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Episode 13 Part 23

By:  Lenady

“Arika,” Toren’s voice cut through Tilly’s thoughts. “Zora just checked in. There were some gas leaks in the area and evidently one caused a pretty big boom.”


Tilly pulled in a breath and she felt her core tighten. The small body sitting beside her did as well and she fought against the urge to clench her fist in anxiety, instead letting the breath out, relaxing the muscles which had sprung tight, and focusing on keeping her expressions as neutral as possible. “Is she okay?” she asked, while reminding herself that at least Sanrook was talking. She tried not to think about the fact that Sanrook could probably talk through about anything, save for poison arrows meant for animals six times her size.


“She’s in one piece and still only has the normal amount of holes; other than that it’s sometimes hard to gauge with her, but she seems okay.”


Tilly nodded, despite the fact that she wasn’t certain if the communicator’s visual sensors would pick it up. “Thanks. Any more relevant info?” She hoped that Toren would realize that relevant also meant child-friendly.


“Some damage to the area of course, but they were working quite a distance away and there doesn’t seem to be any reports of additional gas leaks in your vicinity. That’s about it.” Toren added the last sentence with her usual chirpy enthusiasm, and Tilly found herself, for possibly the first time, feeling relived instead of irritated by it.


“Well,” Tilly said, looking up and smiling. “That solves that.”


“How does it know there won’t be any here?” Senof whispered shakily from Roshti’s lap.


Tilly paused a moment. The problem with getting child-friendly tidbits, which she wasn’t even completely certain were child-friendly versions, was she didn’t know how much was actually completely true and how much was sugar-coated. She didn’t think that Toren would lead her astray information-wise though, if there was danger.


“I don’t really know actually. But-" she continued quickly as she saw his lip tremble just a little, “Toren always tries to give me the best information that she can, and that’s something she’s more than capable at. Plus, I do know that if we were really at risk then they’d-" Tilly motioned up at the officials now milling around the room again, “be doing something more than just wandering around. That would put them into action.”


About the time she said that she noted a few officials in various uniforms clustered together, along with another individual wearing both plainclothes and an aura of power. She glanced down quickly, hoping she hadn’t drawn the children’s attention to them. They were already shook up enough without her last words fueling the fire more.


“Hey,” she said, holding up the communicator. “You guys want to see where I’m from?”



`           *          *          *


“So, what are we looking at so far?” Meseir Roptik asked as she entered the building.


“I keep telling you guys. You’ll have to ask-"A younger man looked up from his clipboard sharply, his quills arching before recognition set in. “Councilman Roptik? I didn’t know you were-" He stopped himself, adjusting his vest. “We’re… well, we’re not good. But we’re holding up about as well as I think is reasonable considering the circumstances.”


She looked out at the shelter, noting the amount of people amassed, their weary, uncertain looks. “Yes. Unfortunately this has hit us where it hurts, hasn’t it.”


The young man turned around, following her gaze. “Yeah,” he said quietly, pausing for a minute before turning around quickly. “I can give you some basic information Councilman, but if you’d like me to find…”


“Sen-Kota? Yes, that would be helpful. But I think I’ll come along with you if you don’t mind.”


He nodded and they starting walking down one side of the large room. They found Sen-Kota at the other side, talking to a few policeman.


“Meseir!” Sen-Kota exclaimed as she looked towards them. The older woman looked fatigued, her clothes rumpled and her posture slouched, but she was uninjured and appeared to be well, if tired. “How wonderful to see you. I just wish it could be in better circumstances.”


“Yes. Don’t we all.” She smiled as the older woman rubbed the back of her neck affectionately. “Are Sen-Kel and Ser-Pinot okay? Have you seen them?”


Sen-Kota nodded. “Thankfully the worst of the storm missed their building. Not everyone was so lucky though.” She shook her head, glancing out across the shelter. “Not everyone heeded the warnings. We only had a few show up ahead of the storm.” She shrugged. “Can’t say I blame them that much. It’s not as if this was expected. A storm yes. Tornado no. And certainly not one of this magnitude. And then the sirens. People are going to be asking about why they didn’t go off here. There’s already talk.”


Meseir crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “Yes. I was afraid of that.”


“Take care, child.” Sen-Kota rested a hand on her arm. “This could make or break you.”


She nodded. The election was coming up in the next year. “All the more reason for me to be back home, right? Just… interesting timing.” She pursed her lips and looked up, her eyes catching on a bit of blue. She pulled her eyes back over to Sen-Kota and the policemen. “So the location has worked out alright though? We were right about that much at least?”


The officer closest to her nodded. “This worked out well. Close enough to the hospital to easily access supplies, sturdy enough that we didn’t have to fear too much damage. Well,” he said, after a second, “before now at least we didn’t.”


“We still don’t. The building fared very well and I’ve never heard about this area getting storms like this. By the time another comes around this building probably won’t even be here anymore.” Even as she was speaking to the officer she felt her gaze pulling itself back out towards the crowd.


“I wouldn’t have expected to see off-worlders here.” She shifted slightly, looking towards the girl whose hair she’d noticed a moment before. It was hard to get a good look at her features, as she was surrounded by a group of children, but there was something about her that she couldn’t quite... “This neighborhood is far enough away from the tourist district and with it being so late I wouldn’t have thought…"


The policeman shrugged. “It’s something to prepare for next time.” He shook his head. “And we’ll have to be prepared for it when assistance comes.”


“The Intergalactic Council will be sending aid more than likely, of some sort at least,” Meseir said, agreeing. “Expect a row over it, but we’ll get some help. Eventually.” She looked, once more, at the girl before dismissing the thought niggling at her mind. She had better things to do than worry about some random person in a storm shelter.


`                                               *          *          *


“You don’t have the right hair color,” Droshta pointed out.


Tilly looked up from the pictures on the small display screen. “Humans can dye hair. Not many choose this color, but it’s not really that hard.”


“So why did you?”


Tilly looked back down at the screen, pulling up another picture. “Wanted a change I guess.”


“Sen-Shi-la, Sen-Shi-la!” Senof exclaimed suddenly. They turned around to see her walking towards them, smiling. “You kn- you know where Arika’s from? She’s from Earth.”


Tilly found her cheeks growing slightly warm as Shi-la turned towards her with wide eyes.


“How did y- You’re not-" she stuttered before getting a bit of composure and started again, eyes still wide. “You really aren’t from around here are you?”


Tilly shook her head, smiling sheepishly.


Shi-la’s eyes narrowed. “Isn’t this a little…” she said as she reached out to grab a bunch of hair.


Tilly shrugged as Shi-la brought a lock of her hair close to her face, examining it. “We can dye our hair. I could make it purple or green if I wanted. Why’s everyone so wrapped up in the hair thing?”


Shi-la let go of her hair and looked her up and down, before saying, hesitantly, “Humans aren’t exactly common.”


“Yeah.” Roshti jumped in. “No one’s allowed to go there or anything. It’s a- a-"


Shi-la’s eyes never left Tilly. “A Class 2 Restricted world.”


Tilly tensed up a little. Too many people were watching her, looking at her funny. First the Desivite woman she saw in that group, and now Shi-la.


“Arika, can I see you a second?” Shi-la was smiling again, but there was an edge to the question.


“Yeah,” she replied, gripping the communicator tightly as she followed Shi-la over a few feet.


“You’re not being trafficked, are you?” Shi-la whispered over to Tilly. “I can get you help.”


Tilly looked up at her in surprise for a second, blinking, then smiled again, shaking her head. “Not that I know of,” she said wryly.


Shi-la frowned, her quills bristiling just a little, “Not that you-"


“No, no,” Tilly said quickly, raising her hands up. “Don’t worry. I’m not being trafficked.”


“Ah,” Shi-la breathed out and looked back over at the children, relaxing visibly. “Okay. It’s just kind of unusual to see humans. Bringing restricted species off-world is a pretty serious-" She glanced back over at Tilly, her eyes narrowing a second before she reached out once again towards her hair.


Tilly took a step back, surprised, before stopping herself.


Shi-la paused as well, her hand extended outwards. “Sorry,” she said, pulling her hand back. “It’s just…” she tilted her head to the side. “You said you dyed it?”


Tilly blinked for a second, then nodded. “Yeah. I mean blue isn’t all that normal of a color on Earth, but…” Tilly frowned. “Do I stand out or something?”


“Kind of. I mean, I don’t know of any humanoids with that hair color-" She must have seen the flash of panic across Tilly’s face, because she added quickly, “But I wouldn’t worry about it so much, really. It’s not bad, just rare. Besides, you must be used to standing out on Earth anyway. Besides,” she said, turning back to walk towards the cots,  “You can always dye it back, right?”


Tilly nodded with a smile as she followed Shi-la, trying to hide the nervousness that wouldn’t go away. They sat on the cots and talked about random things, Shi-la’s annoying brother and Droshta’s favorite tv show and the ceremony that Roshti was training for at school. Tilly pulled out Toren and showed them a few more pictures, played the most recent songs she could remember coming out before she left, trying her hardest to focus on the friendly faces around her. She was never able to get rid of the unease though, somehow coming as much from Shi-la’s question as the paranoid feeling of being watched. And while she knew they meant well, knew the attentions were innocent, every time she felt Porta bat at a piece of her hair or caught Shi-la looking over at her with curiosity, she felt a pang of fear, mixing with both the longing to have back her familiar brown and the frustration of realizing that somehow she had finally welcomed the vibrant blue.


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