Through the empty hallways of the abandoned office building, the echoing 'clomp clomp' of the young boy's year-old sneakers were the only sounds that pervaded in one of his last sanctuaries. The little boy wore a yellow name-brand shirt with a safety orange raincoat over it and khaki pants. Armed only with a baseball bat, he ducked under the windows, carefully looking out through the corners to see if he could spot the alien he knew was nearby.
He reached a door and tested the knob, entering quietly once he was sure it was open. He followed the hallway rapidly, not as inclined to stealth since there were no windows, but as he walked passed an adjacent hall, he doubled back and looked to the end of it.
A part of the wall was destroyed, and as he looked on, he heard the low thuds of the alien approaching. Ducking behind the wall, he stood as still as he possibly could, wrapping the bat up in his jacket to keep it from waving around unnecessarily. The booming footfalls drew closer, then stopped. He could hear rustling, and the sound of the wall being ripped off and falling to the ground outside.
Short of breathing as lightly as he could manage, he was a statue, not willing to move in the slightest, lest her sensitive ears track him effortlessly. The minor motions the alien made were easy enough to hear, so he knew she hadn't left yet. Finally, he heard her heavy footfalls fading, unfortunately, it sounded like she was heading the way he had been, so he had little choice but to go back where he had come from.
The little boy eased his head out and looked down the hall. The hole that had been in the wall was now a gash that a grown man could walk through. Unraveling the bat from his jacket, the boy shifted back to the other side of the hall when he noticed something in the corner of his eye at the end of the hall.
Abandoning all inclination of stealth at this point, he dashed down the hall, sliding into the closed door he had entered though to stop before throwing it open and weaving through the desks and other paraphernalia lying about in the building. The surprisingly rapid footfalls of the alien as it chased him from the outside of the building caught his attention enough to look back. He clipped the corner of a desk with his abdomen, causing him to double over, but he was determined to avoid capture and hobbled to the staircase, keeping low to the floor and avoiding being able to see out a window. If he couldn't see her, how could she see him?
He slunk down the staircase, listening as the booming steps grew and faded. He reached the bottom floor and checked all the windows to see if the alien was waiting for him. Seeing and hearing no sign of his pursuer, the young boy took cautious steps and headed for the wall next to the exit. It didn't look like the alien was on this side of the building when he peeked out and scanned the area.
Just across the street was his goal; the entrance to the subway. It would be impossible for her to follow him, and it was just a short dash away. The boy set himself up for a sprint, holding the bat close to his chest, then took off as fast as his legs would carry him.
There was a crumbling sound followed by a peculiar whoosh,and ended with a street splitting crash that nearly lifted the boy off the ground. He hit the street with his shoulder and nearly dropped the bat, but he wasn't going to give up without a fight.
He looked up at the assailant as she was bending down, her hand reaching for him. He swung his bat at her hand but with uncanny dexterity, she caught it between her fingers and yanked it from his grip.
She loomed over him once more as he scooted away as best he could. He turned over to get up and run, but was lifted into the air by his jacket. He knew falling from this distance could be deadly, so he gave a defeated sigh, now at the mercy of his captor.
She grinned, then with unnecessary loudness chimed, I caught you! I caught you! That makes it 30 to 6, Maddoo. You make so much noise running around that it's almost too easy. the young Alarian suspended him level with her face, some 27 feet in the air. She stared mischievously at him with her deep blue eyes that were several shades darker than her blue-gray skin. Her features were rounded but solid, except for her chin which was rather narrow; facially, she looked like a human girl who had just entered adolescence. White-blue hair fell around her head to just past her shoulders, and long ears that curved up and back past her head. She wore a pleasing yellow and green shirt with baggy tan pants.
It's MATTHEW! And stop holding me by my jacket, NAUSEA! My mom is getting upset with me since she's always sewing it back together... the boy pouted, crossing his arms as he looked away from the Alarian's face.
Stop calling me that! My name is Nasseya, like the great river on Alarie she replied, sitting him down in the palm of her open hand. They exchanged sour looks for moment, but they gradually changed to smiles before laughing at the looks the other had. Well, I should get you home, I know your dad doesn't like when we're alone together. with him sitting in her hand, she held him against her bright green shirt and further supported him by using her other hand as something of a guard rail, allowing Matthew to retrieve his bat from between her fingers as she started on their way.
Matthew went about messing up his hair, always thinking it made him look cooler, He's always real quiet when I ask if I can play with you. He never says anything, just waves at me to say I can go, but he always looks mad. he looked down at the rapidly passing ground, and when I get home, he hugs me and looks like he could cry, like the time I got lost in the woods before I met you.
Nasseya was silent for a moment, her hair bobbing side-to-side as she walked, My moms always tell me to be extra careful with you, that I can't carry you in certain ways, or run while holding you, and that I should let you walk up to me when we're near your house. They say your dad is afraid I'll hurt you. she glanced down at the 10-year old boy in her hands, ...And sometimes, I'm afraid I might hurt you too.
They're just some scrapes, I've had worse.
That's not what I meant! she stopped suddenly, jostling her passenger. She stared at him with her dark blue eyes, looking distressed, I'm afraid I could really, really, hurt you one of these days, it's something I always worry about. You're so small, and fragile, I'm afraid you could just fall apart while I'm holding you. a giant tear fell and splashed onto Matthew's forehead, just above his right eye.
Hey! Stop crying! I thought Alarian's were tough, not crybabies! He looked up at his friend sternly, So what if you could hurt me? You don't, do you? We've been friends for two years and I'm just fine, so stop crying! he wiped away the water from his brow.
The young alarian sniffled some as she used her free hand to wipe away the tears from her face, Okay...just promise me you won't ever let me hurt you, and if I do... she went silent.
Don't go crying again! Matthew slapped his hand down on hers. When she looked down at him, he stared back at her with a look of determination. Soon after, she cleared herself up and continued on.
Matthew's home was less than a mile from the human town of New Lakeview, a small and simple settlement compared to the ruins of the original Lakeview. It had several piers and a couple of ports for fishing boats since the lake was connected to the sea by a short river. The closest starport was an hours jog away, or so Nasseya's mother had told her.
Nasseya knelt down to the ground and let her small human friend slide off her hands. She sat there some two hundred feet from the two-story house and watched Matthew's dark-haired mother step out to welcome him home. She was a little thick from her stomach to her thighs, but she was still a rather attractive woman. Her face was narrow, soft featured, and well taken care of.
Thank you, Nasseya! We always appreciate you walking him home! she called out as Matt ran up to her.
It's not a problem at all, I enjoy our time together. Nasseya replied in a level tone. From a second story window, Matthew's father looked out at her, his face unreadable. He had a clean shaven face, sturdy features, a somewhat crooked nose, focused blue eyes, and particularly thick eyebrows. She waved slowly at him and said politely, Hello Mr. Therst.
He gave no reply, just looked down to Matthew, then back at her before giving a curt nod and stepping back into the house. Nasseya felt like she had done something wrong, though he did nothing to infer it.
Well, I should get home now. she said before standing up carefully.
Nasseya! Please tell your mother, Sheya, that we accept your invitation to dinner next week! Matthew's mother called to her.
I will. I'll see you later, Matt. she responded with a weak smile.
Bye! I'll see if we can play tomorrow! he called back as she stood up to leave.
She was silent as she made her way south to her home, thinking about how Mr. Therst was always silent when she was around. Not once had she ever seen him smile or frown, it was always that blank look, hiding what he really thought of the two of them being together. It worried Nasseya that one day Matthew would tell her he couldn't be with her anymore, a thought she just couldn't bare.
After making it past the last few hills, she reached the edge of her mother's farm. She exchanged hellos with some of the humans that helped with the fields, stopping to assist them if they seemed to be having trouble.
She found her birth mother, Arrir, feeding the Sogash; giant long necked lizards that Alarians had been raising domestically as cattle throughout her people's history.
Arrir was a very calm looking woman, her silver-gray eyes always looked over everything with an endearing gaze. Her ears pointed up through her pale white, knee-length hair, but since it was in a ponytail, it was around her thigh level. She was wearing an outfit humans could compare to over-alls.
I'm home! She called to her mother, skipping to her side. One of the Sogash near the fence turned cumbersomely and stepped away.
Don't spook them, Arrir laughed, then turned her attention to Nasseya, Did you have fun with Matthew? she placed her gray-blue hand on her daughters head.
Yes I did! We played Hide and Seek again. He almost made it to home base, but he tripped up when I jumped behind him! her mother continued to smile, but her brow gave her a look of concern.
You know I don't want you jumping around him, even if you're careful to land away from him. He's... Arrir looked into her daughter's eyes, Have you been crying? You're eyes look a little red.
No, I...I was just yawning a lot. I'll probably go to bed early tonight. Nasseya lied.
Arrir dropped down to be eye-level with her daughter, Tell me what happened. she said pointedly.
Fidgeting, Nasseya answered her mother, telling her about their conversation on the way home, and how she was afraid Matthew's father would make them stop seeing one another.
Nasseya, the fact that you understand you could hurt Matthew is a good thing. If you didn't, I would keep you separated myself. Arrir looked into her daughter's eyes, We were at war once, you know that, but now, we live in a time of peace, where humans and alareen can live together with tolerance and respect. But that doesn't mean fear is non-existent, it lingers, clinging to memories.
Sheya, as you know, was a Captain by the end of the war. She was a brilliant field officer, losing only a handful good women. But when the war ended, she looked back and realized just how many humans were killed by her, directly and indirectly. She left the service and came to me, wanting to start over and provide for humans.
We shared a desire to have a child, and soon enough, you came into our lives. Arrir brought her daughter in for a caring hug. Once it was done, Over the years, we hoped you could find a human child to be friends with, and finally, when you told us about Matthew, we were overjoyed...and more than a little frightened. That's why I spoke with his parents, and that's why I always implore you to be extra careful with him. You and Matthew symbolize what I hope all humans and alarians can be one day.
Arrir stood back up, But now that you're home, I think you can go tidy up inside. she said smiling as her daughter gave a disapproving moan.
Matthew and his father were on the roof of what would soon be the new wing to their house. They had been working everyday for several months to make the addition and would soon be ready to have utilities installed.
But why can't Nasseya help us, Dad? We could be done by the end of the week if she did! Matthew had been trying to press his father into being nicer to her.
We've been doing just fine by ourselves, Matt, that...your friend doesn't need to get involved. Mr. Therst continued to hammer in the nails for the board.
She could help a lot, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind. Nasseya could hand us the boards so that we don't have to take so long bringing them up here, or help us onto the roof in the first place, and I know she'll look out in case we-- his father's hammer smashed through the board.
Damn it, Matthew, I don't want her near our house!! Matthew went silent as his father stared him down for a moment. Humans have been doing just fine on their own without giants to prop up support beams or give supplies to us on roof tops. We've built our house this by ourselves without a problem, so there is absolutely no need for us to seem helpless!
They were both quiet after that as they removed the broken board and went about replacing it.
I just don't understand my dad. He's seen you pick me up, he lets us play, but he doesn't like the idea of getting near you, that's just...not right. Matt was sitting back against Nasseya's stomach as she lay on her side, head on her hand. She was wearing a cream colored, loose, sleeveless shirt and baggy green-gray shorts. They had been lazily watching some of the fishing boats heading across the lake towards the sea, neither in much of a mood to play a game after their individual events the day before.
I think he's afraid of alarians, at least based on what my mom told me. Nasseya absentmindedly stroked the side of Matt's head with her thumb as she often did. I guess I can relate, I'm afraid that I could hurt someone if I'm not careful, especially you. her face turned somewhat somber.
Not that again! What did I tell you, nothing will happen to me, you take care of me too well. he stood up and placed his hands on her surprisingly firm belly, Besides, you're just too soft. he pressed his face against her skin and blew a raspberry. Nasseya laughed at the sensation, curling up some. Matt did it a few more times before she finally grabbed him and turned onto her back, lifting him into the air at arms length.
They both laughed from their positions, but Nasseya stopped first looking up at him with a smirk. She brought him in close opening her mouth and pursed her lips around one of his feet and gently turned her head one way then the other, smiling, pretending to be some big monster that threatened to tear him apart. Matthew continued to laugh, but tried to work in some faux cries of fear as he firmly pressed down on her lip with his other foot, pretending to kick in terror.
She let him go after a minute and propped her knees up as she lay flat on the ground, pressing them together. She lifted Matthew up to the top of her knees, putting his back to the crease between them and let him slide down. He held his legs up and hit her abdomen with a soft 'Thut', then was lifted again and again to repeat the slide.
They played as such for a while longer as the sky started to turn gray. Matt was picked up one last time but she turned him over and lay him against her face, her relatively petite nose on his right shoulder. Nasseya's light breaths traveled down his shirt, making it rise a bit when she exhaled. Matt reached down and fluttered his fingers under her chin, feeling her giggles.
Nasseya adjusted him and gave him a friendly peck on the back of his head, I love you, Matt. I hope we can be friends forever. she said, holding him over her heart.
I love you too, Nasseya. I'm sure we'll always be friends. Matt replied, wrapping his arms around one of her fingers. A drop of rain hit Matthew's cheek and he looked up, Uh oh, it's starting to rain. We should probably get home... he said disappointed.
Nasseya propped herself up, still holding Matt against her chest. When she stood up, she adjusted her arms and cradled him, hunching her shoulders and hanging her head forward some to help keep him dry as she walked him home.
Damn weather man says it's gonna rain for two days! I need to get the wing finished before the end of next week and two days is a lot of work to miss! Phillip Therst sat back in his sofa not looking forward to the extra long days that were in store just to catch up.
His wife, Gwen, was finishing sewing up Matthew's orange jacket. Several of the seams had popped at the shoulder again. What about your tarp? Can't you and Matt get the stands up that high? she said in mildly concerned tone.
Course they go that high, but it'll take almost an hour, we'd be more then soaked. Even if we did, there's s'posed to be high winds by then. The stands could fall into the house or onto the wing, and that'd just set us back again. he sat back, massaging his temples, trying to think of something, but Gwen already had a suggestion.
Why not let Nasseya hold up the tarp? she stated without looking up.
Phillip stared at his wife, Is that a joke? You know damn well I don't want an Alarian near my house, Matt's lucky I let her get as close as I do.
Gwen shook her head, You're letting your father talk again...
My father was left for dead by alarian's, if they were so 'caring and helpful' why did they let him suffer? he said with a hostile tone.
You'd rather him have died? she countered
Mr. Therst was silent for a moment, The point still stands, they are dangerous, and I pray every day that Matt isn't hurt. he shook his head, I don't know why I let him go with her...
Maybe because you don't want to believe in what you say? she cut the thread, put her sewing kit away, then folded the jacket and went to put them up.
Phillip Therst sat back, brooding over his predicament. He heard low thuds in the distance as some of glass items throughout the room shook slightly. He took a deep and begrudging sigh as he stood up to retrieve his coat and tools.
Matthew couldn't help but smile as he and his dad worked on the roof. How could he not when Nasseya loomed over them smiling herself, holding the pull-out tarp over the wing with both hands, finally able to get a good look at all the hard work they had done.
Nasseya hadn't spoken since agreeing merrily to Mr. Therst's request. She knew things couldn't change at the drop of a hat, but if he was finally willing to allow her near the house, it might have only been a matter of time before he trusted her.
Phillip Therst had been silent, short of asking for materials from Matt, trying to keep out the thought one of his biggest fears was keeping him dry in the rain. He told her she had to stay on her knees if she was going to hold up the tarp, he didn't want her rattling the framework by tapping her foot or fidgeting and knocking something over. It had been going fine for the time, but he noticed she had been steadily lowering her arms, likely from them getting tired. He let it carry on for a few more minutes before he thought he should give her a break, disguising it as going to get something warm to drink for him and Matt.
Nasseya smiled brightly as she and Matt sat, waiting for his father to return. She had put down the tarp and retracted it, putting it on the ground away from the house, and was stretching her arms to get rid of the stiffness. I'm really glad that your dad is starting to trust me more, Nasseya whispered, not wanting to make a racket.
Yeah, he's finally letting up. If he had asked for your help sooner I know we would have been done a long time ago. he sat at the edge of the roof, as a heavy gust of wind blew against him, Dad said we'd get wind today.
Nasseya's smile turned to a small smirk, inhaling through her nose. She puckered her lips and blew at Matt's face. He laughed and held up his hands to break it, but she kept it up. A bolt of lightning, accompanied by an ear-splitting crack of thunder, struck a tree a short distance behind Nasseya, causing it to explode.
The young alarian gave a terrified shriek as she fell to the side, her shoulder clipping the corner most support column of the unfinished wing. The column split and dipped the roof, causing Matthew to lose his balance. He slipped off and hit the muddy ground with a wet 'thud'. He coughed and moaned in pain as Nasseya whipped around, about to pick him up.
The sound of breaking glass was followed by a demanding voice, DON'T YOU TOUCH MY SON!! Nasseya looked up to see Mr. Therst dashing from the back door and stopping to pick up Matthew, staring at her with disdain.
Nasseya looked from him to the back door, where Mrs. Therst was standing, her hand over her mouth. At her feet looked to be the remains of a large glass pitcher, steam still emanating from the brown liquid. She took one more glance between them, ending on Matthew who wasn't looking up, then ran off through the rain, her tears masked under the water striking her face.
Matthew was not injured from the fall, but he felt as though he had been stabbed when his father forbade him from ever being near Nasseya. He protested, complained, bargained, reasoned, even cried, but his father wouldn't budge on the subject. Nasseya's parents had paid compensation in apology, as well as offer a good amount of fresh produce. The subject of their dinner together was not brought up.
Mr. Therst had canceled his appointment for the utilities crew, knowing it was impossible to finish the wing by the end of that week. He and Matthew didn't talk for a couple days and worked on the wing in silence, neither bothering the other for tools or supplies. Once they had re-affixed the corner of the wing, they went to finish boarding the roof once more.
Matt would often look out from the roof and see Nasseya poking her head over a hill in the distance. He gave an amused smile every time he saw her duck back, but he was also reminded they couldn't play together again, and that brought a frown, or more commonly tears to his face.
After three days of work, they still weren't on a talking basis, but they knew the routine enough to continue without any complications. They worked in silence, barely looking at each other; Matt out of childish frustration, and his father out of immature certainty he was right. After that fourth day of work, they climbed down and went to inspect the inside.
Several minutes went by as they went over inspecting the structures integrity, checking if they gave too much. Matthew stopped next to one, glowering angrily at it, then looked towards his father.
It wasn't fair... Matt said in a low voice.
Mr. Therst's head perked, but didn't turn around.
She didn't hurt me...It was an accident... Matt continued
Mr. Therst shook his head lightly, but still didn't look to his son.
Nasseya is afraid of thunder, and you saw that the tree in the back exploded from lightning. What if she was hit? Huh? What would you have done? Would you have been happy? Knowing she got hurt?
Now, Matt, that's... Matt didn't let his father finish.
It's what?! Not fair?! It wasn't fair to make her cry! To make her feel like she was a terrible person! You're the terrible person, Dad! he yelled, kicking at the beam next to him.
His father turned to him, Matt, I was only thinking of your well being. You could have been hurt very badly. I'm not taking that risk again.
Matt kicked the beam once more, What risk?! She's taken care of me for years an I've never gotten hurt! You don't know her! You never even tried to get to know her! he kicked it again.
Mr. Therst's eyes widened a bit, his eyes looking up slightly, Matt...calm down. he said in a level voice.
No! Why should I?! You haven't listened to me all this time, why should I listen to you?! there was small creak when Matt kicked the beam again.
Matthew Anderson Therst, please stop! his father said in a commanding tone.
See? You don't want to listen to me! You don't...even...care! the boy kicked the beam three times, in harmony with his last sentence. There was a loud crack and a heavy moan from above. Matt didn't look up, but he saw his dad barrel towards him, and was knocked some eight feet away when his father dove at him.
Almost like in slow motion, his father fell away further and further, then Matt watched him disappear beneath a section of the ceiling beams and part of the roof as it fell right where he had been standing. He hit the ground and time returned to normal as he stood up and yelled, DAD!!
Nasseya's mothers had been consoling her, telling her that it was an accident, and in time, Mr. Therst would realize that. She didn't tell them how he had glared at her, like she was some kind of beast, waiting to strike. She had spent a few nights crying as she was embraced between her parents. There was no one close to her like Matt, and it absolutely crushed her to think she wouldn't be able to hold him close again.
I could just take Matt away, his dad couldn't do anything. she growled. That statement was quickly replied to by an open-handed swat to the head by her mother, Sheya.
I won't have talk like that in my house. Sheya stated firmly in Alareen. She had yet to speak English fluently, and spoke primarily in her native tongue, where as Arrir and Nasseya spoke each language interchangeably.
Her mother was a very strong looking woman. Well toned arms, legs, and abdomen having obvious muscle mass, but she retained a fair amount of grace. She had light blue hair and deep blue eyes, with ears that reached the back of her head. She was wearing only loose shorts and draped a cold, wet towel over her shoulders, having just come in for the day.
If you so much as think about kidnapping that child, you'll be working the fields until you're ready to enlist! she said to her daughter threateningly.
But I miss him so much! I miss playing with him, and laughing with him, and talking about our day. tears started to form in Nasseya's eyes, I miss holding him close, and feeling him against me. I miss his voice, his fidgets, his pouts. I...I miss worrying about him, and how he would get upset that I was worried... she began to sob into her arms. Sheya placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders.
I know, Ness. I know. her mother replied softly, But these things just take time to right. Soon enough, you'll be playing with Matthew just like you always have, trust me. she slid her arms around her daughter and gave a supportive hug.
Nasseya spent little time inside during the day, spending her mornings helping her mothers or the field hands, trying to keep productive. Her happiest times were those she spent watching Matthew work on his house from a distance. She'd hide behind some of the sloping hills that were between her mother's farm and the boundaries of New Lakeview, smiling as he was hard at work, proving he wasn't so fragile like she had feared. When he looked out in her direction she dropped to her to stomach and lay her head on the ground.
For a moment, Nasseya smiled and let out a light chuckle, feeling they were playing a game once again. Unfortunately, the reality surfaced in her mind, and she was silent again. A moment of lying flat and she looked back over, simply glad she could at least still see her close friend, if only from hundreds of feet away.
Nasseya stayed on the hill for some time, watching as they finished the roof, then they came down and went inside the wing. She turned on her side, stroking her hand atop the minute grass. With a fingertip, she drew a caricature of Matt into the ground, smiling as she gave him a silly look. Her ears perked as she heard muffled yelling.
Curious and worried, Nasseya looked over the hill, but saw no-one. She heard the muffled yelling again, and came to the conclusion it was either Matt or his father. She felt a bit guilty, that she was the cause of friction between them, but at the same time happy that she meant enough to Matt that he'd defend her against even his own father.
A subtle snap reached her ears as she watched the roof fall into the unfinished wing. She gasped in horror, tears of concern springing to her eyelids. She heard a single word in what sounded like Matt's voice and jumped over the hill, dashing across the short field and skidding to a halt, tearing up the brittle soil in her wake.
MATT!! She cried, peaking through the hole in the roof.
Oh thank God, Nasseya! Please help Phillip! He's trapped under there! Matthew's mother pleaded in a terrified voice, sobbing uncontrollably. Matt was by the rubble, pulling at a beam that was far too heavy for him to move.
She tried to reach a hand in, but it was too awkward for her to grab. I...I can't get a hold...
Just tear the damn roof off! I'll build it again, just save my Dad! Matt cried, barely managing to budge the debris.
Nasseya nodded and stepped to the side, carefully gripping the underside of the roof and prying it back. She tossed the section aside, reaching in with both hands and wrapping around the broken roof. Slowly lifting it away, She saw Matt's dad come into view. He seemed to have at least one broken arm, innumerable cuts and bruises, and a piece of wood sticking from his side.
Through overpowering sobs, Mrs. Therst called to Nasseya, You-*sob*-You have get him-*sob*-to...to the hospita... she couldn't finish her sentence as it devolved into loud bawling.
Nasseya reached down carefully and with Matt's help slid Mr. Therst onto her palms. She looked at Matt, who's face was streaming with tears of determination and endearment. It crossed her mind to take him as well, to once again hold him, but that wasn't important now. A life was on the line, and her feelings could wait. With one last nod at Matt, Nasseya ran towards New Lakeview, carefully cradling Mr. Therst in her open palms and hoping beyond hope that she could make a difference for the better.
It was five days later that Mr. Therst was released from the hospital, back to stable condition, and their families had the first of many dinners together.