as narrated by Anala Desai
The hardest thing about growing up is learning what your real limits are. As kids, our parents set boundaries for us. They try to keep us safe but the only way to do that is to make sure we don’t push the envelope too much. A toddler may love the idea of being a race car driver but you don’t put one behind the wheel of a Ferrari no matter how coordinated they might be.
“That was quite the message.” a boy said from behind me as I clicked my phone off. “Sorry didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
I turned to look at him and upgraded the speaker from “boy” to “amazingly cute boy”.
“Just leaving a message for my Dad, he can kind of overreact sometimes, especially when I’m in danger” I said. Not the conversational lead in I would have preferred going with but his hotness was kind of short circuiting my brain. We were stuck in a shelter together, which wasn’t exactly prime material for a romantic first meeting but then again there were worse spots. My parents met in a deli for example.
“Sounds like your Dad’s out of this world.” the boy said with a smile that could blind me through sunglasses at a hundred yards.
“You could say that.” Out of this solar system would also have been true, but I didn’t see the need to mention that. When you’re the daughter of “Stellar”, one of the most powerful heroes alive, it generally isn’t a great idea to broadcast that your Dad is light years away. It’s kind of like painting the words “Kidnap Me” on your forehead.
“I’m being a little unfair here. My name is Simon, and you would be Anala right?” he said, still relaxed and smiling. I, on the other hand, felt my spine freeze into a popsicle.
He, I and about a dozen other people were waiting in one of the defense shelters near my dorm because there’d been an outbreak of monster-itis or something among the local animals. I didn’t have much idea what was going on beyond the fact that we had some weird rain and then there was a whole lot of running and screaming going on. I’d seen a cockroach as big as a station wagon and some kind of mutant squirrel that a hero managed to fly in and zap with a lightning bolt before it could eat us.
All of that had put me on edge, but I’d been warned that Brassport was bit more of a weirdness magnet than most cities when I chose to come to college here. Mutant bugs and squirrels were freaky but they weren’t personally out to get me which made it a bit easier to deal with.
A stranger who knew my name though? That had trouble written all of it.
“Have we met before?” I asked him. I knew we hadn’t, I just wanted to see what kind of lie he might try to tell me.
“Not that I know of. I know your father in a…professional capacity.” he said, pausing to emphasize that it wasn’t Pavak Desai the mathematician he knew.
“What do you want with him?” I asked. My words came out harsher and more clipped than I’d intended. He still looked cute and harmless but that almost made the whole exchange creepier.
“Nothing. I mean it’d be nice to see him now, but actually I’m here for you. I need to ask you a favor.” he said. I could picture all sorts of favors a villain might want from Stellar’s daughter.
“Ask.” I said, promising nothing and not at all happy with where the conversation was going.
“There are some people who need a place to stay and someone who can look after them.” he said.
“Why me?” I asked.
“They’re a little different from the other folks here and today in particular I think they might not get the best of welcomes.”
“A lot of people need help today. What’s special about them?” I asked, still basically scared out of my wits but determined not to let ‘Simon’ (if that was his real name) see it.
“What’s special about anyone?” he asked, his smile softer but still present. I could see a twinkle of mirth in his eyes too. He was enjoying this. That changed my evaluation of him from “cute” to “jerk”. I started to turn away. If he wasn’t going to answer my questions then the conversation was over, no matter how hot he was. He stopped me before I’ve even finished turning though.
“They’re different, but the one who’s special here is you.” he said. “You’ve met other ‘different’ people before. You’re used to dealing with other…cultures. That makes you the best choice I can think of to watch over my friends.”
He was referring to the fact that I’d been to other worlds with my father and had met probably as many aliens as any other human alive had. Not that I was especially gifted in that area. Most of the aliens I knew were friendly enough that pretty much anyone could get along with them.
A little voice told me that I should walk away, quickly, before I got dragged into something way out of my depth.
“How are they different?” I asked. Because, while flattery was generally wasted on me, flattery plus nicely muscled arms could still have an effect I discovered. Namely cutting my IQ in half.
“They’re hybrids.” he said without additional fanfare. “Snake/human hybrids to be specific.”
“Like the monsters that are attacking the city?” I asked in disbelief.
“Aside from their appearance? No, not in the slightest. They’re basically teenagers from what I can tell. Good kids but they’re not in the best shape. Six of the seven are recovering from a fairly bad case of long term poisoning.”
“What can I do for them?” I asked. I knew first aid and CPR but “long term poisoning” was a bit beyond my medical abilities.
“For right now they need an ambassador. A human who can speak for them and get the rest of the people here to give them a chance.”
“How do I know they’re trustworthy? I haven’t even met them yet!” I said.
“That can be arranged if you’re willing.” Simon said.
I frowned. This was exactly what I shouldn’t ever consider doing. My Dad’s the most powerful man in the world. I’m utterly ‘normal’. Getting mixed up in hero things is not at all the way to keep myself safe like I’d promised him I would.
On the other hand, just because I was Stellar’s daughter didn’t mean I had less responsibility to help people than a regular girl would. I don’t get to borrow Dad’s heroic karma when it comes to counting how much good I’ve done in my life.
“Fine. Convince me.” I said.
“Ghost Step. Pickup at my location. Two to return to the command tent.” the boy said into a wrist communicator. The next moment a masked woman appeared beside him.
“You and who else Lux?” she asked.
Lux? That name definitely rang a bell. I hadn’t followed the gossip about the local heroes of Brassport much but I knew the names of the major players. Lux was one of the Champions of Olympus. Aphrodite’s Champion if I remembered correctly.
I kicked myself mentally. Of course he looked like hot buttered love, that was his super power!
“The lovely lady and myself. Unless you’ve reconsidered?” he asked.
“No I’m in still.” I gasped out.
Ghost Step touched me and the next instant I was in one of the hastily erected pavilion tents that the National Guard used for emergency operations. People were racing around and there was the bustle of activity that told me the situation was far from under control.
“Let me introduce you to the Rosses.” Simon said. He led me over to a corner of the tent where six people lay on cots that were too small for them. I wouldn’t have mistaken them for normal humans even if the warming blankets around them had been long enough to obscure their tails. There were a lot of little signs that marked them as different but there was also the obvious clue that they had scales on their torso and shoulders.
One of the snake people, a smaller girl judging by her shoulder, hip and facial structure, was standing over one of her sister’s cots talking with a black woman in a lab coat.
“Hiya Alil, Doctor Simone! Told you, it wouldn’t take long.” Simon said.
“Lux! That was quick. Did you find a place we can transfer to?” the woman in the lab coat asked.
“I think so. The shelter near the college has enough room left and Ms. Desai has agreed to act as an ambassador for you all. How are the patient’s doing?” Simon said.
“They’re all stable and the anti-toxin seems to be working. I just need to follow the rest of it’s progress and I’ll be able to adapt it to use on the affected animals.” Doctor Simone said.
“Pleased to meet you Ms. Desai.” the snake girl Alil said. She wiggled in a way that dropped her into the snake-ish equivalent of a curtsy.
“Umm, hello. Alil was it?” I said. She beamed a gleeful smile at me showing a pair of tiny little fangs in the process.
“Yes! You’re going to be our ambassador?” she asked.
I noticed how little room Simon had given me to say “no” gracefully. On the other hand, watching the way two heroes, a bunch of national guard and Doctor Simone had dealt with the snake people didn’t leave much doubt that they were friends not enemies.
“Yep. I know the people who are gathered at the shelter we’ll be going to. I can put the word out that you and your..family are on our side.” I guessed on the family connection but it seemed like a safe bet. There was a resemblance between them all, though it was a subtle one.
“Hah! I told my Dad there were people like you out there!” Alil crowed in triumph.
“Who’s your Dad?” I asked, and immediately regretted the question. I almost always had to lie when asked that and I felt like I should have known better than to do it to Alil.
“He’s like us. Well except he has powers. He’s out fighting with the heroes.” Alil said without hesitation.
“Wow! So what happened to your brothers and sisters?” I asked.
“Doctor Wyrd poisoned us. He put something in the drinking water. Dad came up with a treatment for us but Doctor Wyrd managed to find our home. He capture Amphi and then got some of the rest after we fled. Dad and the other heroes rescued them back but I guess it was too late to stop the Wyrd guy from making a new batch of the formula that made us.” she said.
“You were made?” I asked.
“Yeah. We used to be regular snakes. None of us remember it well, but the formula we were exposed to changed us, made us part human.”
“So one day you were slithering around on the ground and the next, bamf, you’re up and chatting like this?” I asked.
“No, we were babies at first. Dad raised us like we were his kids. He taught us to read and write too.” Alil said.
“I don’t mean to rush you Lux, but shouldn’t you be out there helping people?” Doctor Simone asked.
“I don’t need to be out there when there’s people in here to help.” he said. “But we should hurry.
“I can take you all back to the shelter as soon as the Rosses are ready to be moved.” Ghost Step said.
“They’re prepped now. Can you take them and the monitors they’re attached to though? That would save time.” Doctor Simone asked.
“Yes. Just tell me who to move first.” Ghost Step said.
“How many can you take at once?” I asked.
“Two safely. I can try more but we might fall short.”
“Two will be fine. If you could take Ms. Desai and I back first, we can prepare the arrival space for you.” Simon said.
“Don’t you need to be fighting with the other heroes?” I asked.
“Yes, but I thought it might be a bit easier for you if I showed up in my work clothes and put in a good word for the Rosses.” Simon said. He deepened his voice, adding more heroic timber to it. I felt goosebumps race down to the tips of my fingers just from listening to him.
“The people in the city need you more. Let me do my job as ambassador. The people in the shelter are my friends. The Rosses will be fine there” I told him.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I looked over at Alil with her hopeful eyes.
“Absolutely.” I said.
“Then I’ll leave things to you. Good luck! We’ll try to keep the area around the shelter clear of the Muta-morphs.” he said. As he turned to leave he made a gesture with his left hand, drawing it across his chest and placing it palm open over his heart. As he did so, light splashed over him like a wave and in its passing he was left standing in the raiment of Aphrodite’s Champion. As gentle as a feather on the wind he then soared out of the tent and up into the sky beyond.
“Ok, can you take Alil and I back to the shelter first and then bing Doctor Simone and the rest along afterwards?” I asked Ghost Step.
“Yes. I’ll need to do a pass around the city in between each teleport though. We think Doctor Wyrd can track me if I give him one location to target and I don’t want to lead him to you.” the heroine said.
“That’s perfect. It’ll give me a chance to get the other people ready for our guests.” I said.
“Take my hand then.” Ghost Step said. Alil and I both reached out and the moment we touched her, Ghost Step teleported us to the shelter.
Lux had presumed that the people in the shelter would react with screams of terror. He didn’t know my friends and the other people in my dorm though. Maybe the normal Brassport residents would have freaked out but the people I hung out with didn’t exactly qualify as “normal”.
“Hey guys, I’ve got a snake girl here. Her family needs a place to stay until the monsters are gone.” I called out. Ernie and Jeff looked up from the game of Magic: The Gathering they were playing. Cynthia, Tammy and Oksana put down the cards of poker hands they were holding. The rest of the sheltering inhabitants glanced over at us, shrugged and went back to what they were doing to pass the time.
“Howdy!” said Tammy.
“Greetings!” said Oksana
“Hey, she’s cute!” said Ernie.
“Hello…everyone.” Alil said, looking confused.
“I thought Lux said that humans might be afraid of us?” Alil whispered to me.
“Humans might be.” Cynthia agreed. Her hearing was frighteningly good like that.
“The only human here is Anala though.” Jeff said.
“I don’t understand?” Alil said.
“Lux recruited you as an Ambassador didn’t he? That’s funny.” Tammy said to me, not answering Alil’s question.
“Guess he didn’t know you already had that job?” Ernie asked.
“I kind of didn’t mention it.” I said and then turned back to my newest charge.
“Alil, I’d like you to meet the Offworlder’s Alliance.” as I gestured to the inhabitants of the shelter.