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Episode 13 Part 19

By:  Lenady

The sirens wailed endlessly, it seemed, and all about them bright red and orange flames licked up the side of buildings. Her feet hurt. The scrape on her arm did too, but not in the same way. She started to say as much, but she looked up at Daddy and his eyes had that weird look again, the same one he had when Auntie Bear and Rena and Rosa went away, like someone had sucked out Daddy and left everything else still standing. He was still there though. The hand gripping hers was cold and wet, but she could still feel him underneath.

 

Her toe hit something and she stumbled forward, jerking down on his hand and somewhat breaking him out of that state. He glanced down at her with a tiny smile and was opening his mouth when a loud boom happened overhead. Then she wasn’t on the ground anymore, being carried, faster than she ever thought Daddy could go, through the piles of brick and wood. She dared to raise her head up from his shoulder and stared a giant black face forming out of the clouds, getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And then the cloud was gone, blocked by the stairwell Daddy was running down and the doors slammed into place. They collapsed against a wall, the cold of the cellar burrowing its way past her jacket, into her skin.

 

And suddenly it was hot all around them- hotter even than in summer when her skin had gotten all red and owchy- eye watering, choking- and she felt something within her ripple, torn loose.

 

Daddy’s arms were tight around her and he hummed in her ear- she could feel the tickle on his lips and a bit of breath that whispered out- but she couldn’t hear a thing past the loud rushing monster outside. The world was bright red behind her squeezed tight eyelids. And Daddy held her but the fear poured out of him and she couldn’t breath. Everything hurt and she couldn’t breath.

 

And then the sound came back slowly- one low note at a time, breathy and strained. And she was still wrapped tight. But everything was all wrong. She pulled in a breath, air still hot and dry as it went down her throat, and she choked. The sound cracked and it was so loud because Daddy’s voice was a whisper, humming the same line over and over again, and the siren was gone. But her face was wet and suddenly she was wailing like the siren.

 

They were gone. All gone.

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

Tilly’s eyes shot open as she breathed in, ragged and forced. To her surprise, a pair of eyes stared back at her, wide and shining, just a few inches away from her nose. 

 

She swallowed and breathed in again, slower this time.

 

“He-" The word caught in her throat. “Hello.”

 

The eyes blinked in response.

 

“She’s wondering if you’re okay.” A small voice said behind her.

 

Tilly sat up and turned herself around. She immediately regretted it, wincing and holding her head as the slow steady ache intensified for a few seconds before dying back down. She looked back up at a young Desivite girl who was sitting on the next cot over, face streaked with mud.

 

“You were making some funny sounds before you woke up.”

 

“Oh,” Tilly said, frowning, and rubbed her cheek. “Nightmare.”

 

The girl just looked confused and the smaller one kept staring at her with sharp uncertain eyes.

 

“A bad dream.” Tilly paused for a minute. “Do Desivites dream?”

 

“No, not really,” said Shi-la, as she walked up to the cot. She had two more small children in tow, one standing just behind and one latching onto her skirt. “Not the way some other species do at least. Glad to see you’re up. I was starting to worry myself. Don’t know how anyone can sleep in this mess.” She turned towards the girl on the cot and began to explain as she handed her a dry towel. “A dream is kind of like being in virtual reality when you’re asleep. But you don’t have control. You can’t switch to a different program and you can’t turn it off. Sometimes,” she continued, as she sat the two young children on the cot, each as wet and dirty as the older girl, “some of the programs are fun. Like flying or going to a party. But sometimes they can be very scary.”

 

Tilly nodded. “That’s pretty much it.” Then, noting the lack of space on the other cots in the area, she pulled her legs up, crossed them, and patted the area at the bottom of her cot, glancing at the small girl who was still eyeing her dubiously.  “Sorry if I scared you. In my species that’s how our brains process things, deal with things sometimes. I guess I was a little shook up from the storm so my brain spit something out at me.”

 

One of the younger Desivites, the one who was hanging back a little, made a face. “That’s weird.”

 

 The older girl poked him, glowering. “Droshta.”

 

He looked back at her, annoyed. “Well it is.”

 

“No, it’s okay.” Tilly said, waving her hand. “It really is kind of weird if you think about it. We think so too a lot of times. My name’s T-" Tilly paused for a moment, trying to pull the name Sanrook had given her out of the fog still lingering in her mind. “Arika. What’s yours?”

 

The children looked surprised for a moment, then looked up at Shi-la quickly. Shi-la laughed and did two small sweeping hand motions at them. Tilly looked up at her as well, confused. “Did I say something wrong?” she asked.

 

“No, no.” Shi-la grinned. “They’re just shy. Adults don’t typically ask children direct questions like that, but there’s nothing wrong with it.”

 

Tilly frowned. “But then how do you-" she stopped. “You’re suppose to talk to a parent directly here and not speak to the children. So did I just commit a faux pas?”

 

“It’s okay.” The younger girl spoke. “Sen-Shrato- that’s the one who takes care of us- She isn’t here right now.” She winced a little, looking off to the side a second before straightening back up, with a smile firmly etched on her face. “And I like being talked to. My name’s Roshti. These two are Senof and Droshta,” she said, pointing at the two sitting beside her. “And the nosy one over there is Porta.” The small one had climbed up on the cot with Tilly and was staring intently at her bag. “Stop that.” Roshti said, leaning forward and batting lightly at the small girl.

 

“Porta left her dolly,” said Senof who had transferred his grip from Shi-la’s skirt to the mud-soaked scarf around Droshta’s neck.

 

“Yeah, well, she needs to learn that not everyone carries a dolly in their bag like Sen-Shrato.”

 

“When is she coming?” Senof asked, tugging on Droshta’s scarf. “I wanna go home.”

 

“Senof,” Roshti said, in a warning tone.

 

The little one paid no mind, whining and clinging to the dirty piece of fabric. Droshta knocked Senof’s hand away. “Cut it out. We don’t ha- Ow!”

 

Roshti glared down at Droshta, who was rubbing the spot on his leg Roshti had just pinched.

 

“Well,” said Tilly. “I don’t carry around dollies in my purse, but I do have a friend. Do you want to meet her?”

 

“She carries around a friend in her purse?” Droshta whispered over to Senof, who had his hand wrapped around the bottom of the scarf once again.

 

Tilly ignored them in favor of looking down at Porta, who stared at her for a minute, then nodded lightly.

 

“Okay, she can be a little cranky sometimes, but hopefully she’ll cooperate and not just give me the silent treatment again.” Tilly flipped open her purse and pulled out the communicator. “Toren? You feel like meeting a few people?”

 

“You’re gonna show me off?” Toren squeaked happily.

 

Tilly smiled, still not completely over the fact that the ship had a streak of vanity a mile wide. “Yup. Say hi.”

 

“Hello!”

 

“Everyone, say hi to Toren.” Tilly held the communicator out towards the kids on the other cot.

 

“Oh, it’s just someone on the other side of the communicator.” Droshta said, leaning back, and looking thoroughly disinterested.

 

“No,” Tilly started. “I mean yes. But no. Toren’s the ship I travel on.”

 

“Aren’t I fabulous?” Toren asked cheerfully.

 

“Aren’t you a ham?” Tilly replied.

 

“It’s not being a ham if it’s absolutely true. And you know it is.”

 

“That’s not a computer.” Roshti said. “It’s too…”

“Egotistical?” Tilly answered.

 

“Well, yeah.” Shi-la said with a frown, crossing her arms and looking down at the communicator. “That’s actually a pretty good word for it. It’s personality. What sort of programming-"

 

“I’m special!” Toren squealed.

 

“Yes Toren, you’re a special little snowflake,” Tilly said, holding her right ear. “But don’t interrupt pe-.”

 

There was a small boom in the distance, and suddenly the room was quiet. Heads turned towards the noise and a few seconds later voices erupted into a loud chatter.

 

“Stay here.” Shi-la said, already walking away. “I’m going to check it out.”

 

Tilly nodded. “Toren. You got anything on that?”

 

“Nothing’s coming through news feeds yet. Communication systems are down in this area, so not much really to go off of. Sorry.” Toren said, actually sounding somewhat contrite. “I’ll keep looking though. If I can tap into some of the basic radio signals then I might be able to find something.”

 

Tilly’s fingers tapped against her blue jeans nervously, until she heard a soft noise beside her.

 

She looked down to see Porta curled up, with her legs up to her chest. A small sound of distress squeaked out of the little Desivite ball.

 

“Hey,” Tilly said, her hand coming down to sit on the little girls back. “We’re okay. We’re safe in here.” She looked up at the others, hoping she wasn’t doing something wrong again. Hoping that Desivites didn’t have a thing about touch too. Droshta had pulled into himself somewhat, like Porta, and Roshti had a shivering Senof sitting curled in her lap. Tilly looked back down and rubbed Porta’s back softly. The girl uncurled just a little. “You know what I do when I’m scared though? What makes me feel better? I hum. Or sing, sometimes, but mostly hum. Do you have a song you like to sing?”

 

Porta, keeping her head down, shrugged, her quills twitching with the movement, then looked up at Roshti, pleadingly, who nodded.

 

“I’ll sing it,” Roshti answered Porta in a somewhat shaky voice, “but you’ve got to help me out.”

 

Porta nodded and Roshti started singing, soft and uncertain, eyeing Porta until she started to hum along softly. Tilly smiled, watching as the small group began to unwind just a little. By the time Roshti had finished two verses Senof was playing once again with Drosta’s scarf and Droshta himself had uncurled significantly, his knees still up to his chest, but his arms sitting loosely upon them. Porta’s head had lulled against Tilly’s side at some point during the song and the rest of her had followed suit, scooting closer until they were touching. They sat in silence for a second, listening to the chaos around them.

 

“Arika, what song do you hum?” Roshti asked when she felt Senof start to tense up again.

 

Tilly shrugged. “Nothing in particular usually. Mostly whatever’s in my head at the time.” She cleared her throat anyway though, and started to hum, not completely certain at first what the song was, until she was a few lines in, then feeling a flutter in her stomach as recognition and flashes of the dream popped back into the forefront of her mind. She didn’t remember any words, but the tune came easily enough. Far too easy for her mind to have randomly thrown it together during sleep. She closed her eyes as something floated, faint and more of an impression than a solid image, just in reach. A man, with curly brown hair and an itchy sweater, humming James Taylor against the end of the world.

 

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