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The Box

It was a warm summer night as Jake walked home from the pizzeria after a typical post-shift pizza party. It had been a few weeks since he had met those two girls with the blue hair, but he still carried around that box. He didn’t know what he expected to happen, but he knew that it would provide some sort of connection to that girl, Lihandii. He had tried doing some research on the name to try to figure out where it was from, but he had come back with nothing. He couldn’t even find a name similar to it.

When he had talked to his partner about it, Ayling had told him just to forget about her. He said that the girls had probably been illegal immigrants and had been deported or that they had been faking their situation and lied about their names, but Jake didn’t believe that. When Ayling had suggested that it might have been a ruse, Jake had decide to look at the box more closely.

The brushed feel of the metal casing on the box reminded Jake of a very expensive refrigerator, but when he took a magnet against it, it wouldn’t stick. Furthermore, upon opening the box, it sprung open as if on a spring, but he couldn’t find one. He tried to figure out what it was next, pressing the strange characters on what he was pretty sure was the lower half of the device. When nothing happened, he started to wonder if it was a prop or something. He had closed it and noticed the tiniest bump on one edge of the box. When he pressed it down, it clicked softly, like the button on a handheld radio.

After he pressed the button, Jake had noticed a quiet beeping sound from the device. Opening it again, he had been surprised to find that the top half of the device, which had previously been plain metal, was now a small screen, as if for a television or computer. Again, however, he was confronted with characters he couldn’t comprehend. Deciding to learn more, he had drawn some of the characters on a piece of paper and taken them to the library.

At the library, Jake had discovered that the characters were similar to something called runes, though these were more precise and mechanical, much like modern type. Jake had taken home a few books on runes and a few cultures associated with them. Transcribing the equivalent type into the Latin alphabet had taken him quite some time, but he was fairly certain that the characters on the bottom half of the device were mostly numerals, resembling something he had found called the pentimal system, though these seemed to count all the way from zero to nineteen, indicating a base twenty math system.

Just the previous night, Jake had finished a complete redraw of the device in a form easier for him to read, though he wasn’t quite sure that helped much, except to give him actual words and phrases that he didn’t understand instead of just pictures. He had recognized one word, though: Valkyrie. Now, as he walked back from the pizzeria, he held a flashlight to shine on the paper drawing he had made of the device, trying to make some sort of sense out of it.

“That’s impressive progress you’ve made, Jake.” The voice sounded so familiar, but it came from behind. Could it be?

“Lihandii?” Jake almost whispered the name, such was his apprehension should he be mistaken. He turned to the source of the voice and saw that same girl from three weeks prior. For a while, he couldn’t speak at all as she smiled gently at him, her eyes so captivating that they almost seemed to glow with green. Then, he found his voice again. “I thought you couldn’t speak English.”

She signed to him as she spoke, occasionally substituting a spoken word for a sign, “I couldn’t, but when you signed with us, it gave me an idea on how to learn to speak this language faster. I’ve been learning from the deaf.” Her accent seemed a bit odd, probably in part due to her native tongue but also in part due to the way the deaf spoke when she was learning.

Jake couldn’t believe it. She had learned a whole language in just three weeks, though he supposed she had really learned two with all the signing discrepancies between her language and ASL. He had barely transcribed a screen and some buttons from one character set to another. “That’s amazing,” he said. “But how did you find me?”

Lihandii pointed to Jake’s pocket, where he kept the device she had given him. “You’ve been carrying around my–” No, that word couldn’t be right, Jake thought. She hadn’t spoken it aloud, but she had signed the word, “telephone.” This wasn’t a phone. Phones had numbers and cables and that weird dial tone sound when you picked them up. This thing had numbers, sure, but there were no cables, there was no tone, and there was the matter of that weird screen when he had turned it on. Still, if it were a phone of some sort, it would explain why she’d have given it to him. It might also explain how she had found him if it produced some sort of radio signal. She may have used some sort of triangulation technique to track him down.

“Do you want it back, then,” Jake asked, pulling the device from his pocket and holding it out toward her. She walked closer to him, and he found that he didn’t actually want her to take it. If she did, she’d have no reason to talk to him again. Still, it was hers, so he held his hand open. She grabbed his hand from the bottom and placed her fingers along his own, curling them back over the device.

“Keep it,” she said. Letting go, she resumed signing her words. “I’d like to talk with you about this place. I know you don’t really know me, but I’d really appreciate if you could trust me.” As she spoke, her eyes looked around the street. As she did so, Jake noticed that her eyes really were glowing. It wasn’t just his imagination. Her eyes finally set on the house next to them, a plain white house with a picket fence and a large tree in the front yard. To Jake, it was a site as normal as any other, but she seemed to look at it as if it were one of the most mysterious things upon which she’d ever set her eyes.

Jake stammered for a few seconds, then remembered that words were essential to any conversation spoken aloud. “Yes, of course. I was just heading home, as a matter of fact. If you haven’t eaten dinner yet, I’ve got some pizza left over. You could eat while I tidy up.” He held up the bag of food in his hand, and even through the box and the bag, one could easily smell the delicious scents emanating from the food. She smiled again.

“I haven’t, and I’d love that.” She walked closer to him, grabbing his free hand, which had dropped his flashlight when he had first heard her voice. As they walked away, the flashlight rolled off of the sidewalk and into the gutter. There, it sputtered out.


“Yes, Liha, I think you’re right,” Feri’Andi said in calm response as the Valkyries looked out the viewport at the black smoke pouring out of the building beneath them into the bright, blue sky above them. “Should we move out and put the ship elsewhere?”

Lihandii narrowed her eyes in thought for a few moments before standing and saying, “No. If we fly out now, the Valkyr will push the smoke out, and someone might notice us. I have a better idea.” She smiled at Feri’Andi in a way that said Feri’Andi wouldn’t like the plan but would have fun executing it, earning an exasperated face from her copilot.

“I swear, this planet has a bad influence on you,” Feri’Andi said. “Let me guess, you want us to go in there just so we’ll get pulled out by the firefighting robots. In case you haven’t noticed, the robotics here aren’t exactly that advanced.”

Lihandii rose her eyebrows at the suggestion. “Honestly, when did I say anything about robots? I saw a short while ago on one of the transmissions I was going through that they have people fight the infernos here.” Lihandii was very interested in the apparent physical similarity between creatures here and Thorlinthians, as well. In the same transmission to which she was now referring, she had noticed that the people on this planet, or at least some of them, looked almost identical to Thorlinthians, if more primitive. She wanted to find out why.

“Well, if we’re going out there, we can’t wear our uniforms. From what I can tell, the people are pretty paranoid about military uniforms they don’t recognize. We’d stand out a bit.” She stood and started moving aft to change into something that might be less conspicuous. Stopping just short of moving into the next compartment, she stopped. “And what do you plan on doing with Valkyr, Liha? We can’t exactly just leave it here.”

Lihandii smiled as she finished what she was doing at the controls, shutting down her screens and standing up just before Feri’Andi had had a chance to see what she was doing. “You just leave that to me. I’ve already taken care of it.” She pushed Feri’Andi lightly to get her to move, and they both went back to change.

“So, do you two ladies plan on telling us what you were doing in that building? It’s not exactly a favorite hangout for girls your age. It’s been condemned for years, and you two don’t look to be druggies or prostitutes. You’re too healthy and wholesomely dressed.” Jake Kendrick couldn’t get a word out of the girls, whose outlandish appearance and apparent inability to speak English were their only suspicious traits.

Based on where they were in the building when he and his partner had found them, he was pretty sure they hadn’t started the fire. Still, he couldn’t let them go without some sort of information, and the police were licking their lips to get their hands on the two. “Can you at least tell me your names? I need something here.”

At that, he noticed one of the girls perk up slightly. She nudged the other, who started to say something aloud before catching herself and signing something with her hands instead. This time, Jake thought he might catch something. His mother was deaf, and if that was the problem, he had it covered. He paid close attention to what they were signing between each other. It must not have been American Sign Language, though, because he barely recognized any of the signs. Still, he thought he saw them say something about fires and names.

Attempting to help out, he signed very carefully, “I need you to tell me your names, so I can let you go.” Smiling, the girl who had almost spoken earlier looked at him and signed something else. It seemed like they couldn’t quite understand where he wanted them to go. “Don’t you have somewhere to go?” He signed this out even more slowly, trying to be very obvious about what he meant. If they were homeless, it might explain what they were doing here.

The girl talking to him closed her eyes momentarily and swiped her hands in front of herself, crossing her centerline. That was a no, then. At least it seemed like they were communicating. He signed again, “Well, can you tell me your names? My name is Jake.” He said his name aloud as he signed it.

The silent girl began to say something when a police officer walked over. “Have you managed to get anything out of these two, Jake? No one else from the building recognizes them, but we’ve already got our arson. He just got caught trying to start another fire a few buildings down the same way. As soon as we get their contact information, they’re free to go.”

The officer began to walk away, but Jake said, “I think they’re homeless, Miles. And on top of that, they don’t seem to know English. I tried Spanish earlier, but they seemed even more confused, so I’m pretty sure they’re not border hoppers. They might be deaf, though. They both seemed to respond a bit to sign language.”

Miles patted Jake on the shoulder. “Well, try and get what you can. Homelessness isn’t a crime, and the building didn’t have a trespassing policy, so I don’t need ’em. I’ve got to get back on the beat.” He starte
d walking away again before calling over his shoulder, “You’re buying tonight, right?”

“Not tonight, Miles,” Jake called back. “It’s Paul’s turn. I buy next Tuesday.” He waved it off and faced the girls again. They seemed a bit tense. He signed at them, “They’re leaving. You’re not in trouble.”

“Nom edt Feri’Andi,” the silent one said, pointing at herself. She pointed at the one who had been signing with Jake earlier and said, “Nom edta Lihandii.”

Jake grinned, happy to see that he had gotten through to them. He did his best to write their names, but he was pretty sure they were both spelled wrong. “Thank you,” he signed and said aloud. “I don’t suppose you have any way for me to get a hold of you if I need to.”

Lihandii placed her hands over his ears gently and closed her eyes. For a brief moment, he thought he had heard something in his head, but it must have been his imagination. She stepped back, placing a small, metal box in his hand. It looked a bit like a communicator from Jake’s favorite science fiction show, and upon further inspection, he found it opened out just like the ones from the show. He looked up from the device to find out more, but the girls were simply gone.

Jake’s partner came walking over to let him know that it was time to go back to the firehouse. “They gone already?” Jake nodded, placing the box in his pocket. “Too bad. They were cute. I’ve got to admit, the hair was a little weird, but that shorter one’s going to be the future Mrs. Ayling. What was her name?”

“Tell you what, man. You can have the taller one. I’ve got dibs on the other one.” Jake smiled, holding his hand over his pocket.

“That’s perfectly fine by me. They were both smokin’,” Ayling said, nudging Jake as they got into the truck. “What was her name, then?” Jake handed him the paper he had written on and pointed as he leaned his head back while the truck started on its way back. “Fairy Andy? You’re screwing with me, right?”

Jake smiled again, more broadly this time. “Well, that’s what it sounded like. I didn’t exactly check the spelling. Let’s just finish up our shift. We’ve only got half an hour left, anyway. Paul’s buying tonight.” Protests were made by the driver as he heard he had to buy pizza for ten people. It was a tradition at this point, though, and the friends all had to take turns. Jake barely heard the mock argument as he tapped his fingers over his pocket, remembering the feel of those soft hands on his face. Smiling, he whispered, “Lihandii.”

A Father’s Day Tribute

A Father’s Day Tribute

It was a beautiful summer Wednesday afternoon, and Drake Kendrick (who would later become known as Drigondii Sheii’Cronell) was working outside with his father, Jake. It had been several years since his mother had left, though at the time Drake did not know where or why, and it was just the two of them, father and son. To commemorate the fact that was such a wonderful summer day, unfettered by such toils as school, rain, or any other dreadful thing which boys Drake’s own age all hated, they were digging up the yard and installing a sprinkler system.

While Drake had had all sorts of suggestions for enjoyable activities to include going to the movies, getting an ice cream, watching TV, and playing with water balloons but certainly not to include working, the older and more wizened of the Kendricks had decided upon the wondrous activity of putting in a pop-up sprinkler system through which Drake could later run and which would be much more fun than any of those silly things Drake wanted to do. Well, hours into the day, with quite a bit of pipe laid and quite a bit of dirt moved, Drake was now convinced that this had been a trick to get him to help out with the yardwork. But there were only a couple of hours of work left before the small yard would be completely dug out for piping, so Drake pushed onward, relishing the smiles he was earning from his dad for restraining so long from complaint.

After another hour or so, it was time for a break. Drake was sent into the house to get a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. This was a bit of a tradition for the two of them. While they always had bottles upon bottles of water to stay hydrated, Drake and his father always had some chips and salsa when they were almost done for the day with work outside. Drake was often told that it had been his mother’s favorite part of such days, and he didn’t disagree. He grabbed a bowl and cup for easier handling of the chips and salsa and headed back outside, beaming with his doe brown eyes at the thought of his mother.

“Hey there, superguy! You all ready for our break?” Jake Kendrick’s eyes held wrinkles from smiling so widely, and they were filled with pride at the little man jogging back to him, eager to get back to his dad. “Be careful going over those trenches, Drake,” he said as the boy got closer. Then Drake tripped on a trench.

He fell, hitting his head on the corner of one of the shovels. Blood sprayed as his face was torn open by the cruel, cold steel. “Drake!” Jake Kendrick ran as fast as he could to his son’s aid. Tossing aside his shovel and letting all else lie in its disheveled place on the ground, Jake ran and picked up his son, immediately applying pressure on the wound and carrying him quickly to the house, where his First Aid kit awaited. Quickly, he threw open the door and carried his son to the sink, where he washed the wound carefully, pulling out the First Aid kit below. Not bothering to turn off the faucet, he lay Drake on the table, urgent to treat the wound before–

A small hand reached out from a teary, bloodstained young body and gripped Jake’s throat with the strength of three grown men. Blood red liquid seemed to fill young Drake’s irises as they changed color and began to shine. The dragon tattoo winding down Drake’s small arm began to glow a bright green and remove its claws from the boy’s skin. It then moved, turning back to the boy’s head and beginning to walk toward his wound. Jake’s eyes began to well up with tears as his son looked at him, emotionless and task-driven but clearly in pain.

Blood was still pumping from the wound as the dragon reached it and glowed even brighter. It then began to encircle the wound like it was prey on which to be fed. Its jaws gnashed at the edges of the wound, which pulled away like a frightened animal. The dragon drew its circle tighter and tighter as the wound closed, eventually dwindling to nothing.

The glowing stopped and the dragon moved back to its place, wrapped around Drake’s young arm. It dug its claws back in, and the red in Drake’s eyes seemed to be washed away by the brown that was returning. When the last of it was gone, Drake lost consciousness and released his father, who had pulled his son into a tight embrace before he was finished with his first gasp of air. Setting him down, Jake bandaged the spot where the wound had been and cleaned Drake up. Drake would know neither how severe the wound had been nor how he had healed so quickly.

Drake awoke two hours later on the couch with a blanket over him. He went outside to see how his dad was doing. “Hey, superguy! Hope you don’t mind I finished up without you.” Jake stepped toward his son and gestured that he sit in one of the lawn chairs. Drake sat, and his dad sat in the other chair, picking up the full bowl of chips and handing it to his son. “Let’s get started on these chips, huh?” His large hand grabbed a chip, dipped it into the cup of salsa, and brought it to his bearded mouth, which smiled at his son as he chewed on his own chip and smiled back.

“Hey, Dad?” Drake spoke, and his father looked at him, smile unfading.

“Yes, Drake?”

“Is my head going to be ok?” Drake looked at his father, who began to chuckle.

“Yes, Drake, you’re
going to be fine. It wasn’t even that bad. You probably hurt the shovel more than it hurt you. You should be good to take that bandage off in a day or two, right as rain. Just be careful not to take it off before then. You know why?”

“Because we don’t want it to get infected, right?” Drake smiled at his dad, who smiled right back, careful not to answer the question. He reached out and ruffled his son’s hair after a few more chips.

“Now, let’s get this stuff put up. Don’t want it to be left outside overnight.” They sprayed the dirt off the tools and put them away underneath the porch. The last things to be put away outside were the chairs. Once all the tools, pipes, glues, and primers had been put away, Drake and his father went and sat back in the chairs, going back to their chips and salsa to watch the sunset.

As the sun went down, Drake looked at his dad again. He could have sworn for a moment that he saw red marks around his dad’s neck. But it must just have been sunburn. His dad noticed him looking. “What’s up, kiddo?” Jake’s brow furrowed slightly, but his smile remained.

“Nothing, Dad. Happy birthday, Dad.” Drake smiled at his dad, who patted his back and squeezed his shoulder gently.

“Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.” The tear that hadn’t dropped at the sight of Drigondii Sheii’Cronell in his son’s eyes dropped to his cheek now, at the sight of a truly good son.

Jake Kendrick would have seven more birthdays. Shortly after that, Drake Kendrick would cease to be, and Drigondii Sheii’Cronell would leave Earth. But that day was not today, and only the older of the Kendricks even knew that the day would come. In the meantime, Jake Kendrick intended to enjoy every moment he could with his son. Seven years could be such a long time, and days like this one seemed to do the best job of making a good day long.

“I love you, Dad.”

“I love you, too, superguy. Let’s go to bed. We have to work on the garden tomorrow.” Drake groaned while his father smiled as they went inside the small house. Jake looked at his watch, as he did every time the day was coming to an end. It read: 63670 hours remaining. He looked away and went to bed.