She looked up, realised she was looking over her glasses, and moved her head instead of just her eyes. It had only been a few weeks – she still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of them.
“There’s something I’d like to show you after breakfast. If,” he hesitated, “you don’t already have plans?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“It’s a surprise,” Lor said, turning back to his food. “Patience, lass. It’s a virtue.”
“Oooh, you got told!” Lyra said. Ellie ducked, a piece of flying sandwich narrowly missing her head. Honestly, no one was safe at meal times. Not even, she giggled, looking at her sister’s stained nightdress, the food monster herself.
Half an hour later she was standing on the other side of the road, trying to figure out why her father looked so pleased with himself.
“Well, here we are!”
She looked around, just as clueless as she had been before he’d spoken. She waited for him to continue, but he just stood there. Grinning.
“Papa? Why are we here?”
“Oh, silly me. Happy Early Birthday!”
Had she woken up on the ‘no explanations’ side of the bed this morning? Had she fallen into the mirror universe, like the captain in Space Adventures? If so, where were all the evil goatees? She moved her hand up to her chin, relieved when it touched smooth skin. No goatee there. If this was the mirror universe, she’d been cheated.
Her confusion must have been evident, because he finally decided to explain.
“I thought that you might want your own place at some point, so I made some enquiries a couple of months back. I got the go-ahead today. From now on, this place,” he gestured at the plot of land beside them, “is yours. I’ve put aside some money for building materials and furniture, but I thought you’d want to design it your-”
She threw her arms around him, cutting him off from the rest of his sentence. From the gasp, it might have been from his air supply, too. She stepped back, grinning widely. “Are you serious? I’m going to have my own house?”
Ellie squealed and hugged him again before running into the middle of the grass and spinning, arms wide as she took it all in.
“Thank you. It’s perfect!”
“Papa? What are you doing in here?”
“Can we talk?”
Please not the woohoo talk, please not the woohoo talk…
“It’s about your rocket.”
Phew. Ellie sighed and sat down. “What’s up?”
“I’m… not so sure you should go flying again.”
“It’s not safe.”
“Of course it’s not safe!” she said, leaping off the bed and glaring at him. “It’s an adventure! Nothing worth doing is completely safe.”
“Ellie, we almost lost you.”
“You’re exaggerating. I was perfectly-”
“No, you weren’t. What if you had hit your head harder? What if I hadn’t been in? You’d have bled out before anyone could have helped, and I’d-” his voice broke and he rested his head in his hands. “I was so scared.”
“Papa…” Great. Now she felt guilty.
“Did we ever tell you about your great-grandfather?”
Ellie shook her head. She knew she’d been named for him, but that was it. She’d never even seen a photo of him.
“He was a scientist. He met your great-grandmother on Sixam; he had a habit of running off after being abducted. In fact,” he smiled, “you probably inherited more than a name from him in that way. He always wanted to see more, just like you.”
“Did he get to?”
Lor sat there, lost in thought, and Ellie watched him. Why was he telling her this? What did it have to do with-
“He died in a rocket accident.”
“He was on his way back from Sixam. He was heavily pregnant at the time, and he’d promised his family that he’d give birth here. Something went wrong with the controls during the landing, and the ship crashed. He was dead by the time they found him.”
“I didn’t know…”
“I don’t want to lose you, Ellie.”
She sat down and rested her head on his shoulder.
“I can’t give it up, papa. I can’t stay down here forever.”
“It would kill me. Maybe not on the outside, but…”
He pressed a kiss to her forehead and stood. His expression was unreadable to her, but his eyes were damp.
“Goodnight, Ellie. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The door closed behind him and she flopped down onto her bed. What was she going to do now?
“Hey, Mr Centauri. Is Ellie in?”
Ellie, it’s for you.
Al, get out of my head. But thank you.
Ellie’s heart filled with butterflies as she opened the door.
Ashlynn stepped back quickly, arms falling to her sides. “Wait, why are you hugging me? That’s not exactly consistent with how you’ve been treating me.”
“How I’ve been… Ash, what do you mean?”
“You’ve been ignoring me. I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of hurt.”
“I haven’t been ignoring you. I haven’t seen you since-”
“Exactly! It’s been weeks. Why didn’t you come and see me?”
“Ash, you know I can’t leave.”
The redhead leant forward and examined her face, before pulling back and scoffing. “They’ve healed enough. You can’t expect me to believe that.”
“You’re well again. Why wouldn’t you be allowed to leave?”
“Ash,” Ellie said, frowning, “I can’t leave Newcrest. Ever. I thought you knew that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m a Sixan. My family and I… we’re kind of an experiment to see whether our species can co-exist openly. If we spread out, then Sims would panic. They’d think it was an invasion, maybe start attacking us. That’s why one of the rules is that we stay here. It’s to gain their trust and prove that we ‘come in peace’, as it were. I’m here forever, Ash.”
“That’s why you never came to see me?”
“As much as I care about you, I can’t justify starting a war. I just hoped that maybe you’d come and see me, instead.”
Her face was closed off, and Ellie’s heart sank. She wanted to reach out and hold her friend’s hand, but something told her she wouldn’t be welcome.
“So, what will happen when you leave school? Will you just continue living with your parents?”
Ellie grinned, excitement coursing through her. “Actually, I can show you.”
“Ellie, this is an empty lot.”
“Not for long. I’ve nearly finished drawing the plans.”
“For my house! I’m going to live here!”
Ash looked around, and then looked back across the road. “So close?”
“I thought you wanted to see the world.”
“I do. I really do,” Ellie said, her voice quiet, “but the only way I’m ever going to see the rest of this world is from thousands of miles above it. How stupid is that,” she added, slightly bitterly, “I can travel anywhere in the universe, but I can’t even see the nearest city.”
They stood in silence, and she felt it form a wall between them. She wanted to break it, to hold the woman in front of her. Maybe even kiss her, like she had so many times in her dreams.
“I’ve got to go.”
Maybe dreams were all she’d ever have.
“Ash, please? I-”
“I’ll see you later.” The redhead threw a weak smile over her shoulder. “It’s not like I don’t know where you’ll be.”
Ellie whirled around.
“My name’s Rainn, I’m a friend of your dad’s.”
“The blue one. Also, maybe ‘friend’ was a bit presumptuous. I kind of broke into his workplace to spy on their projects. Did you know he’s built a cloning machine?”
“Uh-huh,” the woman grinned. “It’s pretty cool, though I think the labs back home are still slightly ahead in that department. Then again, we always have been.”
Ellie was about to ask where ‘home’ was, when the woman’s eyes shifted, pulsing black for a brief moment. “You’re a Sixan…” she breathed, eyes wide.
“But how..? I thought that-”
“You were the only ones living here?” she grinned. “Well, legally, yes. Don’t worry, I won’t screw up this little thing you’ve got going on here. Still, you’ve gotta have some undercover back-up in enemy territory, don’t you?”
“They aren’t my enemies!”
“Do they feel the same way, though? I saw how she turned on you.”
Ellie looked down at her feet, suddenly ashamed. “She didn’t turn on me. She just wanted time to think.” A hand rested on her shoulder, making her jump.
“I hope you’re right.”
Ellie watched someone walk away from her for a second time that day. Her head hurt.
“Leo? Can I have a drink?”
“What is it?”
Leo leant forward, a mischievous smile creeping across his face. “That, dear sister, is what we call ‘a drink’. They’re quite common – I can’t imagine why you’ve never come across one before.”
She snorted, took a sip and promptly choked.
His grin grew wider at her scandalised tone. “Yes?”
“There’s alcohol in this,” she whispered, checking to make sure there were no adults within hearing distance.
Leo clapped a hand to his mouth. “I am shocked. How did that get in there?” Lyra giggled, and he winked at his twin before turning back to her. “You looked like you could use it. Was I wrong?”
She took another sip, held it in her mouth for a moment and swallowed. It was actually quite nice, once you got past the shock. “No, you weren’t. Thanks.”
And if you want to talk about it…
Thanks, Leo. Maybe later.
No ‘get out of my head’? You must be troubled.
Get out of my head.
You got it.
Lyra tiptoed down the hallway. One good thing about being a dancer was that she was light on her feet – there was only the slightest creak of the floorboards as she moved. She opened the door in front of her and slipped inside.
“Leo? Wake up!”
Her brother rolled over and grumbled into his pillow before starting to snore again. She rolled her eyes.
He opened his eyes and glared at her, and she grinned back at him.
“Lyra? Do you know what time it is?”
“Duh. This is important, though. We mustn’t be overheard.”
He groaned and shifted, sitting up in his bed. “What is it?”
“The auditions are being held in San Myshuno this year!”
“You woke me up for that?”
“I… I thought you’d be happy,” she said, crestfallen. She could feel the anger rolling off him – if it were any stronger he’d be glowing. “I’m sorry. I’ll tell you the rest tomorrow.”
She left, head hanging. She’d forgotten his temper. He so rarely turned it on her, it was easy to do.
She turned around. He was there – hair mussed, half-asleep and with a smile that was at least partially an annoyed grimace on his face.
“I’m awake now, you might as well tell me. Ok?”
She perked up, sadness gone in an instant.
“I’ve signed up and booked the train tickets. Next month, we’re going to San Myshuno.”
“Next-” he began, before her hand covered his mouth.
“Shhhhhh! Do you want to wake them up?”
“Ly, that’s not really much warning,” he whispered. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”