August 19, 2016 by Lyn
Rix’s Guest Story
Late June, Year Nine
“You mean you’ve really never had sex just for fun?” Kath was incredulous, but kept her voice low because the children were in the same room as them. Melody was bossing Sextus and George around over the blocks while Talon, Ursula and Aquaria being not yet one were doing individual baby things on a big soft rug on another section of floor. “I mean, there’s been at least a month every year, including two party nights each, when you haven’t had children to mind.”
“Yes, right at the time of year when all the guys I might have been interested in were busy pursuing new students,” Penny kept packing the older twins’ back packs for tomorrow.
“Hugr class in our first year?”
“By the time I did hugr,” Penny made sure she was leaving enough room for their teddy bears, “I was so pregnant that if you did idu hugr on me you got three readings, not one. I didn’t even get in the hot tub because we didn’t want my core temperature to go up too much.”
“What about those private sessions with Professor Vanderlinden last year?” Kath was beginning to look incredulous.
“We talked about sex, we didn’t do it.”
“You do realise, don’t you,” said Kath in a mock stern tone, “That there have been a number of your classmates over the years who would have happily obliged you at various times: Bowen; Abed; Jones; or Inigo. And those are just the boys!”
“And when they were ready and interested,” said Penny firmly, “I wasn’t. I do think they all went on to choices that were better for them than I would have been. Don’t get me wrong, recreational sex is definitely on my to-do list, just probably not until this lot,” she indicated all the children, “Are students here.”
“There’s still tonight,” Kath pointed out, “You’re not leaving till tomorrow morning, isn’t there someone who owes you a favour whose Kept you could borrow? Or even someone who owes you a favour you could borrow, just for the one night?”
“Kath, no.” Penny was firm, “I’m not going to. Can we change the subject, please?”
After lunch, with all her children settled down for a nap (there were times when she wondered what ordinary human mothers did without Words) and Kath keeping an eye on them, Penny went to say goodbye to her mentor.
She knocked on the door of his office and entered when she heard the summons from inside the room. “Ah, Penny, how can I help you?” The Professor folded his hands on the desk in front of him, “You realise that now you have your Name, I am no longer your mentor?”
“Yes, sir.” She paused, “I came to say good bye and thank you. There are some things I won’t miss about Addergoole, but I will miss you.” She paused and moved up to the front of his desk, “Thank you for all of your help and advice, and the times I didn’t take it, I should probably have listened more carefully and thought again about what I was going to do.”
Fridmar laughed, but not unkindly, “Da, but the point of being a student is to learn. Kept have to obey, in some ways being a student is harder. You were a good student, but the next part, being an adult is harder again, da?”
“Yes,” she smiled in agreement, “All the safety nets are gone. Thank you for everything. Good bye.”
“Good bye.” He smiled, “You sound very final. Some of our students do come back and visit.”
Penny shook her head. “If my father’s right, I’ll be staying where I’m going for a very long time. I don’t know that I will be back here again. I’ll tell my children to drop along and say hello for me.” She smiled again, and was gone.
Luke drove them to the airport early the next morning where they were met by Leal. He travelled with them to Los Angeles, wrangling luggage while Penny wrangled children. Then there were final fierce hugs and he was left behind, waving, while they went to their gate.
Penny didn’t have time to regret goodbyes just then. There were four children to get into their seats, no-one had enough knees for four children on a trans-Pacific flight so she’d insisted that seats were purchased for all of them, carry-on luggage to be stowed, and everyone to be seat-belted in. She almost straightened to look around the cabin when she felt it, the faintest whisper of an idu intinn. Instead she kept her head down and concentrated on what she was doing. She didn’t even think about why she was concentrating.
He was travelling back from the States on a work trip. Six of them had gone on the training course, so they were sitting in a small block on one side of the plane in economy. He’d gone back to being a soldier again this time round. You dropped your Mask back to about twenty-four and changed your name enough but not so much you couldn’t recognise it yourself. He was Steve this time, he’d been Stepica before that, Stepan, Stefan, even Stavros a few times. This bunch of men weren’t bad, he looked around him, there were a couple he suspected he’d know for the rest of their lives. He couldn’t quite relax though. There’d been just that wisp of something when he’d checked the passengers and crew out after everyone had boarded – if he was going to be locked in a confined space for this long he wanted to know who he was locked in with. He couldn’t feel it now, not even something hiding behind tuapekea, but there had been something.
He walked up and down the cabin a couple of times, his long legs gave him that excuse, never mind that it was his wings that were really the problem. No-one stuck out, well not for the reasons he was interested in. There were the Mormon boys going off to be missionaries somewhere, the three twenty-something girls on a trip together, the three middle-aged matrons who could be the first group three decades later, the young mother with four children and a group of nuns. He could only hope the children wouldn’t start crying part way through the trip ““ in his experience if one started, the lot would.
The children proved quieter than expected, even when they trundled up the aisle on one of their mass toileting expeditions. He’d seen less organised and disciplined attacks on enemy strongholds than the way that girl executed a trip to the bathroom. Nice ass, too. No rings but impeccable nail polish, well that was probably a cheap indulgence with her horde. As a matter of policy, should Steve marry? The subject, pros and cons, kept his mind occupied until dinner.
After the meals were cleared he stretched his legs around the cabin again. The girl was reading her children a bed time story, a brightly coloured double page of pictures open across her knee and two children, a big one and a little one, on either side of her leaning over the pages. He wondered, briefly, where her man was or if she still had one. If the children were his, he’d have kept them close until they were fully fledged, and enjoyed reburying himself in their mother on a regular basis-. He pulled himself together. The middle of the aisle on a plane was not the place for that line of thought, though it might be something to think about in his seat when the lights were out.
It came just after the light s went down. Like a muttering in another room, a whisper of a Working so low powered he couldn’t read what it did. So low powered it was either someone who hadn’t Changed but could still Work or someone who was trying to hide. Too late now to walk the cabin again and if they were trying to hide, almost any Working he could do would send them digging deeper into the cabin carpet. He fell asleep listening.
Penny did manage to sleep during lights out but in the middle of it all she had an odd dream where a man who was somehow Ursula and Talon’s father, Fridmar and that big man who’d been walking round the plane rolled into one was on display on a turntable in front of her. This dream had sound, Michelle Vanderlinden voice asking her “What do you want in a man, dear?” over and over. It was an anxious dream because George and Sextus’ father was there watching to see what she did, hanging around arm in arm with the person he’d been french kissing in the hallway that morning the day after when she had thought maybe he really liked her… The dream didn’t resolve itself, she was woken by the stewardess letting her know it was half an hour till breakfast.
She kept her head down and concentrated on the children, not even thinking about why she was concentrating so hard on them. They did require her full attention now, staying in their seats and being quiet was getting boring. It was a relief when they landed in Sydney and she could get them organised to get off the plane while the other passengers disembarked.
The six men where among the first of the economy passengers off the plane, they were both organised and knew they had a terminal change in front of them to go on to Perth. He noticed the girl with the four children putting little back packs on the two older boys and checking all the seat pockets while the rest of the passengers piled out.
Penny and the children were almost the last off the plane partly because she had to wait for the pram to be brought back from wherever the cabin crew had stowed it out of the way and partly to avoid anyone being trampled in the rush. There was a stop at the toilets once they were in the terminal, passport control, baggage collection, Customs, then outside to find her foster parents waiting with a big sign that said “Brown Family”. It was good to be home again.
Two and a half years later, Steve was back in Sydney for a friend’s wedding. He had two weeks in town – the buck’s night was planned for a week before the big day just in case someone got inventive about sending the groom somewhere and so they could turn up sober at the ceremony. It was a pleasant afternoon in early summer and he was walking both for the exercise and to get the lay of the land before he dropped in to pay his respects to an Ellehemaei matron of his acquaintance. Madam Han was an oriental dragon who, although several centuries younger than him, had lived here since the mid-1800s. She could be, was a good friend, but good manners and the social forms were important to her. He needed to make a formal visit. He was walking through Forest Lodge, heading back towards the city and Chinatown a couple of suburbs away when something caught his attention. It was a Working. He looked at more closely and almost laughed out loud. He looked up, and sure enough about a block away there was a pub. Someone must object to the patrons’ late night behaviour because the Working ensured that if anyone urinated over a fence into a garden or even straight on to a foot path, they got the entire contents of their bladder all over themselves. He wondered if Madam Han knew about this.
A family group passed him as he stood there, a woman and four young children. “But Mummy,” one of the older children, a boy about five was asking seriously, “Will Santa be able to find us at the new house?”
“Of course he will, George.” Steve liked that voice, he looked after them, and she had a nice ass. A nice, neat set of attributes overall. “And so will the Easter Bunny. It’s all taken care of.”
“Good, cause we were worried.” At least one other little voice agreed with young George and they were gone round the corner.
“Of course we are aware of it,” Madam Han sipped her tea delicately. “I find it pleasing that someone has put such thought into the maintenance of public order and good manners. We don’t know who that is though, they seem to be very shy.” She put her teacup down. “There are a lot of university students there, of course, so we could be looking at someone who is essentially transient. Newly come from their Mentor perhaps and with no knowledge of who lives in the city. We have been trying to track this person down but it’s not a matter of urgency. One of my more hot headed grandsons has suggested breaking into every house in the area with the Working until we find the one with Sanctity.” She smiled, “I’ve told him to keep that idea tucked away until such time as finding this person is urgent.”
The others had split off south, down towards Liverpool and Holsworthy. Steve, becoming known already as Stoneface for his exploit caught on television, damn that blasted godling, was setting a trail north to lead the hunting pack bent on revenge after him. It was his scent they had, after all. His team mates thought he’d been wearing some sort of disguise and he encouraged that thought. He really didn’t want men with semi-automatic weapons, some he’d known for years, to find out that was the way he really looked under his Mask or even that he used a Mask. He didn’t know if bullets could kill him or how many it might take and it was not something he wanted to experiment with. If he could get across the river he could start making his way back south on the other bank, but getting across the Hawkesbury would be the hard part, the ferries were sure to be watched. It should be easier now there were two of them – the small, scaly, Japanese, self-described ronin had joined him when he’d crossed the Gladesville Bridge, hunting Oathbreakers he’d said. The Hunters and Hounds he’d killed there supported that story.
Now they’d gotten as far north as they could go without crossing the river. Steve could have flown, but his companion couldn’t and there was someone else in the sky ““ every so often he could see a shadow moving overhead. Both ferries were being watched and there was a long line up of cars at both. At the moment the Oathbreakers weren’t interfering with the fleeing humans but that would change if they got bored or angry. It was beginning to get dark and that was when, if he were them, he’d start sweeping through the escarpment hugging town looking for strays. It might even be best to let themselves be caught by small groups, one by one. He’d have to see what the ronin thought.
That plan worked fine the first two times, but this group was three Hunters proper with a half breed Collared Hound each and they were pressing in too close for him to be able to use the great rowan blade on his back properly. The ronin was using his wakizashi because the katana was going to be too slow and get him killed. It was almost too tight for anything but knife work. Their opponents were spelled up to the hilt and to make it worse they had a healer out there somewhere fixing them as they went. Steve sent their red haired leader, a true Mara only slightly shorter than himself, reeling backwards with another wound that should have been crippling only to see him dip his fingers in his own blood and lick them clean, again. This time the wound didn’t heal. The Mara barked something and the Collared gold and onyx cheetah boy withdrew to attend to his Master. Steve turned his attention to the female Hunter who’d been free to harass as she wished and worked on a way to disable those claws. He got in a wing buffet that sent her and one of the Collared sprawling, then as he moved in to follow up his advantage he saw the cheetah boy and a silver haired figure sprawled on the ground beyond them. The female Hunter rolled to avoid his strike, dropping her Mask as she bounced to her feet to reveal the face of a Fury. Behind her the genderless Collared on the ground was clawing at its face and doing something that looked like convulsions. He got in a strike to her neck when she made the mistake of letting her attention slip from him to why she didn’t have backup anymore. That gave him room to pull the sword and separate her head from her neck. Two more long strides and the red haired leader sitting in a pool of his own blood suffered the same fate. That left the Hunter and Hound the ronin was facing, a practiced tag-team duo in Steve’s opinion. The Hunter dropped back to let his Hound in, wielding something short in each hand. The Hunter did a side step, probably to flank the ronin, then he began clawing at his face with one hand, the other still holding his weapon. The ronin took advantage of his opponent’s unexpected distraction and plunged his short sword into the Hunter’s chest. The Hound was cut down by a vertical swing of the great rowan sword.
Their enemies dead around them, the two men exchanged glances. The ronin gestured at his dead opponent, lips fused together and nostrils obliterated. That would explain the face clawing, their first thought had been that something removable had been over their mouth and nose. It was Steve who spoke. “Thank you for your help, but we would like to see who we’re dealing with.”
It wasn’t quite like a light bulb coming on, more a series of lights coming on one after another as a series of Workings was dismantled. In the end they were looking at a young, brown haired woman in jeans, tee shirt and running shoes, no taller than the ronin, with impeccable nail polish, no rings and short, curly hair. “I think we should leave before more of their friends turn up. Need a lift?” She was brisk and business like.
“We need to cross the river,” the ronin explained, “Won’t that take you out of your way?’
“No,” she said easily, “I have to cross the river myself, I’ve just been waiting for dark.”
“I’m Steve, with the Army,” he gestured at his uniform and boots, “The ronin here really doesn’t like Oathbreakers and you?”
“Oh, I’m Penny,” she smiled, “I came into town to collect my mail and then all of you,” she included the dead Shenera Oseraei in her gesture as well as the two men, “turned up. Like I said, would you like a lift?”
“Please,” the ronin smiled and bowed, “And please call me Ronin. I find most people in this country cannot say my name properly.”
“As you wish,” Penny bowed in return.
“Yes, thanks, I’ll take the lift too.” Steve stretched. He was beginning to get tired, get across the river up into the hills and hole up somewhere for a day or two. That sounded good.
“This way.” Penny led them back across country to a nondescript four wheel drive vehicle sitting in a poorly lit corner of the car park down near the northern ferry. “This seemed like a good spot when I got here,” she complained, “Now look at the traffic.” The stream of headlights was solid all the way through the town and up the hill, a river of light. They climbed in, put the seat belts on and Penny muttered a Working. “I’m going to cut across the park and I don’t want anyone to notice us,” she explained.
“Sounds good,” Steve acknowledged, “Are we going to jump the queue at the ferry?”
“Nope,” she’d started the vehicle and they were manoeuvring quietly through picnic settings and trees, “Not going to use the ferry. I have something else in mind.” They reached the water’s edge and as she slowly moved forward she began to mutter again. Under them the vehicle began to shift and settle into a rather awkward looking boat. Steve, for one, didn’t dare move. More Working, this time he caught “Tempero yaku Hawkesbury,” and they moved out into the river. And fifteen minutes later, accompanied by more Working, they successfully trundled up onto the other bank, figuratively tiptoed through someone’s garden, and turned east on the road along the northern bank.
It took another hour of driving before Penny drew to a final stop. They’d turned off the road onto a track that was barely there and started climbing almost immediately. Steve had to get out to open and close gates a couple of times. Then once they were up on the ridgeline things began to get disorienting, several times Penny drove through rocks or trees that looked absolutely solid and neither man could get a decent star fix looking out the windows. There were two more gates to open and after the second one Penny drove up to a building with a garage door. “Wait here,” she hopped out with the engine running, unlocked and put the roller door up, then got back in to drive the vehicle into the garage. “Well, here we are,” she turned the engine off and the internal lights on, “Grab your stuff and I’ll take you inside.”
They couldn’t see that there were lights on inside the house beyond the garage until they were quite close. The house itself was stone with an iron or colourbond roof, the light wasn’t good enough for Steve to tell which, and it had a wrap around verandah. Penny, carrying her own parcels, led the way up the steps to the verandah. She had, thought Steve in the part of his mind that considered such things, a nice ass although he personally preferred the effect of moderate heels and a long skirt to that of jeans and running shoes.
Penny paused, opened the front door and stepped inside, then turned to face them, “If you mean me and mine no harm,” she said, “And you are under no Order or Geas to harm or betray us, then please enter. Oh, and wipe your feet please.”
They entered a small foyer, it was the only word for it, maybe the size of a built in wardrobe, with stone underfoot and the polished floor boards and carpet runner of the hallway leading off it. Coats, jackets and raincoats hung from hooks, umbrellas were rolled up in a stand in one corner and various shoes, boots and sandals were lined up around the walls. “Should we remove our foot wear?” asked the Ronin gazing around the room to meet the eyes of a child looking out of a doorway down the hall.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Penny smiled, “Then I’ll introduce you to everyone and get you comfortable.”
Everyone turned out to be a room full of children busily engaged in watching television, reading and having nothing to do with a large pile of lego, crayons and a broken plate in one corner. “I’m back,” she looked around the room, “Everyone,” the children looked up, “This is Steve and Ronin, they’ll be our guests for tonight. Gentlemen,” to her guests, “These are my children: Sextus, George, Talon and Ursula sh’Penstemon,” she pointed out the oldest four, the eldest two boys probably still under twelve, “Madyson and Donald sh’Narelle.” The younger two were lighter boned and darker than the others and didn’t look like Penny at all.
“Aunt Penny,” asked Donald, he was probably about six, “Isn’t he,” a small finger pointed at Steve who’s Mask was not up, “The man who was on television?”
Penny looked Steve coolly up and down, “I believe he was Donny, but we don’t point at guests do we?”
“No, Aunt Penny.”
“Well, not to worry but don’t do it again. I’ll get our guests settled and finish getting tea ready. If someone can bring the pieces of the plate out to the kitchen, I’ll see what I can do to fix it.”
There was a shower with hot running water, a freshly made bed that was big enough for him to stretch out on, clothes to put on when he was clean and the promise of a washing machine for his clothes. He’d spent three days naked on the corner of that roof pretending to be a piece of sculpture while he waited for his chance at that damn godling. All of those things seemed pretty good right now. It was in the shower that it hit him, there was something familiar about Penny and, if he was honest, her nice ass. Something about children too. He did what he usually did when he was after a slippery memory, he used idu intinn on himself. He’d known people who swore by self hypnosis but this was more efficient and effective.
He almost banged his forehead on the wall of the shower in annoyance at himself when he found the memories. The plane and that Working in Forest Lodge ““ they’d both been Penny. No doubt doing then what she was doing now, hiding out to protect her children. No wonder Madam Han hadn’t found her, just as they were getting close she’d moved and he’d had that piece of information in his head too. He took a deep breath ““ reality check time, this was the third time he’d seen her in seven and a half years and the first time he’d ever spoken to her, why should he have remembered her from before? He sighed and went back to concentrating on getting clean.
“Who’s Mumma’s little scaly boy? Who’s Mumma’s little scaly boy?” Ursula blew a raspberry on her infant son’s tummy, to delighted giggles from him, before she put him in his play pen under the sparse mottled shade of the flowering plum trees. “Now I want to have a word with you,” she stalked up to the older Mara-breed with what he hoped was mock severity. This was the first time he’d seen her since her return from that school in the States and he hadn’t been able to gauge yet how different her adult, Changed self was from the girl he’d known. “So, Stoneface,” he’d given up correcting people who called him that a couple of years ago and even his human colleagues hardly ever called him Steve these days, “What’s going on between you and my mother? Or, more precisely,” the sunlight flashed off one of the gold rings in her perfect, blue-grey ear lobes, “Why isn’t something going on between you and my mother?”
“What are you talking about?” He didn’t remember her being this aggressive, or was it straightforward and outspoken?
“You’ve spent years looking at her backside when she walks and she’s spent just as long having a damn good look when you go sun baking on that favourite rock of yours down the hill. I come back after four years away and the two of you have made absolutely no progress whatsoever.” She folded her arms against a bosom as nicely proportioned as her mother’s, only on a more Mara-like scale. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Why me?” This was definitely not the child he remembered. “Why not her?”
“You’ve known my mother for more than half my life,” Ursula retorted, “Do you really think she’s going to make the first move unless she’s sure you’ll be receptive or she has something to achieve? Having more babies, she’d steel up her courage. Fooling around because it might be fun and the two of you might take things further? No.” Ursula paused and went on, “You and the Ronin are the closest thing she has to crew, and she won’t want to screw that up. Besides,” she grinned, “She can’t see you looking at her backside when she walks. If you keep your hands to yourself and say nothing she’ll think you’re not interested and she won’t risk embarrassing you both. What have you got to lose, it’s not like you have a wife or a girlfriend somewhere, do you?”
“No.” Then he got in, “Why are you doing this, Ursula?”
She unfolded her arms and put her hands on her hips, “She’s my mother, I want her to be happy. I like you and I’d like you to be happy too. I honestly think you could be happier together than the two of you are apart right now.” She added, “If it’s of any help, Sextus and I are on small child duty tonight, not Mum.”
After dinner that night, Stoneface ventured carefully into the kitchen as Penny was finishing the clearing up and whatever preparations she felt necessary to make for the morning. He’d discovered years ago that she used a combination of tempero yaku, tempero unutuu and liquid detergent for washing up after the main meal of the day. It was safer to stay outside than to have to watch for flying plates. He quietly sat at one end of the kitchen table and waited for her to be finished.
“Why so serious?” The tea towel had been hung up to dry and everything was done. She’d taken off her apron and probably expected to go sit in the lounge room and sew or knit or something under the work lamp before she went off to her bed. When had she started wearing long skirts?
“I think we need to talk.” He pushed his chair out from the table so she couldn’t walk past him at that end of the table.
“Oh? What about?” She went to sit at the chair nearest him but he demonstrated the advantages of superior height, age, physical condition and experience by leaning over to take her by the wrist, giving a jerk, and the next thing she knew Penny was sitting on his lap with his arms around her to hold her in place.
“This, essentially.” Having Penny on his lap was a very pleasant sensation but she was looking not just surprised but not sure what she was supposed to do next. “If you had any doubts, I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend living somewhere else. When I say I’m going away for work, that’s exactly what I’m doing.” He went on, “It’s been brought to my attention that you probably don’t find me unattractive.” He put a finger tip on her lips to forestall whatever she was going to say, “I, on the other hand, spent a reasonable amount of that plane flight when we didn’t meet thinking of how I might behave if I were your man.” She stopped trying to speak and was looking at him with what? Speculation? Interest? She was flushing and her eyes were dilated. “Would you be interested in seeing if those ideas were any good?” He glanced down and saw that her bosom was already straining her bodice, so he pulled her in and kissed her.
It was terrifying and wonderful all at once. Penny had never been kissed before by someone who knew what they were doing, wanted to kiss her, wanted to keep on kissing her as far as she could tell and who hit the attraction buttons in her psyche as solidly as Stoneface had been doing for years just by walking around and breathing. When he let her come up for air she wanted to breathe deeply a few times and dive back in.
She still couldn’t tell what he was thinking from the way he spoke, but she’d just had one demonstration and she could feel another against her thigh… She made her decision. It came out a little shyer than she would have liked, but she said it with a smile. “My bed is bigger than yours.”