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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 1: An Unscheduled Landing | Chapter 6



Mirawynd contents themself with snuggling in the lap of their newly-discovered cousin while their human and Abiexplain how and why the three of them came to the garden place. They aren’t sure quite how Nyx is related to them, but they know this person is family somehow from the way they smell and feel to be around. Mirawynd also recognizes now that Nyx is the source of the family smell that their human’s friend Reba has. They have the impression that Nyx protects her just like they protect their human. Mirawynd can’t help but wonder if that means Reba is special, since in their experience only the best and warmest sorts of humans get have someone like them as a guardian. If they knew the right words, they’d ask their cousin about that.

At the moment, they’re simply enjoying the fact that Nyx seems to know exactly how to properly scratch the itchy places on their shoulders and ears where their fur is missing. Mirawynd always appreciates having someone to snuggle with and help them with their itchy spots. They’re almost enticed to fall asleep from the warmth and attention, but for now they’re keeping their ears pricked towards the story Abi is telling and their third eye open to make sure their human doesn’t wander off without them again.

“—And that’s about the size of it,” they hear Abi conclude. “Our priority once we landed was to see if we could patch Sarge’s darter enough that he’d be able to fly back, and take mine if we couldn’t.” She gestures vaguely with her teacup. “Seems I’ll have to rethink that plan, now. If we can get one of our long-range or Relay radios working first, we’ll be able to contact Surnia to come pick all of us up.”

“I’m not sure how much luck you’ll have with that, Major, even if you do make the repairs,” says Nyx. “We’ve tried since we got here to call for help, but the signals can’t get through the jamming field.”

“Jamming field?” Abi exchanges a look with Mirawynd’s human. “That’d explain a few things… you’re saying the Novans set one up here?”

“Either somewhere on the far side of the planetoid or orbiting close by.” Reba shrugs. “We ain’t been able to figure out where for sure, but we’ve been told it’s there.”

“You’ve been told?” Abi asks.

“Aye.” Reba exchanges a long look with Nyx and then sighs. “I… expect ye be wanting to know who told us?”

“And quite a few other things, Dr. Kiely.” Abi sets down her teacup and lightly crosses her arms. “For example, why it seems to just be the two of you here? From what little you told us earlier, I thought you’d been part of a larger team—or are the rest all out gardening?”

Mirawynd isn’t used to Abi using her version of their Aunt Jenny’s “unamused person in charge” tone so much. Usually, she saves that for special occasions, like when their human has done something terribly stupid and dangerous and needs someone to point it out to him. It’s confusing to hear her talking that way now, since as far as Mirawynd can tell, their human isn’t in danger at the moment.

“There were eight of us,” says Nyx. There’s a sadness in their tone that wasn’t there before. They turn all three eyes down to Mirawynd, as if avoiding the gaze of the humans. “Reba and I are all that’s left.”

Mirawynd doesn’t understand the conversation entirely, but they do pick up on their cousin’s change in mood. They make a point of nuzzling closer into the one of Nyx’s hands that’s petting them and purring more loudly—the purr, after all, is the sound of affection and reassurance.

“Shuttle accident?” Mirawynd’s human asks.

“Novans.” Reba sighs sadly. “Psiloscops dropped our shuttle off about a day’s journey from here… The ship had just jumped away from us, and Nyx here were still setting the Drive up in the shuttle’s cargo bay to bring us the rest of the way when the Novans came out of the black and attacked us—and us being clearly marked as a non-combatant vessel, at that.”

“We’ve learned over the years that the Novans don’t seem to care whether the ships they attack actually belong to the Defense Fleet or not.” Mirawynd’s human shakes his head. “But I thought Psiloscops was a Fleet ship?”

“It were,” says Reba, “but our team had a civilian shuttle of our own to use.”

Abi raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Because of me,” Nyx explains. “I’m not… well, I hadn’t officially decided if I wanted to volunteer for the Fleet at the time. Even though I was borrowing one of the Fleet’s Nav trainees to get us here, I couldn’t be running the Drive on a Fleet vessel.”

“That makes some sense,” Abi replies.

“I’d worked out here at Mayview for a few months after I was released from my apprenticeship—up until the evacuation orders came out—and then I’d stayed on with the gardeners at Horizon Prime Station after that,” Nyx continues. “When Dr. Monroe put together the assessment team, he asked if I’d be willing to come back with him as a civilian consultant, since the hydroponics setup here is integral to the outpost’s life support systems and no one else who was familiar with it was available… and having me with them would give the team the option of leaving earlier than planned if they needed to.”

Abi nods lightly. “Having you and your Navigator around to run a shuttle with the Quantum Space Drive for the team would make things easier, yes. So you got ambushed after Psiloscops left… then what?”

“They nearly destroyed us.” Nyx absently continues to pet Mirawynd’s ears with their lone upper hand as they talk. “One of the shots that hit us started a fire in the cargo bay I was sealed in to run the Drive from… I was injured, but I managed to get us into the Strange and stay conscious long enough to make the jump here—and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Mirawynd makes a point of squeaking softly through the bell-like rumble of their purr and nuzzling their cousin’s hand again. The sad, faraway tone of Nyx’s voice is, to their mind, a very clear sign of someone who needs comforting.

Nyx makes a soft trilling sound of acknowledgment back to them while Reba picks up the story.

“Dr. Monroe and I had our hands full with saving Nyx’s life,” she says, “so I didn’t pay much attention to anything else when we first landed the shuttle. We were busy in the outpost’s infirmary operating on them for hours. I ain’t sure of the specifics of what went on when the rest of the team found the two Novans what were already here, or for a while after that. I weren’t able to leave Nyx long enough to meet them until the third or fourth day after we arrived.”

“There were Novans here?” Mirawynd’s human’s eyes widen.

“Aye—Not that we even knew that’s what they were, since nobody’d ever seen one in person before and they were disguised as humans. They said they’d gotten left behind in the evacuation.” Reba stares down into her teacup. “No one suspected—the others were too smitten with them to question their story, if ye know what I mean.”

“I’ve… met… a Novan or two.” Mirawynd’s human awkwardly rubs the back of his neck. “I know what you mean.”

“Ye have?”

“He dated one a while back.” Abi shakes her head, holding back a laugh. “And only lived to tell the tale because Wyndi’soverprotective of him—and I wasn’t affected by her and helped them stage an intervention.”

Julian. Really?” Reba rolls her eyes dramatically. “It would be ye that a spy went after…”

“Well… We’re not telling that story right now, are we?” Mirawynd’s human asks in his most sheepishly hopeful tone. “I’d rather hear the rest of yours first.”

“I’m sure ye would—but don’t think I’ll forget to pester ye for all the embarrassing details of it later.” Reba gives him a good-humored nudge.

I’ll be glad to tell you all about it if he leaves anything out, Dr. Kiely.” Abi picks her teacup back up and takes a small sip. “I did think there was something off about that one from the start, you know—aside from Wyndi hissing and carrying on whenever they saw her, I mean. Most everyone else didn’t even notice it. If the Novans you met here were disguised the same way, it’s no wonder your team was fooled.”

Mirawynd looks up to her with a questioning squeak at the mention of their name. From what little they’ve been paying attention to of the conversation, they think she must be talking about one of the hungry monsters made of pinkness and teeth that they’ve had to protect their human from. They only ever hiss at predators, after all.

Nyx looks up curiously to Abi now. “You’re like Reba, then, Major? Somewhat immune to whatever it is the Novans use to charm folks?”

“As much as a human can be,” says Abi. “That’s what we learned after a few of the Fleet’s jumpers helped me catch Sarge’s Novan girlfriend, at least. Turns out humans like me who don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction in the first place are harder for them to fool. I can’t see through their disguises like Florivans can, of course, but they can’t mesmerize me all the same.”

“That… does explain a lot.” Reba sighs softly and folds her hands together in her lap. “I be pretty solidly

demi-attractional, meself, and I were the only human on the team what weren’t affected by the ones here—though that may be more because I had me hands full keeping this one alive.”

“For which I am grateful.” Nyx stops petting Mirawynd and reaches over to set a hand on Reba’s folded-together ones for a moment.

Since Reba is sitting on the small couch between Nyx and Mirawynd’s human and she seems to be the same sort of upset that their cousin has been since all of them started talking, Mirawynd takes it upon themself to scoot over into her lap now and pat one of her hands. When she looks down to them, they make a comforting squeak and nuzzle her hand.

“What’s this?” Reba lets out a small, awkward laugh. “I thought ye were keeping Nyx company.”

Mirawynd looks up to their cousin with a swish of their tail and makes the same sort of squeak again, hoping that theywill be able to understand. They don’t have the right words themself.

Nyx smiles at them and pats them on the head briefly before looking back up to Reba. “Wyndi is concerned about you because of the undertones in your voice and wants to know if you need cuddles for reassurance that you’re safe now. Kittens are perceptive like that. Their instincts say that cuddles fix everything.”

“Ye never grow out of that instinct, do ye?”

“Not really.” Nyx shrugs.

Reba hesitates, then gives Mirawynd a gentle pat on the head. “I’m fine, Wyndi, dear, but ye can sit with me if ye want all the same.”

Mirawynd takes this to mean that she does, in fact, want to be snuggled with. They nuzzle her hand again and then make a point of curling up in her lap like a soft silver ball. They’re not particularly tired at the moment, but their usual napping position seems appropriate and comfortable. They’re most content with how warm Reba’s lap is, too.

“So,” Abi asks, “what happened, then, with the rest of your team?”

“The devils learned enough to have done with us.” One of Reba’s hands starts absently stroking Mirawynd’s fur as she talks. “I didn’t see for meself what they did to the others, only the remains…” She trails off for a moment, a near-imperceptible shudder running through her body. “If I hadn’t moved Nyx to one of the garden rooms while they were recovering, we’d both be prisoners of the Novan Empire now instead of sitting here having tea with ye.”

“I’m not sure I follow, Reba,” Mirawynd’s human says.

“At the time, the room where the locals had grown their most tropical sorts of plants were the warmest place here,” she explains. “We’d gotten Nyx stable, but they were still in torpor to heal—ye probably know how bad getting chilled is for folks what are barely warmblooded in the first place?”

“I’m aware…” Mirawynd’s human looks over to them and briefly reaches over to scratch their ears. They purr a little louder in response. “But if the Novans killed the others, why would they want to take the two of you prisoner?”

“According to them?” Reba shakes her head. “They had a ‘capture at all costs’ order out for Florivans, since the Fleet can’t get anywhere without them running the Drive… and had an interest in studying me to find out why I could resist their tricks.”

Mirawynd’s human and Abi share a look and a nod of understanding.

“That lines up with what we’ve seen,” says Abi. “So, how’d y’all manage to escape, then?”

Jasminum sambac.” Nyx gestures towards the fragrant white-flowered vines hanging on the inner part of the room.

“What?” Abi sounds utterly confused.

“The two of them cornered me while I were checking on Nyx,” Reba explains. “Then, right in the middle of their ‘ye be prisoners, come quietly or ye’ll suffer’ speech, the one got all giggly and the other started ranting about how this place were driving them crazy and it were just as well they’d be able to use us as an excuse not to have to be the ones to hack out all of the plants—at which point, since they weren’t paying attention and I keep a neural pulse stunner in me work bag anyway…” Reba shrugs, but Mirawynd feels her hand quiver where it’s resting on their head. “Well, long story short, I’ve got the both of them down the hall in cryostasis, all wrapped up and set with farm-rigged physioscanners to gather information about their biology on the off chance what someone friendly ever showed up to rescue us.”

“Along with a number of their comrades who’ve come looking for them,” Nyx adds. “Once I came out of torpor, we were able to confirm that the pollen and fragrance of most Earth-origin plants have intoxicating or psychoactive effects on Novans. Every now and again another one shows up to investigate this place…” They pause, glancing over to Reba. “…And winds up joining Reba’s collection. We’re fortunate that so far we’ve had room to store them all.”

“That explains the jungle, then—and why you were so suspicious of us.” Mirawynd’s human rubs at his beard. He sounds very pleased with himself for coming to this conclusion.

Nyx nods, hesitating. “I’ll be forever grateful that Mayview’s botany team had decided to leave everything running when we evacuated.” Their eyes turn downwards for a moment. “I’ve rearranged all the plantings and encouraged them to overgrow and slow down anyone who comes to bother us. We haven’t been able to do anything about the communications blackout, though, since their jammer’s not where we can get to it… and they made a point of destroying what was left of our shuttle before they came after Reba.”

“Which explains why the two of you weren’t able to leave once you’d recovered enough to be able to run the Drive and jump back somewhere with people,” Abi comments thoughtfully.

“It does at that,” Nyx says. That particularly sad tone is back in the edge of their voice, although Mirawynd doesn’t understand why.

“Well,” says Abi, returning to her usual cheerful self, “my darter should be fully charged by now—I can deal with that jamming station once we sort out where it is. We’ll get the two of you back to civilization before you know it!”

“I’ll be grateful for that.” Reba continues lightly stroking Mirawynd’s fur. “I can still hardly believe ye’ve come… it feels like we’ve been alone here for ages.”

“I’m glad we’re the ones to find you, Reba.” Mirawynd’s human wraps his arm around her shoulders. “I’m just sorry you had to wait so long to be rescued.”

Reba leans into him with a sigh. “It’ll be nice to be back from the dead.”

Mirawynd looks up to the two humans now and makes a questioning trill. Their human has said that Reba is his friend. All the same, he’s not usually so quick to be touch-forward with other humans—at least, not with ones who don’t end up being a problem sooner or later. After a moment to think it over and consider his behavior in the past, Mirawynd scampers up to the back of the couch and then along their human’s arm and up onto his head, squeaking rapidly down at him the whole time.

It’s not that they don’t like Reba, but Mirawynd certainly doesn’t appreciate people who make their human act weirder than usual and leave them to share Abi’s nest instead of his at night. They don’t understand why that happens, but they’re keenly aware that it does—and that they don’t like the prospect of leaving him alone for very long, much less overnight. He usually gets into trouble when they’re not there to protect him.

“Wyndi!” Their human tries to bat their pointedly swishing tail out of his face. “Why do you always do this—”

“—Mine.” Mirawynd locks eyes with Reba, as if issuing a challenge. Their tail swishes pointedly to match. Really, they just want her to understand that their human is under their protection and they’re not willing to share his attention with just anyone.

“Is he now?” Reba asks, almost laughing under the seriousness of her tone. “Nyx, dear, how do I tell the wee beastie he were mine first?”

“They’re old enough that they probably understand you, but I doubt they’ll care.” Nyx stifles a giggle. “Kittens tend to get a bit protective of their guardians.”

Abi laughs outright. “Protective is an understatement. How many times have they saved your life now, Sarge?”

“Including this morning?” Mirawynd’s human rubs at his beard thoughtfully for a moment, then shrugs. “Enough that I’ve stopped counting.”

“Well, then, it seems I owe them for taking such good care of ye.” Reba smiles and offers her hand to Mirawynd. “Ye said we be friends, Wyndi, remember? I promise I ain’t taking the silly man away from ye.”

Mirawynd considers this for a moment, then squeaks contentedly. “Re-ba friend.” They climb back down from their human’s head and scamper over to Reba’s shoulder so they can hug her neck. They’ve decided that they might be open to keeping her. She is quite a warm human, after all.

While Reba is learning the finer points of how Mirawynd likes their ears to be scratched, Abi stands and looks to Nyx.

“Well, that’s settled. So about that jamming station…”


 


 


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