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The Garden in the Darkness | Part 2: Complications & Card Castles | Chapter 13

“Have ye found it yet, Wyndi, dear?”

“Shiny!” Mirawynd calls back. Their small voice echoes brightly within the metallic cavern they’re exploring and out into the room where Reba is waiting.

Reba’s playing a game of “fetch the tools and repair parts” with them, but she’s too big to get through the space between the pile of heavy crates and the cabinet doors. She’d only managed to get the outer-bottom corner of the left door bent open enough for Mirawynd’s small silver-furred self to slip inside, and then to break the latch on the door to give them more room to get the shiny things out. Mirawynd has been hunting through the otherwise inaccessible space on their own ever since.

Soon, Mirawynd emerges, triumphantly dragging one end of a rather long piece of thick optical cable behind them. They offer the end up to Reba with a cheerful wave of their tail.

“Good job!” She laughs and starts rolling up the cable into a coil. “Ye know, Wyndi, dear, I didn’t quite believe Mister Rudolph what ye would know what all the things on his list meant if I needed help finding them… but it seems ye understand more of what goes on than anyone suspects.”

Mirawynd tilts their head to one side curiously. They’re not sure why their humans make such a big fuss when they’re helpful. They’ve been helping Rudy keep his tools in order for most of their life, after all. Even if they can’t say the words yet, Mirawynd knows the names of all of his shiny things. The only hard part of the game today has been finding the things and getting them out of the small spaces where the humans who lived here before Reba and Nyx had hidden them.

Mirawynd settles for making a charming squeak of acknowledgment for the compliment. They brush as much of the dust out of their fur as they can before scampering up to Reba’s shoulder. Once there, they tap politely on her cheek. “Drink?”

“Aye, just let me get this in the bag. Considering ye looked like a wee dust-bunny when ye came out, I ain’t surprised ye need one.” Reba tucks the roll of optical cable into the backpack she’s been putting their treasures in and pulls out a water bottle that’s a bit bigger than Mirawynd themself and a small cup. She pours a bit of water into the cup and offers it to them before taking a sip from the bottle herself and putting it away.

Mirawynd gives her a squeak of gratitude and drinks. They save a little of the water in the bottom of the cup to dip their upper hands in so they can try to wash the last of the dust off of their face. They’re not too dirty yet—certainly not enough to require bathing, in their opinion—but they don’t like having dust clinging to their eyes and nose at all.

“Let’s see,” says Reba, pulling out her pocket-com, “that’s just about everything on the list. We’re just missing a spool of ‘optic micro-circuitry solder wire’… and lunch, but that’s on my list, not Mister Rudolph’s.” She smiles and holds the little picture up on the holoscreen to show Mirawynd. “Don’t suppose you saw any of this in that cabinet?”

“Shiny!” Mirawynd nods enthusiastically and offers her back their now-empty cup.

“It’s a good thing ye came with me, ye know?” Reba tells them, patting their head before she takes the cup. “Aside from the fact I couldn’t get into the cabinets… Even with the pictures, I ain’t got more than a vague idea what half of this stuff is. Now, if we needed medical supplies? That’s another story… and trust me, I’m glad we haven’t any need to get into my stash of those just yet.”

Mirawynd gives her a small comforting pat on the cheek in return. They’re used to having to help Rudy in part because they can tell shiny things and tools apart and are good at fetching things—and their human isn’t. He’s very good at coming home with interesting broken things on his darter for them to help Rudy fix when he goes out flying, though!

They’re quite sure Reba is good at a lot of things herself, even if she does need help with shiny-thing-collecting.

Mirawynd scampers back through the space between the crates and the cabinet wall and into the hole where the cabinet door is bent open. Only a tiny bit of light can seep in, but their three golden eyes are just as keen in near darkness as they are in the light. It takes them a while to shimmy up through the small space between the door and the shelves and climb all the way to the top of the cabinet where they remember seeing their prize when they were searching for the previous thing on their list. When they get there, they knock on the cabinet door to get Reba’s attention.

“Ye okay in there, Wyndi?” her voice calls to them, muffled lightly through the door.

“Shiny!” Mirawynd squeaks back cheerfully. There are three spools shaped like the one they need sitting on the shelf in front of them. All they need to do now is to get them down to Reba so she can read the labels and make sure it’s the correct sort of spool.

“Ah! Ye found it already, then? Good, bring it on out so we can be done with this.”

Mirawynd replies with a trilling affirmative squeak. They’re ready to be done exploring dusty cupboards and cabinets for a while too.

They carefully brush the tall piles of dust off of the top of the spools with the fluff of their tail before picking each spool up and rolling it over to the space between the shelf and the door. The spools are just barely too big to slip down the gap easily.

Mirawynd stops for a moment to think through the puzzle, then sets each of the spools into position on its edge along the gap before climbing back down and out to ask Reba for assistance.

“I thought ye said ye found it?” she asks when they emerge and scamper up the pile of crates to the cabinet door handles.

Mirawynd looks back at her and jiggles the door handle of the other side of the cabinet where the latch is still working. “Reba help?”

“Ah, I think I can.” Reba pulls her pry-bar out of the loop on her belt and climbs into a position where she can wedge it under the edge of the door. “Ye just need this side open now?”

Mirawynd nods and scampers up out of the way.

In moments, Reba’s broken the latch holding the right door closed. When it flies open the small amount the crates allow it to, three clunking sounds echo from within, one after the other.

Mirawynd claps excitedly with both pairs of hands and gives Reba a rather dusty hug before heading back down into the cabinet to retrieve the three spools. Just as they’d expected, their treasures are waiting for them on the floor of the cabinet where they can easily be rolled over to the hole in the corner and slipped out.

“Well, now,” says Reba, laughing as Mirawynd brings her the third spool, “we only had the one of these on the list… but I doubt Mister Rudolph will turn down spares. Anything else useful in there you want to take with us?”

Mirawynd dusts themself off a little while they think. There had, after all, been quite a lot of shiny things inside the cabinet. Most of the very interesting ones were too big to fit through the wider space Reba’s made for them to get things in and out, though, or too heavy for Mirawynd to push, much less get down to the bottom shelf safely. Aside from the dust, they think the cabinet is an excellent place to stash shiny things for future use, so they can leave most of it there for now.

After a few moments, Mirawynd swishes their tail excitedly and scampers back into the cabinet. There’d been a particularly interesting-looking box on one of the shelves that they hadn’t taken the time to try to get unsealed. An experimental pull on the box’s handle tells them it’s just light enough that they can manage, and it’s the right width to fit through the gap between the door and shelves.

Several minutes of slow and careful balancing and climbing later, and Mirawynd has their box on the cabinet floor and all ready to push through the hole in the corner. They quickly realize, though, that the hole isn’t quite big enough. They squeeze back out and wave to Reba, squeaking excitedly.

“What in the stars have ye found now?” she asks, wedging herself as far as she can down between the crates and the wall so she can bend the corner up into a wider hole.

Mirawynd shrugs, sending off plumes of dust from the excited anticipatory swishing of their tail. They don’t know what’s in the box; only that the box was interesting and had the sorts of picture-symbols on the label that are usually on Rudy’s cases of fragile shiny things that he doesn’t let their pilots touch. They consider that enough to make it worth bringing the box back.

In the end, Reba has to help them pull the box out because there’s still not much room for it to pass through the hole and between the crates and the wall. When they do have it out, she looks the box over.

“Wyndi, dear, I know ye mean well,” she says, wiping the dust off of the label on the front of the box, “but I ain’t sure this were worth the hassle. It’s just some sort of spare parts for a starship’s Nav intercoms, from what this says—and we ain’t got one of those to worry about just yet.”

“Shiny!” Mirawynd swishes their tail again and climbs up to her shoulder. They start to try to express in squeaks how interesting the box is even though they’re not sure what sort of shiny things are in it yet, but they’re interrupted by their own sneezing.

“I’ll take ye word for it,” Reba says, slipping the box into her backpack. She pulls out a handkerchief and hands it to them. “Here, I think that’s enough dust for ye for today.”

Mirawynd sneezes again even after they’ve blown most of the dust out of their nose and rubs at their face and ears while she’s getting them another drink of water. The box had stirred up a lot of dust while they were trying to retrieve it.

Reba helps them wipe the dust off their face and out of their ears with a moistened corner of the handkerchief. She runs the damp cloth over the rest of their fur too, to settle down what’s left of the dust. “Better?”

Mirawynd nods.

“Good.” She smiles and gives their ears a gentle rubbing. “Now, how about we go find some lunch before we go and take these treasures of yours back to mister Rudolph?”


While Reba treks back through the garden corridors to the place where she and Nyx keep their supplies, Mirawynd contents themself with sitting on her shoulder and carefully grooming the last bits of dust out of their fur. It takes a lot of combing with all four of their hands just to get the fluff on their tail sorted out.

“Ye know, Wyndi, dear,” Reba says, pausing to cut some bunches of grapes off of one of the walls of vines on the way, “as much as I’ll be glad to be back among people… I think I might miss this place just a touch.”

Mirawynd responds with a curious squeak. Like the rest of their little human family, it seems that Reba is the sort who wants to keep a running conversation with them, even though they don’t have many words to talk with yet. They don’t mind, of course—they like being talked to, even when they don’t quite understand everything. To them, this is just another sign that she’s someone they want to keep.

“Well.” Reba pauses to stash her knife back in its sheath on her belt and tuck the grape bunches into her backpack. “I ain’t missing the ‘visitors’, no… and I’ll be glad not to be living in the middle of the worst of the memories anymore. But in a way, this were almost… home.”

Mirawynd stops grooming the fur on their lower-right arm long enough to give her a reassuring nuzzle. They don’t really know how else to respond.

Reba lets out a sigh and pats their head gently. “I don’t know if ye’d understand, wee fuzzy thing that ye are, but thank ye.” She starts walking again. It’s a few minutes before she says anything else. “I were like ye once, ye know? That’s how I met ye silly guardian, even.”

Mirawynd tilts their head curiously and makes a soft questioning squeak to match. They know this tone of voice: it’s the one people who want to tell them stories always use. Mirawynd likes when people tell them stories.

“Aye,” says Reba. “This ain’t the first time he’s come blundering in to rescue me…” she trails off, shaking her head lightly. “I were barely ten the first time, when the quakes started at Moon Three. I were one of the lucky ones, but I still lost everything… Julian’s the same age, but he and Edwin were there helping evacuate us survivors because their uncle were one of the intra-moon shuttle pilots who’d answered the emergency call.” Reba pauses. “Have ye met Edwin yet? I’ve a hunch he’d like ye.”

Mirawynd thinks about it for a moment, trying to connect the name with one of the people their human has introduced them to over the years. They scratch at the itchy bare spot between their upper shoulder blades while they think.

“Julian’s older brother,” Reba clarifies. “The one what plays with bugs for a living.”

Mirawynd’s tail swishes excitedly. “Uncle Eddie!” They’ve only met the man who looks just like their human—but taller and much less scruffy—over the relay video calls their human has with him sometimes, but they do like him. Calling him their uncle is part of the game their human plays at teasing Uncle Eddie about being “old.” Mirawynd is reasonably certain he isn’t, but they play along anyway.

“Right.” Reba giggles. “That’s the one.” She reaches her food supply stash and continues telling the story while she’s packing neatly wrapped things into what little space is left in the backpack. “So there I were, trapped in what were left of me bedroom because the quakes had brought most of that side of the settlement down on top of us, staring up at this big hole in the debris what I were too small and scared to be able to climb up and escape through. I were in there for days, too… and just when I were sure I’d never be found, this boy falls down in there with me and goes and breaks his arm in the falling.”

“Sarge?” Mirawynd asks, swishing their tail knowingly.

“Ye know him too well.” Reba giggles again. “But aye, it were him. And I’ll never forget it, Wyndi—first thing he said to me, even being in pain like that… were to ask if I wanted to come back to Teegarden-Millefleur with him once Edwin caught up and figured out how to get us out of the hole.” She shakes her head. “His were the first arm what I ever tied a sling on, too.”

Mirawynd looks up to her with a curious flick of their ears. They hadn’t quite put together before now that their human and Reba had been kittens together, but it does make sense. Reba being there to take care of him also explains, in a way, how someone as bad at staying out of trouble and uninjured as their human is had managed to survive his own kittenhood.

“I know it were little more than wishful thinking, but what I held onto for the longest time, when I were all alone waiting for Nyx to come out of torpor—and even after, all these years—were that my Julian were still alive out there somewhere, and if anyone could find me, somehow… he would.” She absently reaches up to give Mirawynd’s fur a gentle stroke or two now. “I don’t know what to think, really, now that he has.”

Mirawynd purrs softly and nuzzles into her hand. She’s using the same tone of voice now that their human did when he asked them what they thought of her—although also colored with some of that same sadness that she and Nyx always seem to have hanging around them.

Reba shoulders the full backpack and heads back up towards the hangar. “Do ye believe in coincidences, Wyndi? Nyxalways tells me there ain’t such things, as far as Florivans care.”

Mirawynd makes a small questioning squeak in response, and then shrugs. They’re not entirely sure what a “coincidence” is supposed to be, if they’re honest. The word, in their experience, is usually one that’s used when their pilots or their Entile Celadon are joking about things they don’t understand.

“Nay,” says Reba, laughing, “I had a feeling ye didn’t.”



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