodwa kuyimfuneko. Asiyi kuba side.”
Agreed. But necessary. We will not be long.
Turning the ship to the proper heading Andrea increased their speed and called back to Miranda, “Are you doing all right Miranda?”
“Yes.” Miranda asked again. “Where are we going?”
In answer Andy pointed forward, through the clear canopy. “There.”
Miranda followed the direction of their finger and blinked. “Andrea... that's... that's the Moon.”
“E'we, Miranda.” Andy pushed the controls and accelerated, grinning when the other ships kept pace with them. “We'll be there in a few minutes.”
Miranda watched as the surface of the moon grew closer and closer, faster than she thought possible. Then Andrea slowed down their vehicle and they flew past the rocky landscape until they spoke again. “Look.”
Miranda looked down at the surface to see the remnants of previous human visits, NASA equipment that had been left, the flag that had been planted. They flew on and then turned the ship around so that they were facing the Earth.
“Look, Miranda.” Andrea spoke softly. “See how beautiful it is? How peaceful? Your world... our world, is an amazing place.”
“Why are you showing me this, Andrea?” Miranda blinked as she watched the blue sphere gently rotating in space.
“You need to stop. I need you to stop.” Andy sighed. “We only have three weeks left and I don't want to spend them bogged down in details. This is what we are protecting. This world, so diverse, so amazing and creative that you have sent people here while barely even knowing how. This needs protected, nurtured. The big picture.”
“I...” Miranda nodded. “I do tend to focus on the details.”
“I will try.” Miranda promised.
“Good.” Andrea asked. “Do you want to explore the moon some more or should we just go home?”
“Home would be preferable.” Miranda grinned at the back of Andrea's head. “Although, if we could stop at the Food Hall, I'm sure the girls would love a few of their favorite treats as a late night snack...”
Andrea laughed. “I'm sure...” They had no doubt that a few of Miranda's favorites would also be finding their way into the package they would be taking away from the Food Hall. They signaled their escort that this trip was over and turned the ship toward the correct coordinates on Earth.
After the, what Miranda named, fighter jets were returned to their place in the hangar, they procured food and K'te had returned them to the townhouse. The girls were confused when they arrived home.
“You have barely been gone an hour.” Cassidy's eyes lit up when they saw the food being unpacked. “Ohhh.. you went to the ship?!” She grabbed one of her favorites. “I love these things.”
“We went a little farther than the ship.” Miranda glanced at Andrea and rolled her eyes. “Andrea wanted to show me 'the Big Picture'.” She mock-glared at her daughters. “Now I wonder where they would have gotten an idea like that?” She took pity on the girls downcast eyes and a smile greeted them when they looked up. “Thank you.”
Caroline sat on one of the stools at the preparation island and grabbed a treat from the takeaway package. “So where else did you go, besides the ship?”
Miranda walked to the window and looked out, then pointed. “There.”
“What are you pointing at, Mom?” Cassidy stood next to Miranda. Looking out to where she had pointed, “There's nothing there except...” Her eyes got very wide, and she turned to face Andrea. “You took Mom to the Moon?!”
Caroline stopped mid-chew and blinked. “Oh wow.”
“But...” Cassidy shook her head. “You were only gone for an hour.” She questioned Andy. “Did you travel at the speed of light?!!”
Andy tilted their head back and forth, “No.” They grinned. “Faster than we went when we went to China, but far slower than the speed of light.”
Cassidy, ever curious, asked, “How much slower?”
“Divided by twenty.” Andy laughed. “Including acceleration and deceleration it took a few minutes to get there.”
Miranda chuckled and chose one of the little rolls that were one of her favorites from the selection of food they had brought back. Patricia was sitting between the stools that Caroline and Cassidy had claimed but whined when she saw what was in Miranda's hand. Large, dark St. Bernard eyes turned on the emotion.
“Oh no...” Miranda scolded the beggar. “You know what happened last time.”
“Just give her one at a time Miranda.” Andy also tilted their head slightly and looked at Miranda with their large, dark eyes. “She loves them too, you know.”
“Good grief.” Miranda picked up another roll and spoke to Patricia sternly. “One, that's all.” She tossed the item to Patricia who snapped it up quickly, her tail wagging.
They all laughed and Patricia again sat, waiting for any possible drops from Caroline or Cassidy.
“You look amazing.” Miranda flicked some non-existent lint from Andrea's robes. The garment was similar to the head-to-toe covering they had worn to that first visit to Miranda's office. This set, however, was a bit more formal. “Nervous?”
“A little.” Andrea's dark eyes scanned the crowd of dignitaries and reporters then shifted back to Miranda. “You look fantastic.”
“Thank you, Darling.” Miranda smiled softly. Compliments from Andrea were always welcome because they were genuine. If anyone else were to say that Miranda would wonder what they wanted from her. A screech from the microphone turned their attention away from each other and toward the podium.
Miranda left Andrea on the raised platform and took her place in the front row of seats with the dignitaries. She tried to pay attention to what The Ambassador was saying but having Jes'aQ translating it as they spoke was disconcerting. She understood the diplomacy of continuing the charade of needing an interpreter, but for her personally it was like hearing an echo of words that didn't quite match what was spoken at first.
Andrea listened calmly to their parent's speech. They talked about what a great planet this was, and how they were sure the inhabitants would now try their best to improve the world instead of destroying it. Then they gestured for Andrea to join them. Many of the other ambassadors and dignitaries present already knew that this change of position was happening. “I must leave soon, so I now present my offspring, who will continue my work here.”
Andrea stepped up to the podium. “While I am saddened to see my parent leave, I know that staying is the right thing to do for this planet.” They glanced at Miranda. “I will endeavor to continue to assist you, as my parent has done before me, in your efforts to improve and enhance this planet and the quality of life its inhabitants enjoy. This is a new chapter in my life and with the new comes change.” They gestured to themself. “These robes are what I have worn for most of my life. I like them. They are comfortable and even have Miranda Priestly's seal of approval.” Andrea looked toward Miranda, as did much of the crowd. They grinned as Miranda just smiled and nodded. “However, part of the changes that are happening mean that I can no longer be so, separated, from everyone.” They took a slight pause to calm down and then reached up, unfastened the veil and removed the headcover. “That separation can no longer be tolerated. The veil and headcover are,” they stumbled over the word, “ceremonial, but no longer daily wear for me.” They dropped the items onto the podium and didn't have much else to say. “Perhaps a few questions?”
A multitude of people jumped to get their attention and be called on. Andrea chose one from the middle of the group. “Yes?”
“How will your joining in a few weeks affect your position at the U.N.?”
“It will not.” They spoke in no uncertain terms. “My joining is for my own reasons, none of which I wish to discuss. However, after the ceremony I will continue to live here in New York in a dwelling provided by the other participant in that ceremony. My position here as an adviser and counselor will not be disrupted.” They pointed to another reporter.
“It sounds like you don't even like the guy... why marry him?”
“Again, my reasons are my own.” Andrea pointed to another reporter.
“Is it true that you are now living at Miranda Priestly's townhouse?”
Andrea glanced at Miranda who gave them a barely perceptible nod. Miranda had known this question might be asked and had prepared Andrea for it. “Miranda is assisting me in some projects, not the least of which is preparing for the ceremony your previous colleague has so kindly reminded us of. It is much easier to facilitate those projects if I am available for consultation. To that end, Miranda has graciously extended the invitation for me to stay in her dwelling, so yes, I … live there.” They glanced at Miranda and silently apologized as they added. “...for now.” They pointed to another slightly less predatory looking reporter.
“Do you live forever?”
“My species has a longer lifespan than that of humans, but I can assure you that we do die.” They called on another reporter. “Yes?”
Before the new question could be asked, the same man asked another. “Why do you look different than your parent? You reproduce asexually, don't you?”
Andrea held up their hand to stop the outraged gasp of the crowd and asked the questioner, “What publication do you work for?” They were not surprised when the title was extremely scientific in nature. “I see.” They nodded. “While we do not require another being to... donate? DNA in the creation of our offspring, we can utilize other beings DNA if we wish. So our offspring may or may not look like us.” Now they turned to the person that had been interrupted. “I believe you had a question.”
“Yes, well... it's not as scientific as all that...” She simply asked. “What are we supposed to call you? What is your name?”
Licking their lips at that and not suppressing a smile. Andrea nodded. “When used in the context of my work you can just as easily refer to me as The Ambassador, as you have always done with my parent.” They managed not to glance at Miranda. “My name is A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ. I have been told that it sounds like the name, “Ann Dree Uh”. So if you must use a name in print then that will be sufficient.”
“Ambassador Andrea.” The woman nodded. “Nice.”
Andrea's parent stepped back up to their side at the podium. Jes'aQ's voice translated their quick words. “I believe that is all we have time for today.” They nodded to the press and the dignitaries. “I am sure we will answer more questions in due time.”
They ushered Andrea off the stage fairly quickly. Andrea was aware that some of the reporters were surging toward them but others were moving toward Miranda's seat. They slapped the controls on their bracelet and were relieved when Miranda's security drone swooped down and enveloped her in a security field. It was a beautiful thing to see when all the reporters stopped in their tracks. Miranda calmly patted her hair, making sure it was in place, picked up her purse and rose, walking through the crowd, back to the vehicle surrounded by the veil of blue as though she didn't have a care in the world.
Dark eyes didn't leave Miranda's form until the vehicle door closed between them. Their parent's words were tinged with admiration.
“She is incredible.”
Chuckling at that, Andrea nodded at their own inside joke, responding. “That's what I always say.”
It had been several days since the press conference and although they rarely stayed long, Andrea had been going to the U.N. for a little while each day. There was some tension in the political world regarding the upcoming election. The twins had talked about it among themselves and were sad that the current president was leaving. They liked him, and his wife, and their daughters, however, Cassidy was excited to think about the next president being a woman, who just had to win, because the guy running against her was a butt and surely there weren't enough idiots in the country to vote for a butt for president. She supposed she'd just have to wait until the election to celebrate the new female POTUS.
Right now though Caroline and Cassidy were eating lunch, while Andy was out and their Mom was upstairs in her office on a conference call. The back door opened. A familiar voice called out. “Anyone home?”
“Helen!!” Both girls ran to give the woman a hug. It had been a while since they'd seen her. Since Andy had moved in there was an agreement with Helen that she would only come during times Andy was gone to the U.N. or the ship. Those times were usually when the girls were at school. Helen even had a bracelet that sort of looked like theirs. It wasn't a communicator and didn't have any controls for the drones, but it did identify her as a 'safe' person. The guards knew her by now, but the bracelet was like an employee badge to let them know Helen shouldn't be stopped from coming in the house. The girls had missed her. Helen had been their housekeeper since they were babies, even before that actually.
“Hey, guys.” Helen smiled and held out a bag. “Look what I brought you.”
Caroline peeked in the bag. “Ohhh... Thanks!” She grinned at Cassidy as she passed the bag over. “Look.”
Cassidy pumped her fist in the air as she saw the bag was mostly filled with Halloween Candy. “Yes! Thanks!”
“Your mom texted to say that you were going to stay home tomorrow night and pass out candy this year, so I was just making sure you had enough.” Helen smiled and hugged the girls again. “Be sure and send me pictures of your costumes this year, okay?”
“We will take pictures but we don't know if we're going to wear costumes or not.” Cassidy grabbed Helen's hand. “Come and see how we decorated...”
Helen found her other hand was held by Caroline and laughed as the girls dragged her into the hallway.
“See?” “Andy helped us.”
“Very nice.” Helen looked around, impressed at the Fall colors. Definitely, Halloween-inspired decorations. She realized what they reminded her of and grinned at the girls. “You've done your annual rewatch of the Good Witch series.” Gesturing around the foyer and to the staircase. “This is worthy of Grey House.” The fictional bed and breakfast in the series was always immaculately decorated, especially for Halloween.
There was an empty plate on the small sidetable and Helen pointed to it. “Should we make some Halloween cookies? I'm not sure there is enough time now.” She had always enjoyed making cookies with the girls for Halloween and for Christmas. “I'll plan on making Christmas cookies next time.”
Caroline admitted, “We made some with Andy. We just can't put them out because Patricia will get into them.”
“We're trying to teach Andy how to use the kitchen appliances.” Cassidy laughed. “So far they have the coffeemaker and the toaster mastered.”
Helen almost snorted with laughter. “Coffee maker knowledge is essential if you're gonna live with Miranda.” The girls stopped laughing and Helen realized what she said. Miranda had explained that Andrea's presence here was only temporary, and why. “Oh... gosh I'm sorry... I didn't mean...”
“Yeah.” “We know.”
Caroline sighed. “Two weeks and two days left.”
Helen hated seeing the girls so down. She tried to cheer them up. “You know what? Your Mom is a pretty smart cookie. I wouldn't give up just yet.”
“That's just it.” Cassidy shrugged. “We made her give up. We told her to stop trying to figure out how to change the outcome of the inevitable. Even Andy told her she needed to see the Big Picture and stop making herself crazy over the details.” Helen's reaction to that was not what the girls were expecting.
Helen laughed. “Oh, that's funny.” She made an are-you-serious face and asked. “You think she's given up? You actually think that your mother, Miranda Priestly, wants something and has given it up just because someone, even you two, have told her to?” She wiped a tear of laughter from her eye. “Seriously?”
“Umm...” Caroline tentatively answered, “yes?”
Shaking her head negative, Helen reiterated. “There is no way in hell Miranda Priestly is going to give up what she wants without a fight.” She reached out and tweaked Caroline's nose. “Don't lose hope.” She started walking toward the backdoor. “And don't forget to send me pictures.” She was out the door before either girl realized it.
The girls finished the last bit of their lunch and were cleaning up the dishes when Miranda entered the kitchen. “Hey Mom. Helen stopped by. Look what she brought us.” Cassidy indicated the bag of candy.
“I suppose we are set to feed the neighborhood then.” Miranda watched the girls doing the domestic task. “I hope you thanked her.”
“We did.” Cassidy moved to lean against Miranda. “She liked the decorations too.” She asked. “When do you think she can come back? We miss her.”
“Helen was given the option, after the press conference, since Andrea was no longer hiding their appearance that she could return at any time.” Miranda smiled softly. “She, however, understands the importance of our time with Andrea and has chosen to remain on this part-time basis until... Andrea is no longer spending as much time here.”
Caroline dried her hands and moved to hug her mother. She mumbled as Miranda's arms curled around her, “Two weeks and two days.”
Miranda's eyes closed and thought about how little time that actually was.
“Trick or Treat!”
“Well well, what do we have here...” Miranda looked over the small group of young children on her doorstep. “Three lovely princesses and a very convincing zombie knight.”
“He's our brother.” One of the princesses said. “He wanted to be a gross zombie and we wanted him to be the knight that saves us from the mean dragon.”
Miranda's right eyebrow shifted up when Caroline and Cassidy giggled behind her. “I see.” She passed out the candy required, one to each child and then bent closer to the boy, slipping an extra piece of candy into his bag. “Not all dragons are mean you know.” She winked and stood as she spoke to the adult, probably the mother who was standing back, but accompanying the group. “An extremely good compromise.”
“Thank you.” She gestured for the children to come back to the sidewalk. “C'mon... next house, lots of light left.”
Miranda closed the door as they left. She saw another group approaching as she did so, but they were older children judging from their sizes and choices of costumes, much closer to Caroline and Cassidy's ages than the little princesses had been.
This year the girls had opted for basic Halloween-themed clothing, however, Cassidy had also gotten a pointy witches hat to wear. They said since they were just passing out candy it would be easier to be dressed regularly. They were also skipping a party they normally attended at their friend's home. Handing the candy bowl to the girls, Miranda relinquished the responsibility. It was the girls turn to pass out the candy.
“Why are there so many of the zombie things?” Andy mock-shivered. “The blood and the gore...”
“Mmm.. I can see we neglected to explain Halloween to you correctly.” Miranda heard the doorbell and turned Andrea away from the door. “You don't want to look at this group.”
Andrea heard the exclamations of 'Trick or Treat' and then a quick admiration from the girls regarding the outfits. Apparently one of them had a 'working blood pump'. Closing their eyes, Andrea trusted Miranda that they did not want to see this group. When the door closed they opened their eyes again. A few minutes later the doorbell rang again. And again there was the obligatory 'trick or treat' greeting, however this time Cassidy's voice called back into the house. “Hey Andy, you might want to see this one.”
Andrea tentatively walked to the door. They knew that the costumes were part of the tradition but they felt rather strange just in their normal body suit with only a mask around their eyes. For so long their normal attire was almost exactly the opposite, with only their eyes visible and the rest of them covered. When they got to the door, they blinked at the vision there.
I like this one.
The girls grinned and asked. “Do you think they could order the guards around?”
“Doubtful.” Andrea smiled at the small visitor. “What is your name?”
“Andrea.” The child spoke clearly through the veil. “It's really my name, but I'm dressed like The Ambassador used to dress, on the news.”
It was clear to Andrea that the child had no idea who they were talking to. “You are.” Andy tilted their head and asked, “Would you hold out your hand so that I may feel the fabric your robes are made of?” The child complied and Andrea crouched down, fingertips brushing the sleeve lightly. “Very soft.”
“It's an excellent reproduction of the robes.” Andrea stood and grabbed a handful of candy from the bowl Caroline was holding. They dropped all the candy into the little ambassador's bag. “Happy Halloween.”
“Thanks!” The girl waved. “I like your Catwoman costume too.”
Both girls smirked as the door closed and weren't surprised when Andy grabbed a small candy out of the bowl for themself.
“You know... one way to know you've become super famous is when people start dressing like you for Halloween.” Cassidy laughed at the expression on Andy's face.
“Face it, Andy.” Caroline shrugged. “You're the most well-known person on this planet.”
“Mmm...” Miranda wrapped her arms around Andrea's waist. “I can't imagine why... just a beautiful, amazing person that is in the news all around the world daily.” She grinned. “I'm surprised that there haven't been more tiny replicas of you tonight.”
“Why have I not seen any small versions of you tonight?” Andrea asked. “You are also beautiful, amazing and in the news.”
“Just wait.” Cassidy laughed. “There's always at least one.”
“Most of them don't come here though.” Caroline nodded. “They know Mom lives here, so they tend to stay away. There is usually at least one that braves the dragon's lair.”
Rolling her eyes at that, Miranda rubbed her hand on Andrea's back. “They exaggerate.”
Andy glanced at the girls who were both shaking their heads negative. “Whatever you say, Miranda.” They popped the candy they had procured into their mouth.
The doorbell rang and the entire process repeated.
“You always say that.” Miranda shifted to her favorite position snuggled against Andrea's body. It had been a week since Halloween. The girls, Cassidy specifically, were severely disappointed at the election results. Miranda couldn't say she blamed them; the new president-elect was anything but presidential. She wasn't sure that she wanted to hear Cassidy's rant about how many butts it took to put a butt into the White House, again. Even if it was factually true, she had lost count of how many times she'd heard it. Also true, was the girls prediction that at least one child dressed as her would arrive at their doorstep. The power suit, white wig and Prada shoes were as flattering as they were embarrassing, and Miranda understood Andrea's earlier conflicting feelings about having people dress up like them. Of course, in Miranda's case drag queens often dressed as her, which she didn't mind at all.
“Miranda?” Andrea stroked Miranda's bare shoulder.
“Hmmm?” She blinked. “Yes, Darling? What is it?”
Where did you go?
“I was just thinking... about things.” Miranda expanded on the thought. “Halloween, the election...”
“Ah... don't think too loudly. Cassidy will begin her rant again.” Andrea teased about it, but believed Cassidy was perfectly justified in her outrage. The election outcome was rather disappointing. Having met both the major candidates Andrea had to admit that Cassidy's assessment of the winner was correct. They were not looking forward to having any sort of contact with the new president-elect when they came into office. They had quite enjoyed their interactions with the current President. “Was there something else on your mind?”
“Miranda.” Andy sighed. “S'thandwa, please don't torture yourself.”
Curling around Andrea, Miranda took a deep breath and nodded. “I'm trying.”
“You are going into Runway tomorrow, while I'm on the ship?”
“Yes.” Miranda hated it too. “There are some things I need to deal with. Hopefully it won't take all day.”
“I do not believe I will need to be on the ship for too long in the morning.” Andrea ran their fingertips along the curve on Miranda's side. “May I come to Runway and join you for lunch? I will need to attend a meeting at the U.N. later in the day.”
“Lunch...” Miranda barely focused on the words and reveled in the sensations of Andrea's exploring fingers. “That sounds lovely. Shall I order in?”
Grinning at that, Andrea found their target causing Miranda to gasp. “Give your Emily a break. I will bring our sustenance.”
“Mmm.” Miranda lost her train of thought as Andrea focused their attention on her. But one tiny voice did remain. A tiny voice in the back of her mind.
The doors to Miranda's office opened and when the assistant looked up, she automatically said, “Sorry, but Miranda is...”
Andrea merely looked at the now silent assistant as they continued to walk, along with their two guards. The other two remained outside the doors of the outer office. They knocked softly on Miranda's office door and opened it when they heard the acknowledgment.
“Diya'bul, Miranda.” Andrea asked, “Are you ready for lunch?”
“Diya'bul, Andrea.” Miranda nodded. “Yes, but one moment.” She gave Andrea a quick kiss on the lips, then went to her private bathroom for a moment.
Andrea took the time to unpack the food they had brought.
When Miranda returned she joined Andrea at the table. “So what delightful selections have you brought for us today?”
“All of your favorites.” Andrea picked up one of the little rolls they knew Miranda loved and held it out. They grinned when Miranda leaned forward eating the morsel from their fingertips.
“I take it you have had a good morning.” Andrea laughed as Miranda fed them a bite of their favorite dish. “You seem to be in a good mood.”
“It has not been terrible.” Miranda admitted. “It has been rather nice being here... I had almost forgotten what a fast pace the office can set.” She laughed and started telling Andrea about a mixup in accessories.
Dark eyes watched Miranda as she spoke about the morning's events. This was Miranda in her element and they loved her a little bit more with every word, even the cutting ones used to describe the people responsible for the crisis. Maybe, especially those. “I have kept you from the work you love.”
“Staying home was my choice.” Miranda reached out to hold Andrea's hand. “I will never regret it.”
Andrea smiled and nodded.
They had drones delivering meals from the Food Hall three times during their last weekend alone together. Caroline and Cassidy had gone to their father's and taken Patricia with them. They had not left the townhouse for three days. They had not bothered to dress for two.
Pulling the covers around them Andrea held Miranda until they heard her breathing even out. This was a thing they knew they would miss greatly. Holding Miranda while she slept was a memory they would treasure. Every single moment spent together had been burned into their mind. They knew they would never forget. Every moment together was precious. However, there were a few things they needed to do. Shifting gently, Andrea made sure Miranda was still sleeping and left the bed. They threw on one of Miranda's robes and went to Miranda's office, activating the interface device on Miranda's desk.
“Diya'bul, Lulam.” They asked “Unjani umsebenzi?”
How is our project going?
“'Kosaza.” the being on the interface projection bowed. “Ezi zinto zitha' ixesha”
These things take time.
Time is short.
“E'we, 'Kosaza.” They assured Andrea. “Kuya kwenziwa.”
Yes, your highness. It will be done.
You're the best
The being on the projection placed their hand on their chest and bowed deeply. “'Kosi, 'Kosaza.”
Thank you, your highness.
Andrea nodded and discontinued the connection. They sat in Miranda's office for a long moment. The urge to continue using the interface device was almost uncontrollable, but Miranda was asleep in the other room. That was a much more enticing thought and Andrea left the device sitting on the desk as they went back to stretch out next to Miranda. They actually closed their eyes when Miranda reached out, draping an arm over their torso. Sleeping was not necessary, and they hated missing anything, but they did concede that waking up in Miranda's arms was an extremely pleasant thing. They drifted off, with a single thought before totally losing consciousness.
“Miranda, please. Think of the money!”
“Roger, I do not want any stock from any company associated with that man in my portfolio. I have told you that before. It's on record.” Miranda felt like reaching through the phone and strangling her stockbroker. “I mean it.”
“It's already climbing and it's going to go through the roof when the ceremony occurs.” Roger tried again. “I mean it Miranda, you're going to miss out on a huge return.”
“I don't care.” Miranda held firm. “Do what you want with your own money, but if even one dime of mine is spent on anything associated with that man or even one share of those companies stocks end up in my portfolio you will be fired.”
“Fine... fine.. of course I will abide by your wishes.” He sighed. “Don't say I didn't try to tell you.”
Miranda disconnected the call without saying anything else. She didn't care and she knew Roger was used to it. She contemplated firing him anyway. He should not be this insistent. If she said no, she meant no. He should definitely know that by now. But he was one of those people who always thought they were right. About the stock market, maybe he was, but he was the type to try to explain to her about fashion. The only reason he wasn't fired right now was that he had been her stockbroker for years and had an excellent record for choosing the right moves to increase her portfolio substantially.
She knew a lot of it wasn't his fault. She knew the reason. When... that man and Andrea were married the stocks for all of the companies associated with him would skyrocket in value, even moreso than when the wedding was announced. Everyone would believe that Andrea would give him alien technology. Honestly, she didn't know. Maybe they would. She was staying out of the whole thing. If she did dabble in that mess, she couldn't imagine how fast the authorities would come for her with accusations of insider trading.
Miranda sighed and realized just how close the ceremony was and her role in it. She had to make sure that Andrea was properly attired, but she had made up her mind. There was no way in hell she was going to stay around to watch it happen. For a brief moment a week or so ago she had jokingly told Andrea that although they would be stunning, she didn't have anything proper to wear. One of her regular power suits would do for her to be there, long enough to properly dress Andrea and see them in the ceremonial robes, but then she would leave. She had to.
Andrea was being so very kind about everything. Bringing their favorites from the ship every day now. But knowing that they wouldn't have it anymore in a few days was enough to kill their appetites, even for their favorites. Just a few more days. Miranda's mind supplied the exact number.
“I wish we hadn't stayed.” Cassidy sat on the couch with her arms crossed, pouting.
“Cassidy, it means a lot to me that you're here.” Andy tried to talk to the girl. “You need to be here for your Mom.”
“NO!” Cassidy pointed at them. “YOU need to be here for Mom. Not me. Not us... YOU.” The girl shook her head. “After you're gone...” She stopped herself, unwilling to even think about how devastated her mother was going to be. She glared at Andy and stomped out of the room.
“This is hard on all of us, Andy.” Caroline hugged them tightly. “We love you and we are all going to miss you, but mom is going to be heartbroken. I don't even think we can help.” Releasing her hold, Caroline walked out of the room.
Andy sank to the floor, sitting with their back to the couch. They just didn't know what to do. This joining was important. They had to do it, to protect the Earth. Patricia wandered into the room and laid her head on their lap. “At least you aren't angry with me.” They weren't so sure about that statement when Patricia remained quiet.
Andrea woke, amazed that they had even been asleep in the first place. They rolled over to hold Miranda and found only cold sheets. “Wha...” Sitting up, Andrea saw Miranda sitting on the dresser chair across the room.
“That is how it will be, for me... waking alone.” Miranda stood, tying her robe together. “I don't know how it will be for you.” She spoke as she left the room, “I only know for me it will be heartbreak, every day.”
Laying back on the bed, Andrea covered their eyes and groaned. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They remembered the planets that had been destroyed and exhaled softly. This is how it had to be. They forced themself to rise from the bed and prepared for the day. There were many things to accomplish before the ceremony, before the ship left, before they were stranded, basically alone on an alien planet.
Finding a sheet of paper and a pen, Andrea wrote a quick note. Since Helen was not coming in as often now, the task of making the bed fell to them every other day. So they made the bed quickly, then left the note on the pillow Miranda used.
They had to go to the ship for a while, to supervise the last of their personal belongings being packed and taken to storage. There were also a few other things they wanted to do. It would be their last time on the ship. After this, the whole crew would be preparing for departure.
Entering the kitchen Andrea was surprised to see Helen. “Diya'bul, Helen.”
“I did not think you were coming in today.” They moved to the coffee machine, to prepare the coffee just as Miranda liked, only to find it had already been made. “Oh.”
“Mmmm...” Helen nodded. “She must have been up early. I've often come in and found it already made.” She licked her lips. “It usually meant something was on her mind.” Pausing, Helen sighed. “You know I've never liked cheaters, but right now I think it's a terrible shame that you can't be together after all this.”
“The... joining, will prevent that. The species we are trying to protect the Earth from have scanners, sensors, that will detect my presence here, but because of the joining it will also detect that my physiology is similar to twenty percent of the population. They will not attack when the numbers are that high.”
“You'll become Chinese?”
“Not exactly. But their sensors will register that I am... connected to that group.” Andy exhaled. “Earth will be spared the ravages of their attack.”
Helen nodded. “I see.” She sighed. “And all it will cost are the hearts of five beings.”
Andy looked up. “Five?”
Helen counted them off. “Miranda, Caroline, Cassidy,” she smirked, “Patricia,” her half smile went away, “...and you.”
“You will take care of them?” Andy knew that was a hopeless cause.
“I will do my best, but...” She raised her hands in a helpless gesture.
“Yes.” Andy mimicked the gesture. “I know.”
Andy knocked lightly on the door. “Miranda?” There was such a long pause they nearly knocked again, and then they heard the quiet, “Come in.”
Entering the room, Andy felt as though they should whisper. It was so... still. Miranda sat in her office chair, behind her desk as always. But the desk was painfully clear. No papers, no photographs, no sketchbook. Just the interface device sitting on the desk corner, unused, and a mug of coffee within reach but with a level of liquid inside that indicated it had been untouched. Andy thought it was probably cold. “Miranda?” Walking around the desk, Andy knelt next to Miranda's chair. “I need to go to the ship. K'te will be here momentarily to take me.”
“Just go.” Miranda didn't look at Andrea. “You're going to go anyway. Just... just go.”
“Miranda, I will be back this afternoon.” They leaned forward as they stood and kissed Miranda's forehead. “We will talk about this.”
Miranda watched as Andrea walked away from her, out of the office, and she heard the front door open and close, as Andrea walked out of her home. The thought that tomorrow Andrea would be walking down the aisle and out of her life was too much. Miranda felt like she couldn't breathe. She felt like she would never be able to breathe again.
Andy stalked down the corridors of the ship. They knew that Miranda was having a difficult time coming to terms with the ceremony tomorrow and they tried to be patient. But Miranda was so focused on her own hurt that she didn't seem to realize others were hurting as well. Even they had to be reminded that there were other people involved in this situation.
Entering the room, Andy was glad their guards had remained outside the door. All the work immediately stopped and everyone in the room stood, placing their hands on their chests with their heads bowed. Andy asked, gently. “Uphi, Lulam?” Where is, Lulam? Twenty hands pointed to a back room. Nodding, Andy walked to the indicated space. “Lulam?”
Lulam's dark eyes looked up from the garment in their small hands. “Diya'bul, 'Kosaza.” They used a laser tool to cut the thread they'd been sewing and stood to shake out the robes. “Kuyenziwa.” It is done.
Andy looked at the robe in awe and nodded. “Ungumenzi wmimangaliso. Igqibele'” You are a miracle worker. It's perfect.
“'Kosaza?” Lulam placed their hand on their chest. “Uthando Iwako lunenzala e'we?” Your love has offspring, yes?
Lulam turned to gather two more garments from the table behind them. “Ndenze ezi.” I had these made.
Andy blinked as the designs on the robes registered in her mind. “Bagqibele'” They're perfect.
Lulam smiled and ruffled their dark hair. “Amagama abo ayaziwa kuthi.” Their names are known to us.
Andy outright laughed at that. As they had told Miranda during their first meeting, Carolina and Cassandra, from their own people's myths were tricksters. “Babizwa kakuhle.” They are named well.
Sucking some air in through their teeth, Lulam grinned. “Ingxaki enkulu.” Big trouble.
Laughing at that, Andy agreed. “E'we.” and then added, “Bayifanele.” They're worth it.
“Bamele ukuba.” They must be. Lulam smiled, their dark eyes crinkling at the corners at Andy's confused expression. They expanded on the logic of their statement. “Uyabathanda.” You love them.
Andy agreed. “Ndiyavuma.” I do. They studied Lulam for a long moment then declared. “Umpathi'way, si'denge.” My parent is a fool.
Lulam shook their head. “Abekho.”
They are not.
“Bakuvumela ukua uhambe.”
They let you get away.
Laughing at that, Lulam's dark eyes twinkled with mischief. “Ndilapha.”
I am here.
Lulam shrugged. “Balapha.”
They are here.
Andy asked, “Ngaba oko kwanele?” Is that enough?
Lulam folded the garments and carefully packed them in a box for a drone to deliver. “Yenzelwe mna. Ngaba iya kuba yeyakho? It is for me. Will it be for you?
“Kwanele ngo Miranda?” Andy shook their head. “'Ngaze.”
Enough of Miranda? Never.
Clicking their tongue against their teeth, Lulam chided Andy. “Ingxaki enkulu.” Big Trouble.
Laughing at that, Andy sighed. “Ndiza kukhumbula.” I will miss you.
Lulam repeated. “Ndilapha.” I am here.
“E'we.” Andy agreed, “Kodwa andisekho.”
Yes. But I am not anymore.
Large, dark eyes studied Andy for a long moment then Lulam nodded. “Nam ndizokukhumula.”
I will miss you too.
Clearing their throat, Andy straightened, placed their hand on their chest and bowed. “'Kosi ngayo yonke into.” Thank you for everything you have done.
Lulam also placed their hand on their chest and bowed. “RhoQ.” Always. They watched as Andy walked away, the delivery drone trailing behind them and whispered, “Tzala'yam.”
“Miranda?” Andy poked their head through the open doorway of Miranda's office. The sight of Miranda at her desk the projection over the interface device showing the percentage of whatever permutation she had tried this time was extremely familiar. Eighteen point one, Andy nodded, they had seen that one before. The population of the country called India always returned it. They moved closer to the desk then circled around it to kneel next to Miranda's chair. “The meal is prepared. Will you join us?”
“The last supper?” Miranda never took her eyes off of the projection display until Andrea deactivated the device.
It was useless to even try to resist Andrea's eyes when they turned on her, and Miranda knew it. Putting her hand in Andrea's, Miranda stood and walked to the kitchen. She couldn't help but think that this would be the last time they would do this. The last time they walked from her office to the kitchen for a meal. She stopped, forcing Andrea to stop before they entered the kitchen. “Wait.” Wrapping her arms around Andrea's waist, Miranda buried her face in the curve of Andrea's neck. “I just need a minute. I don't want the girls to see me break down.”
“It's okay, S'thandwa.” Rubbing Miranda's back, Andrea soothed her as best they could.
Taking a deep breath, Miranda nodded and tried to smile at Andrea. “Okay, let's go.” They entered the kitchen to the sight of Caroline and Cassidy placing the dishes on the table. Both girls were smiling, trying to be upbeat for her and Miranda loved them a little bit more for it. “What do we have here?”
“We went old school.” Cassidy grinned as she set the serving bowl of Mushroom Risotto on the table.
“Yep.” Caroline nodded and used the serving tongs to give the salad a quick toss before setting it in its place. “And later, we're going to watch a movie.”
Andy released their hold on Miranda to pull the chair out for her. When she was settled, they draped one arm over each girls shoulder and they all looked at Miranda with pleading eyes. “We were hoping you would pop some popcorn for us...”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Well obviously,” she kept her expression neutral. “What's a movie without popcorn?” A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth when Cassidy did her trademark air pump to celebrate the success of their little manipulation.
As they ate the tension was present, but manageable and afterward they all helped tidy up the kitchen, putting the leftovers safely into storage so Patricia couldn't get them. After Cassidy declared she wanted a rematch of the game they had played on the trip to China, they all went to the sitting room and set up the game table. Andrea had brought it in a few weeks ago as a gift for the family. Cassidy was getting better with the strategy and was confident that this time she was going to win. Miranda watched Andrea and the girls interacting. Every once in a while, Andrea would look over at her and smile. Miranda didn't know how but she always managed to smile back at them. The contest became best two out of three with the last game going to Cassidy amid protests from Andrea that Cassidy had gotten help from her sister. It was such a teasing argument, full of laughter and smiles that Miranda wanted to cry just watching it, wishing it could be like this forever. She suddenly rose from her seat and headed to the kitchen.
The laughter died out and the girls looked to Andy whose eyes followed Miranda's form as she walked out of the room.
“It's okay.” They stood and winked at the girls. “Why don't you go get the movie ready?”
“Okay, Andy.” They left the room and Andy smiled at the sound of them climbing the stairs. They only faltered a moment when they realized that was probably the last time they would hear that sound. Making their way to the kitchen, they leaned against the door frame just watching Miranda for a moment as she busied herself making the popcorn. It wasn't until she tried to pour the kernels into the measuring cup and spilled them that Miranda lost it.
Slamming the package of kernels down on the counter and throwing the measuring cup across the room Miranda suddenly found herself surrounded by Andrea's long arms. “I can't do this... I can't...”
“I can't!” Miranda's eyes were filled with tears.
“S'thandwa, please.” Andy kissed Miranda's forehead, her cheeks, her closed eyes, tasting the salty tears. “We can do this, for the girls. We can watch this movie and have popcorn... and then I will take you to bed and love you for the rest of the night.”
Miranda let out a burst of sobbing laughter, throwing her arms around Andrea, pulling them close. “Is it too late to find a ship and leave?”
Andrea promised. “I will take you anywhere you want to go.” They studied Miranda's face for any sign that she was serious. “Just tell me where.”
Gently cupping Andrea's jaw in her palm, Miranda nodded. “First, I want to pop some popcorn, then I want to go upstairs and watch a movie with the girls.” Moving away from the embrace, Miranda found another measuring cup, then looked back at them. “And then I want you to take me to bed.”
Andrea took a deep breath and nodded, placing their hand on their chest and bowing. “E'we, Miranda.”
“I can't believe they fell asleep so early.” Miranda shook her head as she and Andrea entered their bedroom. They had managed to wrangle the sleepy girls into their bedrooms but both had collapsed on their beds in their comfy house clothes instead of changing into their pajamas. Between Caroline's incoherent murmurs and Cassidy's snores Miranda knew both girls would be sound asleep all night.
“It has been a tense day. The movie relaxed them, in the dark, full of popcorn...” Andrea smiled. “I'm glad they were able to sleep.”
“Yes.” Miranda fidgeted with the collar of her shirt, “Well... I'm going to remove my makeup.” She headed toward the bathroom, not seeing their nod.
Miranda stood, staring into the mirror for far longer than usual. She examined every single line, crease and imperfection until Andrea finally knocked quietly on the door.
“Miranda?” They called through the door. “Are you all right?”
“I'm fine, Darling.” Miranda responded, glaring at herself in the mirror. “I'll be right out.”
Andrea took Miranda at her word and returned to the bed, sitting on the edge. They watched the bathroom door for a few more long moments before Miranda appeared. They watched, breathless, as Miranda walked across the room toward them. She was wearing her favorite robe, soft and comfortable. When she reached for the tie to take it off, Andy stopped her. “Let me.”
Her hands dropped to her sides and Miranda allowed them to tug on the belt, letting the robe fall open to reveal a silky, spaghetti strap, nightgown. It had been Andrea's favorite since the moment they'd seen it. Miranda knew that they loved it because of the expanse of skin it allowed access to on her shoulders. They had confessed one night that their favorite thing about it was the ease with which it was removed. Slipping their fingers under the thin straps, Andrea only had to lightly push the fabric down over Miranda's breasts before the entire garment was crumpled on the floor at Miranda's feet. Their hands roamed over Miranda's naked body.
“Umhle kakhulu, S'thandwa.”
You are so beautiful my love.
Half a step forward brought Miranda between Andrea's knees. She pressed in further, wrapping her arms around Andrea's shoulders and bringing their lips together. It was so easy, so natural, to just lay Andrea back, pressing them into the soft surface below them. She felt as though she should be frantic. This was their last night together, the last time, but Miranda couldn't make herself do anything that seemed selfish. By mutual consent they were both trying to comfort the other. Somewhere along the way comfort gave way to mind-blanking ecstasy. Exactly how they wanted it. Time after time they momentarily forgot everything except each other, even tomorrow.
The early morning hours found them cuddling in their favorite position, Miranda's head on Andrea's shoulder. “Don't let me sleep.”
“S'thandwa...” Andrea sighed. “You need your sleep.”
“I don't want to waste a minute with you.” Miranda kissed the skin so near her lips.
“Sleep is not wasted, S'thandwa.” They shifted to kiss Miranda's forehead. “I love watching you sleep. I love holding you while you sleep. I love it when you wake up in my arms.” They spoke softly, rhythmically. “You should sleep, Miranda, sleep while I hold you. I won't let you go. I won't let go, Miranda.” Their dark eyes softened as Miranda's breathing evened out. They whispered, “Sweet Dreams, S'thandwa.”
Miranda became aware of things slowly. First, she was incredibly comfortable. Second, she knew without a doubt that Andrea's arms were around her. Third, she had the inescapable feeling that she was being watched. Opening one eye confirmed that feeling when dark eyes returned her gaze.
“How long have I been asleep?” Miranda groused, “I told you...”
“Not long.” Tipping their chin toward the window, Andrea smiled. “It's still early. The sun has yet to make an appearance.”
“So we still have time.” She snuggled deeper into the embrace.
“E'we, Miranda.” They kissed the top of Miranda's head. “In'tenxrul'thralQ.”
“Mmm...” Miranda remembered that one but didn't say it out loud. One indescribable moment of peace. She agreed. “E'we.”
Some time later, the sky outside the window began to shade into blue. Miranda had not fallen back to sleep, she had just stayed in Andrea's arms enjoying one moment after another. The sensation of being in the embrace was all encompassing, until something invaded her warm cocoon. “Is that coffee I smell?”
“I believe so.”
“I hate it.”
Andrea started laughing. “Miranda I don't believe that is physically possible.” They shook their head and squeezed her quickly. “Nothing can make you hate coffee!”
“If it makes me move out of this bed... I hate it.”
“S'thandwa...” Andrea shifted. “I will go get your coffee, so you can remain in bed.”
“Without you?” Miranda held on tight. “That would defeat the purpose now wouldn't it?”
“I suppose so.” Andrea sighed and spoke regretfully. “We should probably get up.”
“I know.” Miranda stayed where she was for a few more minutes and then disengaged the embrace. “Thank you, for this. For letting me sleep, for allowing me to wake up in your arms.”
Unable to speak, Andrea just nodded and watched as Miranda walked to the bathroom, grinning when Miranda looked back over her shoulder just before passing through the door.
“I am expected to be at the United Nations by noon.” They spoke quietly as the girls ate their breakfasts and Miranda leaned back against the counter as she sipped her coffee. “They will have the Delegate's Dining Room set up for the human ceremony to begin... at two. The joining will be after that.” They knew that Miranda did not intend on staying for the ceremony, but Andrea wanted her to be there. It was selfish, and cruel, and basically torture for Miranda but Andrea couldn't help it; they needed Miranda there. “I would like... will you...” Andy sighed. “I would like it if you were there... all of you.”
Cassidy looked up from her cereal, her mouth full of spoon and cereal. “Us?”
Andy disregarded the no talking with your mouth full rule, choosing to merely answer Cassidy's question. “E'we.”
“We don't have anything to wear.” Caroline knew that despite their feelings about it, this was the social event of the year, maybe the decade. Anyone going would need to be dressed appropriately.
“There are gifts for you, on your beds. If you... and Miranda, agree.” Andrea turned their dark eyes to Miranda, and the girls turned their own charms on their mother.
“I don't have anything appropriate to wear either.” Miranda sipped her coffee to clear the lump in her throat. “I was not planning on staying.”
Andrea studied Miranda for a moment but still felt this decision was correct. “There is also a gift for you, S'thandwa, on our bed.”
Very calmly Miranda set her mug on the counter behind her. “I believe you have misspoken, Andrea.” Cold fury rolled through her. “I believe you meant to say that there is a gift on MY bed.”
Bowing their head, Andrea spoke a word they didn't want to say. “E'we.”
Miranda looked at her children. “Are you finished with your breakfasts?” When they nodded, she waved them away. “Well then it's best you go see what Andrea has given you. Off you pop.” She took their cereal bowls to the sink to rinse while the sound of her children thundering up the stairs rang in her ears.
“Thank you, Miranda.” Andrea jumped when the bowls slammed into the sink, shattering them both. “Miranda are you hurt?” They moved to check for injuries when Miranda stepped away.
“Don't touch me.” Miranda held her hands out to fend off any motion toward her. “I'm fine.”
“I can't...” Miranda took another step away. “Not right now, please.” The girls voices drifted down the stairs.
“Mom! You have to see these!”
Miranda turned away from Andrea to go to her children. She did not look back.
The girls found Andy in the sitting room. They crowded into both sides of them on the couch and hugged them. “The robes are great! Thank you!”
“Yeah!” Cassidy asked. “Where'd you get them?”
“The being who has always made all my garments had them made for you. They put the garments together and requested another being do the embroidery.” They thought of Lulam and smiled. “The designs on them are of our mythical goddesses Carolina and Cassandra.”
“Ohhh.. neat.” Caroline laughed. “Why haven't we heard that story?”
“You can look it up on the Interface if you want.”
“Cool!” Both girls stood and Caroline left to go to Miranda's home office, but Cassidy spoke before she followed her sister. “You should go check on Mom.”
Andy nodded. “I will.”
They did take their time going upstairs and hesitated outside... Miranda's bedroom. They knocked lightly and pushed the door open slowly. “Miranda?” They saw Miranda standing next to the bed, looking at the ceremonial robes they had laid out for her. Taking the chance, Andrea stepped up behind Miranda, wrapping their arms around her waist. They swallowed hard when Miranda did not push them away.
“The girls robes are beautiful, Andrea.” Miranda continued to look at the garment in front of her. “This one is... perfect.” She relaxed back into Andrea's embrace. “If you had people on your ship that could do this... you did not need me at all.”
“I will always need you, Miranda.” Andrea leaned down to rest their chin on Miranda's shoulder and spoke. “Remember I told you about the being that my parent was enamored with? They are the one that made this garment. They are amazing with sewing and embroidery, but they do not create anything. This is a traditional design for our ceremonial robes. I know you have seen it during our search. They can only copy and recreate. They don't have your brilliance when it comes to merging the cultures together as you have done with my garment.” They spoke with reverence. “Lulam is amazing, but you are better.”
“The one your parent...”
“Yes.” Andrea confirmed Miranda's thought. “They are the one who I am somewhat patterned after. They also have long dark hair and large, dark eyes. They also have smaller proportions than the others.”
“Your other parent...” Miranda couldn't put it any other way in her head. “Made this for me?”
“I only have one parent.” Andrea corrected Miranda, “but yes. They are the best we have, and I asked them to.”
Miranda still gazed at the design wrapping itself around the garment. The tip of the tail at the bottom hem with the main body covering most of the back and the head draping over the left shoulder. “So the dragon theme was your idea.”
“It seemed appropriate.”
“It is.” Miranda nodded. “Today more than ever. I'm just glad they didn't use the Chinese dragon image. These more English types are my favorite.”
Leaning in, Andrea whispered in Miranda's ear. “I know. Plus I believe the blue of the dragons scales will enhance the color of your eyes.” They kissed Miranda's ear then moved away. “I think the girls are in your office. They wanted to use the interface to look up the Carolina and Cassandra myths.”
“That's fine.” Miranda nodded. “However, we should probably start getting ready.” Her voice caught. “We only have a few hours before...”
“K'te will be here with our transport at eleven forty-five.”
Miranda took a deep breath and nodded but didn't say anything. In her mind the countdown that had been measured in days became much closer.
They were all in Miranda's office watching the projection about the mythical duo when Andrea sighed and stood. “I suppose I should go get dressed now.”
“You shouldn't wear your ceremonial robes to the venue.” Cassidy advised. “You should take the one for the ceremony with you and change into it when you get there.”
“Should I just put on my normal ones? The ones I wore when I first met you?”
“No.” Miranda shook her head. “You can wear one of the other designs we passed over when choosing your final outfit.” She waved her hand at the staircase. “They're in our bedroom closet. Pick any of them. They're plain since I didn't do the final embroidery on them, but you look wonderful in any of them.”
Miranda was fully aware that she had just used the word 'our' to describe the closet. It was reflexive, but also true. It didn't matter if Andrea was there or not, Miranda knew the bedroom, the closet, the house itself would always be theirs, hers and Andrea's. It just hurt too much to think of it any other way.
Nodding, Andrea left to do as Miranda instructed. They watched the display for a while longer, learning far more than they ever thought they wanted to know about Andrea's people's mythical Gods.
“Are you finished messing with that thing?” Miranda was not happy with the interface device even though it wasn't the machine's fault that they couldn't find a solution to this horrid situation. “I want to take it with us. I don't know if we'll need to return it or who to return it to.” It was a handy thing to have, but she was fairly certain they would not be allowed to keep it when the ship departed.
“Yeah.” “I guess.”
“Okay. It's nearly time to go anyway.” She kissed them both on the head. “Best go get dressed then and double check that you have everything you need.” She gave them both tiny pats between their shoulder blades. “Off you pop.”
“Sure, Mom.” Cassidy left the office
“You need to get dressed too, but it won't take long for us, Mom. The robes are really easy to put on.” Caroline left as well.
“Yes.” Miranda was drawn to the device and asked about several other groups, again frustrated when they all returned a percentage far below the nineteen point eight she was trying to beat. Deactivating the infernal thing she stuffed it in her bag and went upstairs to dress. She had decided that she too would wear 'normal' clothing and take her new robes with them to change at the venue. A delivery drone was waiting in the foyer to take the garments needed to the venue. The countdown again shifted measurements from hours to minutes.
As much as Miranda hated it when Cassidy bellowed through the house, she knew she was going to miss that particular announcement. K'te was, of course, exactly on time. Damn them. Miranda sighed. No traffic jams in the air she supposed.
They walked out of the house through the sea of reporters, although what they expected to see is anyone's guess. Miranda and the girls had not gone anywhere without their security drones overhead ever since the piano recital. Now there were four drones projecting security fields around them as they walked from the house to the ship. It would take them directly to the United Nations. They all took their seats as the ship's door closed. K'te glanced back to make sure everyone was seated, then the ship's security field snapped on and they took off. The blue tinge faded quickly as they skimmed over the top of New York. Sooner than they thought, K'te was maneuvering into position to let them walk down the ramp to the roof. There wasn't a helicopter pad, but there was a roof access door near where they landed. It was a much more secure way of getting to the venue which made Kael happy, as happy as a grumpy security guard could get anyway.
Naturally guards were waiting for them when they arrived and K'te piloted the ship away quickly once everyone was safely on the roof.
When they arrived in the large room that was to be utilized for the ceremonies, Miranda was not surprised by the number of industrious beings making things ready. What did shock her was when Andrea and their party entered the room all tasks ceased and every being stood with their hands on their chests and their eyes directed toward the floor. A glance at Andrea showed that they were touched by the gesture but not surprised. Miranda's heart swelled with pride at the inherent kindness Andrea exhibited when they put their hand to their chest and spoke.
“'Kosi lonke.” Andrea looked around the room and smiled as the beings looked up at them “Ndiayibulela imizamo yakho.”
Thank you all. I appreciate your efforts.
Almost simultaneously every being in the room bowed and spoke. “Wamkeleki, 'Kosaza.”
You're welcome, your Majesty.
Andrea glanced at Miranda who had a soft smile on her face and the girls who were grinning. They rolled their eyes. “Follow me. There is a room we may use to wait.”
The room Andrea led them to already had a few occupants who also stopped and bowed when Andrea entered. All except one. To this one, it was Andrea who bowed. “Umpathi'way, ulapha?”
My parent, you are here?
The Ambassador looked around the room and spoke firmly, loud enough for everyone to hear them. “Sishiye.” Leave us.
The room emptied quickly. The Ambassador smiled when Miranda nor her offspring made any move to obey their command. They looked at their own offspring and answered their previous question. “Is there somewhere else I should be?”
“No.” Andrea's eyes softened. “I just did not think to see you so far ahead of the ceremony.”
They reached out but did not touch the robes Caroline and Cassidy were wearing. Their eyes questioned Andrea.
Andrea nodded. “Lulam made them.” Their lips twitched. “You should talk to them.”
Shaking their head, The Ambassador declined. “There is nothing to say.”
“I think there is.” Andrea shrugged. “But they are there, and you are there.”
“Mmm...” They shook off that possibility and proceeded to tell Andrea what they wanted them to know. They looked at their offspring and exhaled. “The person you are joining is terrible.”
“Damn right.” Miranda murmured.
The only indication they had heard Miranda was a glance in her direction. Their words did not falter. “I regret not looking harder to find a replacement. I am sorry.” They gestured to the room and the building beyond. “The reason I am here now is that Kael, in their zeal to take all our technology with us when we leave, has discovered several listening devices. I have had to refuse their offer of stepping away from their post for the oversight.”
“Listening devices, in your office?” Andrea shook their head. “How is that possible?” They knew that their parent's office was scanned repeatedly and often for such things.
“They were not actually in my office, but were positioned so that discussions occurring in my office and other various places in the building could be monitored.” The Ambassador made a gesture of helplessness. “They had apparently been in place for some time, even before our arrival.”
“These devices.” Miranda spoke, not caring that she was interrupting the ruler of the known universe. “They trace back to the electronic companies owned by...” she couldn't bring herself to say the man's name, “...the person Andrea is to join today.”
Answering was not necessary, since Miranda had not asked a question she had stated a fact. They answered anyway. “They do.”
“Once that information is made public those companies will crash and burn.” Miranda shook her head. “One of the criteria for the joining was that the man could take care of Andrea... when his companies fail, he will no longer be able to do that.”
“Then it cannot become public knowledge.”
“No.” Andrea stepped in. “No. I will not have something like this hidden. Not just for my comfort.”
“I will care for you,” Miranda said. “Joined with him or not, I will make sure you are safe and comfortable in whatever dwelling you want.”
Andrea turned to face Miranda. “You would do that, S'thandwa?”
Caroline's voice broke the silence. “Can I ask a question?”
Andy tilted their head, a little surprised. It was normally Cassidy who asked questions. “What is it, Caroline?”
“Well, the whole point of this... joining thing... is that Andy is supposed to be connected to the largest group on the planet. Right?”
The Ambassador answered, “That is the purpose. Yes.”
“Well... um... what happens if that group stops being the biggest?” Caroline shrugged. “Like... some natural disaster, or disease or something makes their group smaller and another group bigger?” She glanced at Cassidy who nodded encouragingly. “We were using the interface the other night and noticed that the numbers for Chinese and Indian, people from India, are very close. So what if something happens where Indian people get a higher percentage, but Andy is still... connected to the Chinese people?”
“It won't happen.” The Ambassador assured the girl. “All the projections say that the Chinese group will always have a slight edge in population percentage.”
Cassidy now spoke up. “What if your projections are wrong? There isn't that much difference. The margin of error is higher the further out it projects.”
“It is not the ideal solution.” The Ambassador admitted. “But this is the only way we know of to ensure this planet's protection. Most of the time numbers over fifty percent are best, then even if there is a slight difference and another group is slightly lower, such large numbers will keep the others away. You are so diverse. Nearly twenty percent will have to do.” They glanced at their bracelet and nodded. “I need to take care of some issues before the ceremony.”
“Of course.” Andrea bowed. “Thank you for informing me of the situation.”
“You needed to know.” Their bracelet beeped again. “I must go.”
Andrea grinned. “Ukuba ngumbntu omdal' kuhla' kungamav.”
Being an adult is always an experience.
Rolling their eyes at that, The Ambassador recalled saying those exact words to Andrea and copied their response as they walked away. “Rho'Q” Always.
After The Ambassador left some of the other people returned including Jes'aQ. “'Kosaza, is there anything I can do to help?” They reminded the group, “It is almost time.”
“Where is the delivery drone?” Andy looked around. “I will need my robes soon.”
Miranda spoke. “I understand that the security chief, Kael?, is gathering your technology to return to the ship.” She indicated her bag. “I have an interface device they will probably want. Will you inform them?”
Jes'aQ nodded. “E'we, Miranda.” They turned to Andrea. “I'll find out where the delivery went, right away.” They left quickly to complete the task.
“Hmmm...” Miranda watched the translator leaving. “It's such a shame they'll be leaving soon.”
She grinned at the other three and winked at Caroline. “They would make a perfect Emily.”
Cassidy laughed. “Hide the space cheese.”
Andrea had not been around Emily enough to know the woman's crazy diet but the Priestlys were all familiar with it and laughed at the joke. It didn't matter that they didn't get it. The three people who meant most to them did. They were glad to see that they were still able to laugh. Andy checked the time. Now they were counting to the ceremony itself and not the arrival at the venue the units of measurement went back to hours. Even though it was barely more than one.
One hour and thirty-five minutes.
Things began to speed up as the ceremony got closer. Jes'aQ found the delivery drone at the roof access door, waiting patiently to be let in. And Kael had come to meet Miranda and personally take possession of the only fully functional interface device on the planet. They wanted to reduce its functionality immediately but that needed to be done from the main controls on the ship with their personal authorization. Andrea had gotten dressed and Miranda spent several minutes just looking at them. The girls shook her out of her reverie, telling her it was time for her to get dressed too. Miranda wasn't worried about that. As the girls had said before the robes went on very quickly. But time had slipped away, and the girls had left to find their seats while Andrea moved to the starting point of her walk to the altar. Miranda was alone in the room and had just unbuttoned her jacket when an odd sound reached her ears. It took a second to register that her phone was ringing. No one from Runway would be calling her right now. They all knew better. She picked up the phone and connected the call. Before she could say anything Roger's voice was practically yelling at her.
“HOW DID YOU KNOW?!”
Taking the phone away from her ear, Miranda looked at it, before bringing it back to her head. “Excuse me?”
“How did you know, Miranda? How? Every news outlet is talking about the listening devices found at the U.N. Those stocks have tanked... everyone is losing their ass... everyone except you.” Roger was almost crazed and Miranda could hear chaos in the background. “How did you know!”
Miranda realized that one or more of the reporters skulking around for the story about the wedding must have stumbled on the juicy information regarding the listening devices and broken the news. She couldn't say she was terribly upset to hear about the stock crash.
“Roger, the only thing I 'knew' was that I hate the man. He is marrying the love of my life in..” she checked the time, “ten minutes. I didn't and I don't want anything to do with him. Would you support a man who was marrying the love of your life?”
Scoffing at that Roger sounded amused. “Probably, if it meant this much money. But then... I'm a guy.”
Miranda felt the air escape her lungs in one large whoosh and the world began crashing in on her. She knew the blood had drained from her face and she was lucky a chair was nearby that she could collapse into because her knees absolutely did not work at that moment. The call had been disconnected, but Miranda's brain was too busy to think about that, as a million things flashed through her head not the least of which were several of Cassidy's feminist rants. Cassidy! Miranda latched on to that thought and hit her bracelet. “Cassidy! Where is the interface device?”
“Mom? You gave it to Kael, remember?”
“Oh... God...” Miranda was shaking. “I need to speak to The Ambassador, do you see them?”
Caroline hopped into the conversation. “They aren't in their seat yet...Mom... what's going on?”
“Oh... girls!... HOPE!” She laughed. “Wish me luck!”
Miranda was practically running out of the room. She found the wedding party gathered. Andrea looking beautiful and The Ambassador who was going to comply with the 'tradition' of walking their offspring down the aisle where...he, was waiting. Her crazy, rapid, stride toward The Ambassador caused the guards to step forward, impeding her advance. “Move out of my way! I have to speak to The Ambassador!”
“S'thandwa...” Andrea moved forward only to be stopped by Miranda.
“Don't start...” She turned trying to see The Ambassador. “This is a mistake," She spoke frantically. "You're making a mistake.” She pleaded. “Five minutes... that's all I'm asking.”
Tapping the guards on the shoulder, The Ambassador spoke. “Let her through.” They gestured back toward the empty room Miranda had just come from. “You have five minutes.” They ordered the guards and all those present, “Do not begin the ceremony until I return.”
The door had barely closed behind them when The Ambassador spoke. “What is this all about, Miranda?”
“There is a larger group.” Miranda paced as she spoke. “I'm just not sure...” Shaking her head she turned to them. “I need my interface device back to check.”
They shook their head. “There isn't a fully functional interface device on the planet.”
“There is... mine is... Andrea...they made Kael take the limits off. Kael has it now. I need it back, just to check... they can stand here the entire time while I do it, if they want... Please! For A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ!”
For what felt like an eternity The Ambassador studied her and then tapped their bracelet. “Kael, yiza apha.” Then they added, “ngoku!” Kael come here, now!
Miranda paced while they waited for Kael to arrive. “How do we know Kael will bring the interface?”
The Ambassador chuckled. “If it is an interface with full functionality they won't let it out of their sight until it's back on the ship.”
Not thirty seconds later Kael arrived, with the interface device. Miranda dashed toward them only to be stopped by The Ambassador. “Don't rush at them like that. You are likely to get hurt.” They addressed Kael. “We need to use the interface device. I'm told it has full functionality.”
Lowering their eyes to the floor, Kael nodded. “E'we.” They started to explain. 'Kosaza...”
“Ha!” The Ambassador's outburst made both Kael and Miranda jump. They clapped their hands together and pointed at Kael. “I knew you were pretending not speak or understand their language.” They held out their hand for the device. “I'm sure A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ insisted that I was not to be informed of this breach of protocol.” They waved off any response to that and handed over the device to Miranda. “Show me this larger group.”
Miranda fumbled with the controls. Her hands were shaking so badly but when she was finished her hands flew to her mouth to stop the joyous sob. “You see...” Miranda felt as though she could breathe again. “Andrea joining... him, would be a mistake.”
The Ambassador looked at the projected result spinning slowly over the device. Turning to Kael The Ambassador spoke in their own language quickly issuing several orders that Kael was more than happy to comply with. The security chief left to carry out their orders and The Ambassador reached out to hold Miranda's shoulder, shaking it slightly. “You have robes...” They nodded when she did. “Get dressed. There will be a guard outside to escort you to your place.”
Miranda had never gotten undressed and dressed so quickly in her life. The guard didn't speak but Miranda didn't expect them to as she followed them into the venue. She may as well have been floating, and later when she saw video and pictures of the moment, they floored her. Because as serene as she looked in them, she knew in the moment, she was equal parts ecstatic and terrified. She called the girls from their seats to stand beside her and was only able to whisper a quick couple of words in Cassidy's ear that made the girl squeal and do a little fist pump before passing on the message to her sister. All three Priestly women were beaming when the music started and The Ambassador walked Andrea toward them.
When Andrea saw who was standing at the end of their walk they were confused. “Umpathi'way?”
They patted their offspring's hand and nodded. “She was right. It was a mistake.” They tilted their head toward Miranda. “This is right.”
In a daze Andrea reached out and took Miranda's hands in theirs. “S'thandwa?” They shook their head. “I don't understand.”
“You were looking for the largest group on the planet. So you looked and found the Chinese were the largest ethnicity.”
“But they aren't the largest group, Andrea. You missed it for the same reason your parent is called The Ambassador instead of their true title. You never even thought to look at genders.” Miranda grinned at the little excited sound Cassidy made. “Females, Andrea... females make up fifty one point eight percent of the human population.” That had been the longest few seconds of her life, waiting for the interface device to return the percentage. If it had shown that women had a smaller percentage than men, all would have been lost.
“Miranda.” Andrea blinked trying to wrap their mind around this sudden turn of events. “You are female.”
“I am indeed.” Miranda asked. “Would you do me the honor of being my spouse?”
“Your...” Andrea let out an exclamation of happiness and stepped forward wrapping their arms around Miranda's waist and picking her up, twirling her around. “Yes!” Keeping their hold, Andrea kissed Miranda soundly. “Oh yes.” A throat clearing caught their attention and Andrea turned toward the officiant. The human female officiant.
“That normally comes at the end of the ceremony...”
The girls giggled and Andrea looked sheepish. “Uxolo...” She translated for the human officiant. “Sorry.”
“Oh I think we can overlook a small break in protocol...” She smiled and nodded. “Let's begin, shall we?” Looking out over the crowd, she began to speak. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join these two people in matrimony....”
“Cassidy Ann!” Miranda chided. “You are far too old to be bellowing through my house!”
“Awww.. C'mon, Mom. I gotta teach the munchkins.” Cassidy pointed her thumb toward two bright-eyed, red-haired girls. “Caroline won't do it.”
“Cass are you corrupting my children, again?”
“Mommy!” The girls jumped up and ran to Caroline. “Auntie Cass was showing us how to watch for cars!” They grinned and bellowed. “CAR'S HERE!”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Thanks a lot, sis.” She tapped each of her children on the nose. “Just remember that Mimi doesn't like bellowing in her house. So use your inside voices when you're here.”
The twins frowned and spoke simultaneously, “'Uxolo, Mimi.” Sorry, Mimi.
Miranda chuckled. “Uxole'we.” You are forgiven.
The door opened and Andrea walked in, shedding their outer robes almost immediately. They had hung them on the hook inside the closet door before they realized there were more people than usual in the townhouse. “What's going on?”
“We have guests.” Miranda smiled and stepped aside as the little ones jumped on Andrea.
“Umzali Andy!” The girls started giving them kisses on their cheeks and Andy returned the favor.
Andy laughed at the name the munchkins had given them. Umzali was the beginning of the phrase meaning parent of my parent. They supposed their tongues were still not long enough to pronounce the whole thing. “What are you munchkins up to today?”
Caroline laughed. “We are going to the museum and thought we'd stop in for a minute.”
Cassidy grinned as she walked up to Andy and hugged them. “I'm just along to cause trouble.”
“It's nice to see you here.” Andy reached up and ruffled Cassidy's hair. “Your hair is turning white.”
Shrugging, Cassidy laughed. “Well that's what happens when you get older... not that you or mom would know.” Andy looked the same as they always had, and Miranda hadn't aged a day since the Joining.
“So all's well at the United Nations I take it?” Cassidy did still dabble in politics but after the first female president had been elected she'd pretty much gone off the grid. Now she tended to stay on her little farm in upstate New York. It was a lovely place to visit and Miranda and Andy went as often as they could.
“Things are as well as they can be.” Andrea smiled. “Will you all share a meal with us?”
One of the munchkins piped up. “Little roll things?”
Dark eyes filled with mischief and glanced at Miranda. “E'we. I think I can manage that.”
“Yes!” Both the little ones gave air fist pumps imitating their Aunt Cassidy with terrifying accuracy.
Andy laughed at the antics and gestured to the kitchen. They weren't exactly the same as the ones they had gotten from the ship, but over the years Andrea had managed to master the food preparation devices here and had found some adequate substitutes for their favorite dish's ingredients. “C'mon.. I think there are some in the fridge now.”
“Yay!!” The children raced Andrea to the kitchen.
Miranda shifted to her favorite position snuggled up against Andrea's body. “You're amazing.”
“You always say that.”
“Mmm... it's always true.” Miranda sighed. “It was nice seeing the girls today.” She laughed. “And the munchkins.”
“E'we.” Andy smiled. They had news, but had kept it to themself all day wanting Miranda to be the first person told. It had been a shock for Andy to find out, they had not been expecting it. Not really. Of course, it was inevitable. Maybe they should have shared while the girls were here.
“Andrea?” Miranda waited for those dark eyes to focus on her. “Uye wayephi?”
Where did you go?
“Just thinking.” They smiled as Miranda's roaming hand skimmed over a spot on their abdomen, then repeated the caress.
“Andrea?” Miranda propped herself up on one elbow to get a better look at the area in question as she ran her hand over it again. “Are you okay? You have a lump. Do you need to see a doctor? Should I get the Med Drone from the kitchen?”
“No, Miranda.” Andy assured her. “I'll be fine.”
“A'annndrr'ax'ahhQ, you tell me the truth!” Miranda was worried until they began to laugh.
“S'thandwa, I promise you.” They kissed Miranda, getting lost in the sensation for a long moment before explaining more. “It is going to be big trouble I'm sure, but not the way you think.” Andy smiled. “I'm just budding.”
“Budding...” Miranda's eyes widened. “You mean...”
Andy nodded. “E'we.” They placed their hand just over the tiny lump that Miranda had noticed. “I'm going to have an offspring.”
“Oh.” Miranda's eyes became misty. “Oh, my god...” The smile on her face widened as she understood what Andrea was saying. It was miraculous news and she leaned down to kiss the little bump and whisper.
“I can't wait to meet you.”
Author Notes: I played with the percentages a little, just to make the story work but they aren't too far off, I don't think. :)
I got a comment/review about the language used by Andy's people. They said it reminded them of the language the African tribe used in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and wondered if there was a correlation between the two. I'm not sure what language it was in the movie but I based most of the written form of the language Andy's people use on Xhosa. Although, the Xhosa language has three clicks and Andy's people's has five. Written it looks very similar to Xhosa, (there are some slight differences at times) but spoken it is quite different. A Xhosa speaker would not recognize the words when a person from Andy's people spoke. The two extra click sounds make it too different. One of the extra sounds can be learned, but the other can't be made by humans, so there are some words humans will never be able to say correctly.