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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 1: An Unscheduled Landing | Chapter 3

Mirawynd has not yet shed enough of their soft silver kitten-fur to enjoy being made to take baths. They like water well enough while they’re in it, as long as it’s clean-smelling and suitably warm. They’re even something of a good swimmer. All the same, they never like being put into the water and they rarely appreciate having to get back out of it.

Being wet after having been bathed is the worst part, in their mind, because it usually leads to being cold, which Mirawynd thoroughly dislikes. They do still have to submit to the soggy indignity of it, of course, whenever their human determines that they’ve gotten themself too dirty to simply be brushed and left to their own methods to clean themself. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen more than once most weeks. Mirawynd is a rather tidy creature by nature; they’re fully capable of keeping their fur clean, neatly arranged, and free of unpleasant odors.

Their human, by contrast, has yet to learn how to keep his hair from sticking up at odd angles even with Mirawynd around to help him. He seems to be having a bit more luck with his face-fur, at least, now that he’s decided to let that grow.

Mirawynd usually allows their human to bathe them only after a long game of “steal the sponge and scamper around the lavatory at high speed evading capture.” There have been occasions, though, where they’ve found their well-groomed fur tainted with annoyingly sticky or foul-smelling substances for one reason or another after one of their adventures and brought the sponge to him outright to request assistance.

Declared baths have a set procedure, once Mirawynd allows themself to be caught and put into the water: they let their human hold them under a stream of warm water and get their fur all soggy; their human does the work of gently scrubbing all of the grime out of their fur with the sponge and sweet citrus-smelling soap; they wriggle around in his hands while he rinses out all of the soap; they swim around in the nice hot water in the “rinse bath” for a while until it starts to be cold or their human loses interest in playing “fetch the water toys” with them; they swim around some more while their human tries to catch their wet and slippery self to get them out of the water; he catches them; they shake off most of the water onto him; he helps them dry off with a soft towel and the quieter sort of warm-air-blowing device.

The undeclared bath Mirawynd took today is perhaps the worst they’ve ever had. The water was cold, it smelled icky, and they found themself in it too abruptly to remember how to swim. On top of that, according to their human and Abi, there had been something in the water which would have possibly eaten them.

Their human had come just in time to rescue them. He always does, even though it’s supposed to be Mirawynd’s job to protect him. He usually needs more protecting than they do, anyway. It’s no wonder their parent was so insistent that they stay with him and keep him safe. Mirawynd isn’t entirely sure how he ever managed before they became his guardian.

While Abi had been able to help Mirawynd dry off, mostly, and the place where they are is warm enough that their remaining dampness isn’t making them feel chilled, they were still put off enough by the whole experience to dive back into the warmth and comfort of their human’s jacket just as soon as they could. His jacket pockets have been Mirawynd’shome for almost as long as they can remember. They only have small dim memories of a time when they didn’t have their human to snuggle with and protect.

When Mirawynd wakes from their nap some hours later, they immediately find that they still smell like the weird pond water. They’re none too pleased by this and quickly come to the conclusion that they’ll have to give in and request to be bathed properly once they’re back home where the sponge and the citrus-soap and the water toys are. They much prefer that smell to the one they’re wearing now.

Mirawynd emerges from the jacket with a small yawn and climbs back up to their usual perch on their human’s shoulder. They find that while they were sleeping, he and Abi have moved to a different room in the jungle maze. This one is a big workshop-looking place underneath all of the plants. Mirawynd can even smell some faint traces of the shimmery non-conductive grease their friend Rudy uses to keep metal things that are supposed to be able to move from getting stuck in place.

Mirawynd brushes their cheek against their human’s briefly to let him know that they’re awake, since he seems too distracted by the large over-ripe orange fruit he’s trying to free his foot from to greet them like he normally does when they first emerge from his jacket after a nap. They seem to have awakened at precisely the right time to witness him half-hopping and holding onto a nearby workbench to try and shake the thing off.

They look over to Abi with a questioning squeak. She seems to be holding back giggles.

“Did all his carrying on wake you up, sweetheart?” Abi asks, holding her arm out to them.

Mirawynd makes a noncommittal trilling sound and leaps to her arm. They much prefer their human’s shoulder to anyone else’s, but not when he’s being such a comically unsteady perch. They climb up to Abi’s shoulder and look back to their human.

“I wouldn’t call it carrying on,” he says, finally managing to pull his boot free of the offending fruit. The massive orange thing falls to the ground with a heavy splut and splits into several large fragments, revealing that its insides were originally hollow and full of slimy stringy stuff and seeds.

Mirawynd is intrigued, but doesn’t investigate. The not-quite-moldy and almost-rotten smells wafting up from it are enough to make them not want to get closer. They have enough of a weird smell clinging to their fur as it is.

“Well, try to watch where you’re walking from now on, Sarge—if you trip in here, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find you under all of these pumpkin vines.” Abi gives Mirawynd’s ears a gentle scratch and shakes her head at their human. She’s not doing well at keeping herself from laughing at his silliness.

“I was watching where I was going,” their human says with a good-humored huff. He uses one of the large bristly leaves to wipe the rest of the fruit mess off of his boot. “You have to admit this whole ‘indoor jungle’ thing is starting to get ridiculous, Major. You said this was supposed to be a mechanic’s workshop—why in the stars would there be pumpkinsplanted in here?”

“No idea why, Sarge. To be fair, it’s not all pumpkins. I think that mess on the far walls are some kind of cucumber.”

Mirawynd looks over in the direction she’s pointing. The curtain of smaller, tangled vines cascading down from the walls is covered in long, narrow green fruits almost as big as themself.

“Cucumbers, kumquats, whatever.” Their human takes a step forward, and only narrowly catches himself from tripping in the thick vines criss-crossing the floor. “It’s all plants in the end, and there’s too many of them.”

“Well, at least there’s plenty of fresh oxygen here thanks to this mess—and food, in the event things go horribly wrong today and we get stranded here for a while.” Abi shakes her head at him again and begins carefully picking her way over towards one of the vine-covered walls.

“Must you tempt fate like that, Major?”

“It’s not tempting fate if we’re prepared for it!” Abi laughs, then pauses to consider the wall in front of her carefully. After a moment, she looks back to Mirawynd’s human. “I’ll admit, though, Sarge, it baffles me a bit too that there’s been hydroponic equipment set up in this workshop at all. I certainly don’t see a reason for it—high humidity and water and electronics are hardly a good mix.”

“You’re sure you remembered right which of these rooms was the maintenance tech’s workshop?” He comes over to join her at the wall, carefully avoiding the rest of the large overripe fruits and vines on the grounds.

“I know this is it. I spent the better part of my childhood sitting in here listening to Dad and Heb talking tech and shuttles.” Abi clucks her tongue. “Heb would have a fit if they were here to see what’s become of the place.”

“Heb?” Mirawynd’s human raises an eyebrow.

“Senior spacecraft maintenance technician Hebron—I’ve told you about them, Sarge. They’re the one who taught me everything I know about modding flight gear. Even more of a prickly sort than Rudy is, if you can believe that. I still haven’t met anyone who was a bigger stickler for neatness in the workspace.”

“Now, if that’s not a terrifying image, Major…” He shakes his head, stifling a laugh. “I don’t get how someone like that would have let things get planted here at all—or why anyone bothered to plant things before they evacuated.”

“No idea on that front, Sarge.” She gestures at the cabinets hiding behind the curtain of vines on the wall. “Let’s just see if they left some parts for us and worry about the rest later.”

Mirawynd takes this opportunity to hop down off her shoulder so they can explore the room while the humans are busy cutting vines with the marvelous shiny thing they’d borrowed from Rudy this morning.

“Hey, now! Wyndi, try not to go too far!” calls their human. “Stay in this room. You hear me?”

Mirawynd pops back up out of the vines and waves to him with both of their left hands. “Wyndi stay!”



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