Need to Know
Planet Maya: 300
Brrda knew whe had a hidden agenda. Several, in fact. But the Twin’s folks needed to hear it from a human, and a human needed protection between enclosures. Whe sucked a tender fiber of rabbit meat from behind a fang and nibbled. Whe kept wher mind veiled. Anybody who could talk to Maya could probably read wher like krav tracks.
Gracious’ braid swung behind her as she scrubbed the bowls and stewpot. Leftovers had gone with the young families. One less meal prep was a blessing for inexperienced parents. Her armpits prickled, just a little. Was Brrda watching her? Closely? She shrugged the idea off. They weren’t even the same species. To Brrda, she was only half there.
See? That was a problem. The growly thrumming way her name sounded in wher voice made it impossible to keep her thinking properly dressed. She kept her back turned and tried to sound casual. “Ya?”
“Whe have to visit civilization and talk to the Twins’ parents. Whe can’t just let their cubs disappear without a trace.” Whe tugged at a few tight small curls on wher neck under wher goatee. Whe noticed wher own nervous habit.
Gracious turned. That was going to be a tough conversation. Most civilized people didn’t know custodians existed. They certainly didn’t know Maya was sentient and running a breeding program in a quarantined zoo. “Are whe going to pretend whe’re a projection?”
Wher nails ticked on the glossy table in jazzy triples. “If whe have to. Whe’d prefer a real human. Someone they already trust.” The drumming stopped. “Whe’d prefer you.”
Looney Annie Gracious, matriarch, weaver, and speaker to Maya blushed head to toe. So much for ignoring it.
Brrda’s nostrils flared.
Neither could keep veils up after that. It was obvious as air. Whey agreed entirely about many very consequential, very personal, very public, and very impossible things.
“I’ll pack my travel kit,” she said. Gracious saw those velvety black lines between wher shoulders stand up. May I? She asked. The standing lines traveled up wher neck and down wher back.
That was a yes.
Gracious traced the lines, gently as training spiders.
“Jumping Maya Hernandez Gareth and Daniel,” she murmured.
Whe huff-chuckled. “Do you know how hard it is to freak out a pride of wherfolk?” Wher mane fluffed. “Whe might just succeed.”
Earth: Launch + 5
The food was good again, and that cheered La’ii up. It also kept her mouth full long enough for her to think. It wasn’t Leor’s fault, or Gareth’s or Dr. Hernandez’s. So far away from everyone, every place, every time she ever knew it was probably better to cooperate.
Leor sat next to her wolfing loaded tortillas and boggling his mind about how impossible it would be to program a kitchen table to print it.
They sat in a rock ring, the boy hustling food and water to them from the rock and fire kitchen. Merina and Duan hung back, delivering food to people she hadn’t seen yet. Gareth and Dr. Hernandez, lean and grizzled, waited patiently.
The boy handed her another serving.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Freddo.” He turned and scooted away.
“Are they afraid of us?” piped Leor.
Gareth shrugged. “Afraid? No. Cautious, yes.”
Dr. Hernandez rubbed the back of his hand with two fingers. “Strangers usually mean attack or disease. They’re quarantining and prepping for defense.”
“Most don’t really believe I’m from the future,” added Gareth.”It’s just a story to them. They haven’t seen me jump.”
Leor got didactic. “Dr. Hernandez’s future. Our past.” He hummed as he chewed.
The doctor smiled. “Call me Pinch. I haven’t been a Pee Aych Dee for twenty years.”
“Pee Aych Dee?” The Twins spoke simultaneously.
The elder man turned up his empty palms. “An obsolete educational status marker. What matters now is these people are safe, sheltered, and fed.”
“How many of you are there?” La’ii wondered.
The men got vague, fast.
Gareth volunteered, “Your clothes are high quality spider silk. Better than we could do in my time, but definitely from Planet Maya. I believe you. But these people’s lives are at stake and as far as we know, there aren’t many survivor groups on Earth.”
Dr. Her… Pinch finished for him. “We treat you like any non-threatening, apparently healthy strangers. We hide everything and keep our distance until we can be sure.”
“Fair enough.” Leor wiped his face with his hand and wiped his hand on his pant leg. “What if we were threatening or sick?”
Pinch’s eyes drilled. “You’d be dead already.”
La’ii’s eyes flickered to Gareth’s. His look confirmed the truth. “How long do you think you can keep them all alive?”
Gareth’s voice lowered. “Not long enough to rebuild.”
“The fungus flares up in any crowded environment. Humanity may be limited to small bands from now on. If any of us are immune. If immunity is genetic. If genetic immunity is a dominant trait. If small bands can mate and produce fertile offspring carrying dominant genetic immunity faster than recessive traits gang up in the dwindling genetic resources of the population.”
She might call him Pinch, but he was definitely still Dr. Hernandez. “Looney Annie Gracious…”
Leor interrupted in a parenthetical tone of voice. “Something like a priestess. Seems to have access to Sappho’s computer information or Planet Maya as an intelligent entity.”
“Probably both,” said La’ii. “Annie Gracious sent us to bring you back to Planet Maya. We’re not sure why. We went to ask about the Looney plans to protect their people from the Apocalypse.”
“…Hoping, if they had a plan, civilized people could be saved as well,” elaborated Leor.
“…But as soon as she told us she wanted us to gather you two…”
“…And landed here.” La’ii finished.
Gareth nodded. “I had a bit of a theory that when variables settled into a configuration that made what had to happen for the timeline to function possible, I jumped. Never had control of it, though. Never had a chance to experiment at all.”
Pinch leaned forward. “This was your first jump?”
“Do you have the slightest idea how to get back?”
Negative head shakes with cascading sunset highlights.
“Do you have the slightest idea how to take us with you?”
Everybody folded their fingers and dropped their faces.
Gareth broke the silence. “You’re going to have to practice.”