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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 1: An Unscheduled Landing | Chapter 4



Some time later, Mirawynd is investigating the underneath of a table near the room’s open doorway. The table is covered in the same sort of bristly vines and big leaves that the orange fruits have grown from. The vines have formed a nice sort of cave out of the underside of the table, too. Underneath all of the vines on the floor of the table-cave, Mirawynd finds a forgotten and partially-buried shiny thing. It’s the slim-handled tool sort of shiny thing, like the ones their friend Rudy carries in his vest pockets.

Mirawynd likes shiny things, particularly ones like their friend’s. Since no one seems to be around that this one belongs to, they assume no one will mind if the shiny thing becomes theirs.

It takes a while, but soon they’ve freed their new favorite shiny thing from the vines. Normally, Mirawynd would take it back to their nest or one of their other shiny-stashing places. At the moment, however, the nest they share with their human is somewhere far away and the shiny-stashing place in his darter isn’t an option either because they promised to stay in the room.

Instead, Mirawynd decides that they’ll take their new shiny thing to show him and Abi. Both of them have all sorts of nice pockets for stashing shiny things in. If they put their shiny thing in his pocket for safekeeping, they can take it back to put in their nest when the adventure is over. This thought pleases Mirawynd. They wave their tail excitedly. They can show Rudy their shiny thing too, when they all get home, and then he’ll tell them what its name is.

As Mirawynd starts to slip back out from the vine cave carrying their treasure, they see a pair of legs come to stand beside the table. The legs don’t belong to their human, though, or to Abi—the pants aren’t the right sort of pocket-covered ivory color, for one thing, and the feet are wearing the wrong kind of shoes.

They poke their head out and take a better look at the person. Mirawynd is a bit perplexed by what they see. The person ishuman, as far as Mirawynd can tell from the shape and the sounds they make, but the fabric of the clothes and face-covering hood they’re wearing makes their whole body shimmer and try to blend in with the plants and the rest of the room. Still, though, Mirawynd’s three keen golden eyes can see the new human distinctly. They can even make out a little bit of the face hiding underneath the hood.

Mirawynd looks over to where their human and Abi are still trying to get into all of the cabinets on the wall. They have the distinct impression that neither one has noticed the new human entering. The new human, in turn, seems to be standing very still and watching the two of them.

Since the new human isn’t paying any attention to Mirawynd themself, they slip out of their vine cave and come a little closer to the back of the new human’s legs. A cautious sniff of the new human’s ankles tells them that underneath the shimmery clothes, the new human smells like flowers and greenness along with the usual ‘human smell’—and a bit like Abi and Monica-the-Navigator, their Entile Indigo’s human, too. Mirawynd likes the smell, and they can almost smell something else in it that’s familiar, but they’d have to get closer to know for sure.

Mirawynd knows it’s not polite to scamper up to the shoulder of a person they’ve not been introduced to yet, even if they have a good impression that the person is friendly. Their human has made it very clear recently that Mirawynd is supposed to ask him first if they can cuddle with people from outside their family, or ride on their shoulders, or inspect their pockets, or borrow their shiny things, before they try do any of those things. They’re not quite sure why he wants them to do this, since their instincts for knowing whether a person is a potential friend or not are far better than his. All the same, they do recognize that they’re supposed to listen to their human.

Mirawynd decides, then, that they should let their human know that there’s another person here so they can be introduced—and then they can inspect the new human and see if there are any pockets in the shimmery outfit worth their interest!

With their new shiny thing gripped securely in their tail, Mirawynd quietly scampers through the vines. Once they reach their human, they deftly climb up onto his shoulder. They slip their new shiny thing into his pocket first for safekeeping, then tap politely on his cheek to catch his attention.

“What is it Wyndi? Did you get tired of exploring?”

“Sarge! Friend!” Mirawynd waves their tail excitedly. This is the best word they know how to say for the occasion, although what they mean is something a bit more complex.

He doesn’t seem to understand. Their human can be painfully oblivious at times. “Yes, we’re friends… did you just put something in my pocket?”

“Shiny!” Mirawynd explains, and then they tug on his ear gently and point towards the new human standing in the doorway. “Friend!”

“What the—stop that, Wyndi—what do you mean, ‘friend’? There’s no one here but—” Mirawynd’s human turns around abruptly and stops mid-sentence, tapping Abi on the shoulder and nodding in the direction of the doorway. He slowly raises his hands above his head.

Abi turns, then slowly raises her hands as well. “Well, hello there… friend… don’t mind us, we’re just passing through.”

“Friend!” Mirawynd mimics the gesture with all four of their hands and makes a few laughing squeaks. This is a new sort of a game to play when meeting potential friends, and they’re not sure what the point of it is, but they like it.

“Wyndi,” their human hisses softly, “how many times do I have to tell you? People who point neural pulse stunners at us are not our friends.”

Mirawynd takes a closer look at the new human. They are, in fact, holding some sort of long multi-pronged shiny thing. The new human also doesn’t seem amused by the commentary at all, although the hood of their shimmery outfit covers most of their expression.

Mirawynd doesn’t understand. Usually, people who make their human tense up like he has and point things at him are of the sorts whom they naturally dislike. This one certainly isn’t of the monster variety that makes their fur stand up, either. Besides, their human never even notices when he’s met one of those until Mirawynd starts being fierce at them to warn him. They don’t feel any instinctive need to be fierce at the new human at all.

“Try any tricks,” says the new human in a muffled, distorted voice, “and I’ll have ye out cold in an instant.” They gesture with the shiny thing they’re holding. The pronged tips of it glow green as it begins making a high-pitched electronic hum.

“No tricks,” Abi agrees, nodding lightly but otherwise staying still.

“Now,” says the new human, gesturing with their humming, green-glowing device again, “who the blazes are ye? And what’re ye doing here?”

“We’re darter pilots from the Defense Fleet’s SCV Surnia. My Sergeant here’s had a bit of engine trouble that we’re trying to sort out so we can get back to our squadron.” Abi nudges Mirawynd’s human with her elbow, but keeps her hands up and her voice as calm and cheerful as ever. “We didn’t know anyone was still living here.”

“Well, I live here—and I ain’t one what takes kindly to trespassers.”

“We’re hardly trespassing,” Mirawynd’s human comments dryly. “But while we’re on the subject, do we get to ask who you are?”

“Settle down, Sarge,” says Abi under her breath, nudging him again. “This isn’t the time to do your impression of Rudy.”

“It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask, Major,” he protests, forcing a laugh. “Besides, if we were going to get stunned, our ‘friend’ here would have done it before we turned around.”

“If you keep insisting on antagonizing folks,” Abi hisses, still sounding more amused than not, “we’re going to end up stunned and hog-tied again anyway.”

“That doesn’t happen every—”

“—I will stun ye if ye try anything, so don’t think ye little argument is going to catch me off-guard.” The new human doesn’t seem to be amused by Mirawynd’s pilots at all.

“You’ll have to forgive my Sergeant, friend,” says Abi. “He’s having a bit of a rough day.”

“I only asked—

“—Wait,” the new human interrupts again. They tilt their head to one side curiously, staring at Mirawynd’s human. “I know ye…”

Mirawynd’s pilots share a look, then Abi gives a light shrug as a signal to wait and see what happens. Mirawynd tilts their head to match the new human, curious themself about the abrupt change in voice tones.

Julian?” The new human asks after a long silence, with a distinctly shocked and disbelieving tone now. “Can it really be ye under that scraggly mess of a beard?”

“That would be my given name, yes—although I wouldn’t call my beard scraggly—are we supposed to know each other?” Mirawynd’s human sounds equally skeptical.

“If ye be my Julian—” The new human abruptly takes a step forward, pointing the glowing end of the shiny thing they’re holding directly at Mirawynd’s human’s chest. Their tone sharpens. “—Or is it ye’ve finally found the way into my head, too?”

Mirawynd’s human looks over to Abi, who shrugs lightly once again. He looks back to the new human and squints. “Your voice rings a bell, friend—well, I know a Millefleur Moon Three accent when I hear it, at least—but I can’t rightly recognize your face when it’s all covered up.”

“Oh, that’s ye game today, is it? Here, ye tricky devil—it’ll be the last ye see before I put ye to sleep like the others.” The new human pulls their hood back with one hand, revealing a pale, freckled face with bright green eyes and a tied-back mass of long red curls. The expression on the face is stern and determined.

Reba?” Mirawynd has never seen their human’s eyes go so wide as they do now. “It can’t be—but you’re—what in the stars are you doing here? I—I thought—”

“—Say something so I know ye ain’t another pair of Novans come hunting first.” The green eyes narrow with a sparkling sharpness.

Mirawynd’s human groans dramatically and lowers his arms, crossing them over his chest. “Reba Kiely, of all the—the last time you looked at me like that, you were in a nice safe residency at Teegarden’s Shipyards Medical Center, chewing me out for having the gall to get hurt crashing through a solar sail on my first run with the Musketeers while they were deciding whether they wanted me for their fourth or not. You called me an idiotic—something?” He glances over to Abi. “Major, you were there. Do you remember?”

“Oh!” Abi chuckles, looking between him and the new human. “How could I forget, since I was sitting there waiting for her to get around to treating me once she was done with you? ‘Idiotic self-destructive nincompoop,’ wasn’t it? And then Penny and Anna teased you for ages that they’d tattle to dear Dr. Kiely any time you so much as stubbed your toe in the hangar.”

“Yeah, that’s what it was!” Mirawynd’s human grins. “Is that enough for you, Reba, or do I have to start bringing up embarrassing stuff from when we were kids? I don’t think I’ve ever told the Major the story about your salamanders…”

“Nay, Julian, I believe ye.” The new human sighs and deactivates the green glow of the shiny thing, clipping it onto her belt.

Mirawynd’s human smiles and approaches her.

She pulls him into a tight embrace.

Mirawynd squeaks and hops up onto their human’s head to get out of the way of the hugging. They’re pleased that they seem to have been right about the new human being nice—judging from what they understood of the conversation, this “Reba” person is just a friend of their human’s whom they’d never met before. They pat curiously at one of her stray curls. It has a very pleasing texture: not so tightly curled as their friend Penny’s bouncy white hair is, but soft and loose and brightly copper-red.

“Not that I’m sad to see you again, Reba,” says their human, seeming reluctant to let go, “but seriously, why are you here? How are you here? I know I’m the worst in the galaxy at keeping up with people, especially with the way the last few years have gone… but they told me you were dead—”

“—I ain’t.”

“I can see that!” Mirawynd’s human laughs, hugging her tighter. “Stars,” he whispers, “I thought I’d lost you forever.”

“Last I’d heard, Julian,” Reba replies, laughing in a way that sounds happy and sad all at the same time, “ye were still lost y’self.”

“Well…”

“Lost is an understatement,” Abi interjects. “Luckily, the Prelvee returned him to us in the end. Forgive me for interrupting the reunion, Dr. Kiely, but how long have you been here?”

“We’ve been stranded for almost four years now. We thought Psiloscops would come back for us, but…” Reba finally lets go of Mirawynd’s human, shaking her head sadly. “Well, nobody came looking for us in all that time what were actually human. We’d almost given up on ever being found.”

“Come back for you?” Abi asks.

“Aye. Psiloscops dropped our shuttle off on its way to a rendezvous with some convoy or another what were leaving the system and needed supplies transferred. Our team were coming to see if it were worth making a proper field hospital out of this place, but they’d planned to drop by on their way back to Kapteyn b and check on us.”

“And Psiloscops was destroyed with all hands less than a night’s jumps out from here.” Abi comes over and leans on the nearest vine-covered table. “They must have been far enough away from Mayview that no one realized there were survivors to look for. Plus, the Outer Belt has been a no-fly zone ever since except for the transit corridor—which is too far away from here for anyone to have stopped by on accident before now.” She sighs, shaking her head in the same way Reba had. “I’m sorry you were overlooked like this, Dr. Kiely. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Reba nods vaguely in acknowledgment. “Bittersweet, knowing we’d been right to guess everyone thought us dead—or didn’t know we were missing.”

Mirawynd’s human pulls her back into the hug. “If I’d known there was a chance…”

“Ye’d have come looking sooner.” Reba rests her head on his shoulder. “I know.”

A silence descends upon the room. Mirawynd doesn’t quite understand why. They do understand that their human is too busy hugging his apparently-lost-and-now-found friend to remember that he’s supposed to be introducing them to her.

“Friend?” asks Mirawynd, breaking the confusing silence. Their tail waves excitedly as they lean down from their human’s head to get a better look.

“Yes, Wyndi, you were right.” Their human smiles softly. “Reba’s a friend.”

“Friend!”

Reba lets go now, giving him a sideways glance. “Ye have a pet what talks, now, Julian?”

“Wyndi’s not a pet, Reba. I’m their guardian. There’s a difference.”

“Who in their right mind would go and make ye anyone’s guardian?” She raises her eyebrows, resting both hands on her hips. “Ye can barely keep y’self out of trouble.”

“Long story.”

Reba looks up to Mirawynd.

Mirawynd looks back down to her with a cheerful squeak of greeting.

She looks at them a little longer, then shakes her head. “Ye can tell me about the wee beastie later, then. What are ye doing here, if this ain’t a rescue?” Her eyes narrow for a moment as they turn back to Mirawynd’s human. “Tell me ye ain’t gone and crashed again.”

“Oh, no, it’s like the Major says.” Mirawynd’s human sheepishly rubs at the back of his head. “Just a bit of engine trouble…”

“…In the sense that his engines were shot out by a Novan striker,” Abi finishes for him, stifling a laugh. “But really, Dr. Kiely, do you expect anything else from the man?”

“Not hardly.” Reba takes Mirawynd’s human by the hand. “Come on; I need to introduce ye both to Nyx before they think something’s happened to me and flood this place with anesthesia gas.”

“Nyx?”

Reba laughs. “Ye think I could keep all this up without a properly mad botanist?”

“You’re not alone here, then?” asks Abi.

“Nay, thank the stars. But I’d rather explain to ye with Nyx there to help so ye only have to hear the story once.”

“Lead on, then,” says Mirawynd’s human. “Maybe I’ll be able to keep the vines from grabbing me if I have someone to follow.”

“How many times has he tripped already since ye’ve been here?” Reba chuckles and shoots a knowing look over to Abi.

“Y’know, Dr. Kiely, I’ve stopped counting?”

“Now, don’t the two of you start picking on me…”

Since Reba is leading their human along through the vines now and doesn’t seem to be planning to let go of his hand, Mirawynd decides it’s as good an opportunity as any to inspect their new friend more closely. They slip down to his shoulder and tap on his cheek with one of their upper hands to catch his attention.

“Friend?” Mirawynd asks again when he looks over to them, making a point of wiggling in the way they always do before making a leap. They don’t have enough words to make such requests more straightforwardly yet, but he usually understands their meaning anyway.

Reba,” he tells them, in the tone he uses for trying to teach them words. “And I’ll ask her.”

“Ask me what?”

Mirawynd’s human laughs and reaches up with his free hand to pat them on the head. “The ‘wee beastie’ here wants to know if they can ride on your shoulder.”

“What?” Reba looks over to Mirawynd. “Why’d they want to do that?”

“They get excited about new people.” He laughs again. “Mostly I think they’re just curious because they can tell that I’m friends with you.”

“Ah.”

Mirawynd squeaks politely at her, taking this as a yes, then makes the leap to her shoulder. They swish their tail excitedly as they begin to inspect her hair more closely. It’s very soft, and smells even more like sweet herbs and human-ness than her ankles had. There’s still another smell there underneath that they can’t quite place. It’s familiar, like family somehow, but they need to investigate further.

They’re only on her shoulder for a moment, though, before they’re interrupted.

“Hey! Wyndi, now cut that out. She didn’t say you could—” Mirawynd’s human reaches up and plucks them back off despite their squeaks of protest and attempts to wriggle out of his hands. “—Sorry, Reba, I’m still trying to teach them to be polite.”

“Friend!” Mirawynd protests again, doing their best to wriggle out of his hands. They look over to Reba with the saddest expression they can muster. They really don’t understand why their human is making such a fuss—they did ask before they jumped this time.

“Ye seem to be missing a few lessons, Julian.” Reba shakes her head, lightly smoothing her hair back from where Mirawynd had been inspecting it. “What sort of a critter did ye say they be?”

“They’re not a creature, Reba—even if they do act like it sometimes.” He lightly begins to stroke Mirawynd’s ears to encourage them to settle down. “Wyndi here’s Florivan. Just a bit of a young one, that’s all.”

“Florivan?” Reba looks at Mirawynd for another moment, then chuckles. “I should have guessed that, now that I look at ye. Ye just be a fuzzy wee miniature…”

Mirawynd tilts their head to one side at her. They wriggle enough in their human’s hands to be able to hold their upper pair of arms out towards her. “Re-ba friend?”

She nods. “As long as ye don’t go tying knots in my hair. Hand them here, Julian, maybe I can teach ye little friend some better manners than ye have.”

Mirawynd is quite pleased by this, and contents themself with sitting on Reba’s shoulder while the walk to wherever it is Reba is taking them continues. Their human does his best to tell the story about how he came to be Mirawynd’scompanion along the way—although as always, he seems to have forgotten the part about Mirawynd’s parent telling themto protect him.


 


 


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