Transport rocket E-17 shot through space towards the tiny pale speck the crew called home. Kenan loved this part more than the others, reverse thrusters slowed them just as gravity reached out to pull them in.
They had left from Mine Camp 517, a small moon on which they worked most of the time. Once every Earth year they rocketed there for a month off, while their cargo was unloaded and new supplies taken on.
The initial sensation of falling out of the sky was exhilarating.
Kenan grinned from ear to ear as they fell towards the ocean, then glanced to his right. Charles was much less keen on this part of the trip. He looked a little pale, but Kenan knew he was excited to be heading home – he always looked forward to seeing his family. Somehow, even with the craziness of being gone nearly all of the time, the man had a wife and two daughters. His gruff exterior was ideal in their line of work, rugged, muscled, and stoic determination, but whenever he saw his family he melted into an entirely different man.
Splash down was quick and they bobbed right back up to the surface in a matter of moments. The fun part over, Kenan glanced at his other crewmate. “How ya doing, Comey?”
Terrance Comey was the digital mind of the crew. He did anything and everything with the computers: calculations, weight and balance, all of it. He gave a short nod to Kenan, while continuing to monitor the gauges. He always seemed to be off in his own world, but then he was a bit of a loner even when they were on leave.
Kenan turned his attention back to the screen, they were now heading into port. “Time to party.”
Charles laughed, his mood lightened. “Don’t get too caught up in your fun, we need you back safe and sound.”
Kenan knew he was teasing, mostly. Kenan did like to do some pretty crazy things whenever they returned. Two years ago he’d gone skydiving, wanting to feel the thrill he got every landing, but it wasn’t the same. He’d even gone so far as to try cliff diving and a wing suit. Last year he’d gone to a massive rave on a remote island. It had gone on for days and he nearly forgot when it was time to head back out to space.
The Outer Ring Mining Company (Ormco) had given him a stern lecture when he returned, but ultimately they didn’t care what their employees did while on leave. As long as they remained in top shape and ready to work when the time came.
The ship made the tiniest little bump into it’s port lock and Kenan hopped up, ready to go. He sauntered over to his locker and pulled out his Earthbag, fishing out an odd little headband with cat ears on it.
“Have fun Kitty,” Charles said as he pulled out his bag.
“Meow!” Kenan replied with a laugh.
The three moved over to the door, and as it started to slide open, Kenan popped the ears onto his head. A shimmery aura around his body appeared and in a second his outer appearance had changed. Now he looked like a bizarre cat-human hybrid.
As soon as the door was fully opened, Kenan strutted out to the cheers of a few dozen people. Charles and Comey followed close behind him, and Charles gave Comey a pat on the shoulder, “See you in a month, friend.”
Comey gave him a brief smile and snuck off to the side. Disappearing was easy to do with most of the attention on Kenan. His crewmate was popular and for some reason a lot of the Earthbound people treated him like a celebrity.
Charles shook his head at both of them and smiled, then turned to see his family, waiting for him as they always did. It made his heart swell to see their faces.
Mary and Jillian were already bouncing with excitement, but Charles passed them up and gave his wife, Annabelle, a kiss, first. Then he scooped up the girls, kissing each of their heads.
Annabelle smiled, “They’ve hardly sat still for a month!”
“Mmm, maybe we should cut off their legs! That’ll fix them right up!”
“No daddy!” Mary giggled. She was the older of the two, at 7 years old.
Jillian’s 5 year old face screwed up a bit, “But I need my legs! You promised to take us to the fair!”
“Ahh, so I did.” Charles shrugged at his wife, “I guess they have to keep their legs.” To the girls: “We’ll go first thing tomorrow.”
Mary turned and bounced a bit more, yelling over the crowd, “Bye Kenan!”
Kenan waved back, before being pulled off out of sight.
Comey walked around the side of the building. He wasn’t one for crowds and preferred to not hang around. Besides, being back on Earth always felt strange to him. His whole reality was out there, in the stars, or deep within his games. Virtual Reality feels more real than home, he laughed to himself.
He retrieved his car from the secure lot, and drove out to his house. His housekeeper tended things while he was out, but she always knew when he’d return, and left him alone unless he called. He liked that about her. As usual, his house was in perfect shape – almost as if he’d never left, much less been gone a year – but he didn’t notice. His thoughts were on his computer and all of his gaming equipment. In space he dealt with a lot of technical things, but at home he was all about gaming – playing and programming. Though he could do some of that in his spare time at work, here it was his sole focus.
He noted one message alert that seemed possibly important, but dismissed it. If it mattered a lot, it would have come through while he was at the Mine Camp. It hadn’t and he was ready to insert his mind into the game, his persona of Gallant Lightyear dominating his mind. Time to see how far in I can get. There must be more to this game.
It was still daylight when Kenan’s fans dragged him into the city’s most popular dance club full of hundreds of people desperate to see him. He greeted them all enthusiastically and waved to the DJ to play his favorites. Everyone joined in with his moves, his cat body swirling to the music, glowing electric blue.
Predawn light was slowly creeping into the world when Kenan left the club. He snuck out the back way, though most of his fans had headed out earlier, or crashed out in the back rooms.
Kenan decided to walk to his next destination, he needed the few moments of fresh cool air and solitude. Playing the wild and crazy Kitty was a thrill and he loved every minute of it, but at the end of the excitement he just felt flat. It’s time to move on to a real place. The spaces in between were just… empty.
The structure before him reached far up into the sky; It wasn’t home, but as close as he ever got to one. Starlight Tower was a brothel, though Kenan disliked the term. As he entered, a gruff voice greeted him, “Hey Kenan.”
He gave a silly salute to the guard as he walked by, intent on his destination. The elevator ride crawled up the floors and he tapped his feet, staring down at his holographic paws. They now glowed a deep purple, reflecting on the walls.
At the top of the tower, he stepped into an opulent penthouse apartment with city wide views. It was designed to be breathtaking, but he only had eyes for his lady, Sonora. She had donned a pair of matching kitty ears, and acquired the appearance of a bright pink human-cat hybrid, resting on the couch.
Kenan’s expression turned from tired to joyous as he rushed over and scooped her up in his arms.
Her musical laughter filled the room: “Miss me much, Kenan?”
“You know I always do,” he replied. The most sincere words to leave his mouth all night.
In the early afternoon, Kenan woke with Sonora still snuggled against him in bed. Morning had been pure ecstasy: an explosion of deep happiness that he never wanted to end. It never grew old, like so many other things he had tried in life. Sonora was a goddess, his secret anchor in a chaotic existence. They always reserved the same space in time for each other, but once he left Earth she went back to her life as he went back to his.
He shifted his body slightly, his arm was beginning to fall asleep under the press of her weight, but in doing so he knocked his opposite elbow into the bedside table. Their cat ears clattered to the floor.
“Hum?” Sonora blinked awake, yawning delicately. The cat ears were fun, and a great personality for the outside world, but she knew him inside and out. She was the only one who truly did. Kenan smiled, and she lightly punched his chest, “Why are you up so early, Kenan?”
“Early?” Kenan laughed, “It’s nearly two!”
“Two!” Sonora bolted upright. “Oh I have to get up, I have something else I need to do today. I’m sorry, kitten, but you’ll have to go for now. I’ll see you later this evening, yes?”
Kenan’s eyes widened a little, “But Sonora, why can’t I stay here?”
Sonora huffed a little as she crawled out of bed, “It’s a long story, I promise I’ll tell you but right now I’m already late!”
Kenan felt hurt. She’d never shooed him out before, he was always allowed to come and go as he pleased. She was always there, waiting for him. Her whole life was him while he was on Earth. He wondered what could possibly drag her away. Perhaps there was someone else?
He shook his head and gathered his things, dressing quickly and vanishing out the door. His thoughts became a blur.
Gallant Lightyear signed off with a hearty salute and farewell to his team.
Comey rubbed his eyes, he’d been staring at the screen all night and all morning, and now he was exhausted. He stumbled into his kitchen, downing an entire glass of water in seconds. He grabbed an enormous sandwich his housekeeper had left for him in the refrigerator, but as he shut the door a screen on the front flashes an alert icon.
“Right,” he mumbled, stuffing a few bites of the sandwich in his mouth. He poked the screen, opening the message he’d seen when he first arrived.
“Dear Mr. Comey,
We would like to meet with you as soon as possible, one of our clients would like another sample. We hope you will honor her request.
Rothschild Clinic & Laboratory”
Comey chewed on both the words and his sandwich. Samples from a genius. What am I, Gallant Lightyear, if not honorable? A smile slid across his face as he swallowed, and then pressed the call button.
Kenan sat silently in the back of a limo as the driver patiently waited for an order. For once he really didn’t know what to do. He could go out and find his fans, distract from his thoughts in the loud rhythms of the club. Maybe invite some of them out on some grand adventure around the world, living for the moment as he loved to do. But Sonora’s unusual rush for him to leave stung. Did she really have somewhere better to be than with him?
A slight thought perked up in the back of his mind, “Take me to the carnival.”
“Carnival sir?” His driver was briefly confused by this odd request.
“Yes, you know, the fair. Just outside the main city.”
The driver nodded his head after a couple of seconds, “Yes sir.”
Kenan was briefly irritated, but his mind wandered back to Sonora. Perhaps I should have taken her to the fair. Would she like that? It bothered him that he didn’t know.
When they arrived at the fairgrounds, Kenan realized he really didn’t want to be recognized. He swiped off his cat ears, tucking them away in his shirt pocket, then borrowed a pair of sunglasses from the driver. “Not sure how long I’ll be,” he told the driver as he got out. “Don’t bother to wait.” He shut the door and stepped out of the way.
The driver waved as he pulled out and Kenan was left standing alone, the fair entrance just before him. Sweet smells, cheerful lights, and the noisy crowd drew him in. He slipped unnoticed in the masses.
Charles was being pulled mercilessly along by Mary and Jillian.
“I want to ride the carousel!” Jillian pleaded.
“We already rode that six times!” Mary argued, “I want to ride the Ferris wheel!”
“Settle down little ladies, we have plenty of time for both!” Charles laughed, “But let’s go for something new first! The giant slide!”
“Oooh!” Mary and Jillian nodded, jumping up and down with excitement.
They’d just reached the base of the slide when Charles noticed an odd figure walking towards them. It took him a few seconds to recognize Kenan wearing weird sunglasses that seemed far from his style. He turned to the girls, “Mary, take your sister up the slide. I’ll be down here to watch you both come down!”
The girls agreed and took off up the stairs, giggling all the way.
Charles turned to face Kenan, who had just stopped next to him. His friend was watching the girls as they vanished into the slide’s entrance high above. “Hiding from someone?” Charles asked with a friendly jab at Kenan’s arm.
Kenan pulled off the glasses and looked at his friend, “Just from everyone,” he grinned but the grin faded away quickly. “Gotta get outta the limelight once in a while. I need a break.”
Charles let out a light growl of ascent. He could tell there were more troubling things on Kenan’s mind, but he didn’t want to intrude. The cheers of the girls rang out from above, derailing his musings, and they came sliding down full speed. He watched them with a big smile stretching across his face to match their own.
At the bottom of the slide, Jillian hopped off and ran over with delight, “Kitty!”
Kenan caught her in a hug but whispered, “Shh! I’m in disguise!”
Mary caught up to her sister. Confusion skittered across her face. “But you’re not in disguise.”
“Exactly!” Kenan laughed.
The girls seemed baffled, but Charles broke in before any more questions could erupt: “He wants to spend some time with us, but he doesn’t want anyone else to see him and interrupt us, right?” He glanced at Kenan and gave and imperceptible nod of his head.
“Err.. right!” Kenan agreed.
Charles turned back to the girls. “So we have to keep it a secret! But he can go on the rides with us, who’s up for the Ferris wheel?”
The girls cheered and pulled the men onward.
Comey was staring at his screen again. “A child?”
The doctor smiled patiently at him from her side of the screen. “Yes, Mr. Comey. When you signed the paperwork five years ago, you agreed to a wide variety of tests, and part of those tests allow us to produce a child from your genetic material for limited, science-approved, testing throughout its lifetime. You are never under any obligation to your offspring, and the mother was chosen quite carefully. She understood the restrictions, and permissions, as well. We are passing on this request for her, because she would like the child to have a full-blooded sibling.”
“A sibling,” Comey was now staring at his shaking hands. Surely this isn’t real.
The doctor’s face seemed to soften. “It is only a request, Mr. Comey, you needn’t honor it if you don’t wish to.”
Comey breathed out noisily between his teeth, trying to calm his nerves. It feels like there’s walls closing in. He hadn’t truly considered the possibility of a child when he’d agreed to help with a scientific study all those years ago. He didn’t even remember seeing that clause in the contract. He’d been pretty selfish at the time, merely wanting money to upgrade his gaming system while simultaneously finishing up grad school. It made him feel strange to hear that there was a child out there somewhere that had his genetic code running around inside its tiny body. His… child…
“Well not really mine,” he mumbled.
It felt like some kind of game. No, no… he reminded himself, This is reality. It has to be real. A real child.
He glanced back at the screen again, the doctor was waiting for his answer. He shuffled his feet a little, nervous. “Could I… meet them?”
“My child and… the mother. Could I meet them first?”
The doctor frowned but nodded, “I could ask the mother if she would be willing to. I’ll have to get back to you later this evening.”
“Ok.” A surge of adrenaline pulsed through him as he switched off the video call. He felt some panic creeping up, but he knew what he needed to do. He rushed out to his car mumbling Gallant Lightyear’s motto over and over.
“Brave and loyal, tried and true,
Have a warrior’s heart in all you do.”
As the sun began to set, Kenan and Charles led the girls out from the fair. Jillian was nearly asleep on her feet, but Mary was bouncing with every step she took, packing a large plush cat along. Charles turned to look at Kenan, a tuft of cotton candy stuck to his beard. Kenan smiled back at him.
“You seem to be doing better,” Charles casually commented.
Kenan hesitated a little, “It was good to get out, away from everything.”
Charles grinned and shook his head, “Only you would find a busy fair full of people ‘away’ from everything.”
Kenan laughed, “You’re right there.”
“You can come back home with us!” Mary cheerfully broke in.
Charles gave her the side eye, “He could do that, but I have the feeling Mr. Kitty has things he needs to do.”
“Too true,” Kenan agreed with a sigh.
Charles paused and put a hand to Kenan’s shoulder, “But if you need to, come on by the house any time. Annabelle would love to see you.”
“Thanks,” Kenan replied, “But til then…” He pulled off his sunglasses and stuck them on Mary. Then he reached in his pocket producing the cat ears. “Me-ow!”
Jillian and Mary giggled as Kenan took off with a flourish.
Kenan got out of his limo and stared up at the Starlight Tower. He desperately wanted to go up to Sonora as he’d done so many times, with not a care in the world. But he was afraid, What if she’s found someone she likes better than me?
A soft pink paw touched his arm, and there she was, glowing in all her beauty. “Hi Kenan.”
He started “I thought you’d be inside.”
“I told you I had things to do.”
“Right,” Kenan hunched his shoulders.
Sonora laughed lightly, and threaded her arm into his. “Let’s walk.”
They wandered down a private pathway to the local park. It was dark out and the city lights sparkled between the trees. Their twin cat glows mingled together.
Sonora sighed, “I’m… moving out of the Tower, Kenan.”
“I’m not going to work anymore. It’s no place to… it’s no place for me anymore.”
“I can still see you, right? You’re not going to leave me behind?”
“I think it would be better…”
Kenan stopped firmly in place, “No, no it would not be better! Stay here, please Sonora.”
“I can’t, Kenan…”
“Why? Are you moving in with someone else? Did you find someone else??” He felt a deep sinking sensation.
“I have a child, Kenan!” Sonora nearly hissed out the words, to silence him. “I can’t raise a child there.”
Kenan stopped breathing. He thought he might drown even though there was no water around. “Child?” he gasped out.
Sonora took a deep breath, composed again, “Yes, I have a child.”
Conflicting emotions crashed together inside Kenan’s head. An unfortunate lick of anger lashed out first, “You got knocked up by some other guy and now you’re going to leave me?!”
Sonora’s eyes flashed an angry warning that cut into his soul. “No, Kenan. I didn’t get knocked up by some random other guy, I got knocked up by you!”
Kenan’s mind went blank, “But that… that isn’t possible. I’ve been in space! It had to have been one of your other clients.” He suddenly felt defensive.
“No, Kenan,” Sonora’s two pink paws grasped either side of his face, “I’ve only been with you.”
“But your job…”
Sonora let him go again, “Oh, sure, I used to go around with anyone paying, but ever since you settled in with me, Ormco has paid me off to stay exclusive to you.”
“They can’t have their prized lead risking his health, so they said.”
Kenan’s laugh cut her off, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. I’ve jumped off cliffs! Partied so hard I didn’t know left from right! They don’t care what I do when I’m on leave!”
“And how did you get home from that party?”
“That party out in the islands. How did you get home?
Kenan was completely lost. “I… don’t remember.”
“That’s because you were so far gone you thought you were a real cat! Ormco brought you to my apartment to sober up before you had to head back into space. They paid me double the usual.”
Kenan’s mouth was now hanging open, but he was at a loss for words.
“Look, Kenan, I care about you.” She put a paw on his shoulder and looked into his eyes. “That’s why I agreed to stay exclusive to you, and the money didn’t hurt either,” She laughed slightly. “But I have a kid to raise now. I can’t expose her to your… lifestyle. Nor mine. That’s why I’m leaving. I have to do better.”
Kenan closed his mouth with a snap, feeling as if his head might implode. She was the most real thing he’d ever felt and she was slipping away.
Sonora kissed him lightly on the lips. She smiled, “I’m turning you loose Kitten.” She turned and started walking back towards the tower.
Kenan stood in the dark watching her glow recede, then pulled off his own cat ears and stood invisible.
Comey sat on Charles’s couch, staring into his cup of tea.
Charles was rubbing his beard, “So you asked to see her, what did she say?”
“She said yes. Just as I got here I got the message. She wants to meet me tomorrow.”
Charles smiled, “Well that’s good then, isn’t it? You can meet your child!”
“A son? Well that’s guaranteed trouble. Girls are perfect angels.”
The joke was lost on Comey, who still seemed completely in a daze.
Charles shifted in his seat, “It will be fine, Terrance.”
The use of his first name broke Comey from his daze. “I don’t know what to do with a child.”
Charles covered his laugh with a cough, “That’s fine. Look, you just said you wanted to meet the mother. You’ll see, I bet she’s a perfectly capable woman and you won’t have to do anything. Just get to know them a little, ease your conscience, and you can get back to life as usual. She chose that path, you don’t have to join it.”
“She wants another child. From me.”
Charles seemed slightly uncomfortable, “Well, ahh.. They do better sometimes. Kids with siblings. Maybe she just wants two? You can just, you know, give the lab your sample again… I think it would be… honorable…”
The awkward conversation was interrupted by the doorbell, which Charles thankfully leapt up to answer.
The door opened and Kenan saw Charles’ gruff exterior was a bit reddened. “Oh, trouble for you too, eh?”
Charles opened the door wider and gestured him in.
As he stepped inside, Kenan spotted Comey in the next room looking quite distressed. His problems briefly dropped out of focus. He walked into the room and sat down by Comey. “What’s happened to you? Doesn’t look like you’ve slept in days and we only just got back.”
Annabelle popped into the room just then, handing a hot cup of tea to Kenan. Charles sat down again and his wife, tired of simply over-hearing things from the other room, summed it up. “Comey was a sperm donor years ago and he just learned he has a child. It’s not really so bad as you’re making it out to be, Terrance.” She patted Comey on the head lightly.
Kenan sucked in a breath, “You too?”
“What?” came the twin replies of Charles and Comey.
Kenan flushed and went uncharacteristically quiet.
Annabelle raised an eyebrow but excused herself from the room.
Charles put a hand to his face, rubbing all the way down to his beard.
“You’re a sperm donor too?” Comey croaked out.
Kenan tapped his fingers together nervously, “Ahh.. no…”
Charles cleared his throat, “Mr. Kitty here has been visiting a prostitute regularly for years.”
Comey looked surprised, Kenan looked uncomfortable but nodded. “Just one though… I always figured it was more… um…”
“Honorable?” Comey interjected.
“Well yeah. In a way.”
Charles left out a heavy sigh, “What am I going to do with you boys?”
Comey’s mouth twitched a small smile. “At least you know her. I still haven’t met the ah… mother of my son… or him.”
“Hmph,” Kenan sat back, “Well at least you’re not obligated to do anything.”
Charles frowned. “Comey isn’t directly responsible for his child. You are though, for yours. I think his choice is easier. Go. Meet your child and his mother. If you think she’s a good mother, then consider her request. I’m sure she didn’t make that decision lightly, and once that’s done, you can go back to life as usual. If you want.”
Comey nodded, his nerves finally beginning to settle. A quick visit, that’s all, then he could clear his mind. Already he felt better than he had in a long time. I always felt so… out of place before. Like I was living in a completely different place from everyone else.
Kenan cleared his throat, startling Comey back to reality, “Technically, I’m not obligated either.”
Charles gave him a bit of a glare then, startling Kenan. “And why is that?”
Kenan fumbled a little, “She … she said… well she let me go.”
Comey gave him a curious look, “She broke up with you?”
Charles breathed noisily, “I don’t think that absolves you of responsibility at all.”
Kenan laughed sharply, “Ormco has been paying her off anyway, I’m sure they’ll give her a nice stipend.”
Charles dropped his face down into his hand; Comey shifted uncomfortably at the news.
Annabelle came to the rescue, shuffling in from the kitchen, “That shouldn’t matter Kenan.” She set a pitcher full of tea on the table, and settled a plate of cookies beside it. “If you care for her at all, which I suspect you must or you wouldn’t have come here of all places, then you need to support her.”
Kenan frowned, “She said she didn’t want the child exposed to my lifestyle.”
“Or hers, I imagine?” Annabelle replied gently.
“She quit, she’s moving away.”
“She’s changing her life to raise your child better. That’s the most honorable thing anyone could do.”
Comey seemed to light up a little, “Brave and loyal, tried and true, Have a warrior’s heart in all you do.”
Kenan rolled his eyes, “That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Sure it does,” Comey replied, “You’re already loyal to her, why not be brave too?”
Kenan rubbed his face, Charles just looked vaguely amused now.
Comey hopped up, handed his cup to Annabelle with a thank you, and wandered to the door. “Can’t believe I’m actually braver than you after all, Kitty,” he teased as he exited the house.
The next morning, Kenan found himself standing outside the Starlight Tower again. It’s metal walls and silvered glass reflected the orange glow of sunrise. He’s seen Sonora come out twice, carrying small boxes to her car which was parked out front. He finally roused up enough courage to walk over to her.
After setting down a box, Sonora looked at him.
“Hi Sonora.” Kenan’s voice shook.
She sighed, “Good morning, Kenan, I can’t help you right now. I have to get my things moved out today.”
Kenan scuffed one foot on the ground, “I know. Can I help you?”
Sonora raised her eyebrows, “Sure kitty.”
Kenan grinned at the nickname, which made her smile in return,
Comey stared across the street at the small internet cafe, it’s simple exterior painted a dull gray – boring for the glittery sign hanging out front proclaiming the place to be “Good Bytes.” The name would have amused him if he hadn’t been so nervous. It looks like it’s been here forever but I don’t remember seeing it before.
He fought down the desire to flee and pushed ahead, crossing the street. A small, old fashioned bell announced his arrival through the door, and he was greeted by decor so retro that he thought he must have walked through a portal and catapulted back in time.
As he glanced around, he realized he had no idea who he was looking for, and a brief moment of panic caught in his throat. Then a figure waved at him from a few tables away. His eyes refocused and he saw a woman smiling in his direction, her short brown hair bouncing a little as she tried to wave him over.
His feet turned almost automatically and carried him to her table.
“Hi Terrance,” she breathed out.
“Er.. hello. How did you know it was me?”
She flushed a little, “Well, I do have a picture of you.”
“You do?” His eyes widened.
“Well, of course. I wanted to know what our son might look like, you know?”
“Ahh..” his nerves were making his arms tingle.
“I’m sorry, that must sound so weird to you. I’m Meredith, though most people call me Red.”
She sounded nervous too, which Comey found oddly relaxing. “Red?”
“Yes, well… it’s mostly a gaming thing. Please sit, Terrance?”
“Of course,” he scooted into the chair opposite her, “Most people call me Comey.”
“Comey,” she repeated with a smile.
Her glittering eyes made him shy, so he shifted his focus to the cafe around them, “Come here often?”
She joined him in his study of the place, “No, actually, I’d never seen it before. Though I don’t get out much honestly, most of the time I’m busy in the office. The rest of the time I play games and take care of our son.”
Our son. The words drew his eyes back to her like a magnet.
As they packed the last box into Sonora’s car, Kenan pulled a small square box from his pocket, and handed it to her. “What’s this for?”
“For uh… our kid, you know? Thought maybe I should get something…” he trailed off.
Sonora smiled, the sort of smile that made his knees all wobbly. “Thanks Kenan. Do you want to meet her? You could come with me, see my new place, meet Kira”
For a moment Kenan’s head buzzed. He almost felt sick but Comey’s words popped into his mind, “Can’t believe I’m braver than you after all.” He closed his eyes briefly to shut out the buzzing confusion, then opened them slowly, “Yes, that would be wonderful.”
Sonora looked surprised, but also happy.
Kenan’s heart beat faster, and his hands became uncomfortably sweaty, but he got into her car and off they went.
Comey was completely relaxed now, enjoying a good lunch and hearty chat with Red about gaming. He’d been surprised to hear they had a lot in common. She didn’t know much about the technical side, as her primary career was more geared toward Biology, but she loved to play in her spare time. As it turned out, she even knew who Gallant Lightyear was, though she’d thought he was a bit of a stuffy character, and they’d had a good laugh about that.
“Well, Comey, it’s been lovely meeting you. It’s time I went and picked up Brendan though, would you still like to come?”
“Well yes, I would love to.”
Red flushed a little, but chirped out, “Great!”
Comey smiled, took her hand, and led her out of the cafe, taking them both by surprise.
Kenan sat stiffly in Sonora’s new living room. The house was fairly small, but in a nice quiet area of town. The nanny had just put Kira in Sonora’s lap and left them. Kenan didn’t have the slightest idea what to do, but he was mesmerized by how different Sonora seemed.
As Sonora trailed her finger lightly across Kira’s cheek, her whole aura seemed to soften. She looked back to Kenan, a gentle smile on her face, and her eyes seemed to glow. And not the unnatural glow that the kitty ears gave them, either. Something else was there but he wasn’t sure what.
“Here you take her.”
“Sure, why not,” Sonora swept lightly to her feet and crossed the room in two steps. Suddenly Kenan was face to face with those chubby cheeks and dancing eyes. He pulled back, and Sonora laughed.
She plopped Kira into his lap and he found himself staring at the child as if confronted by an alien life form. And yet… her big eyes glowed just like Sonora’s. Her fuzzy wisps of dark hair matched his own. Kenan felt frozen in space.
Sonora had sat back down and started opening the box Kenan had given her. It caught his eye and his thoughts scattered, “It.. uh… I hope it’s ok…”
Sonora reached into the box and pulled out a tiny headband. It was a perfectly ordinary yellow band of soft fabric, with two tiny kitten ears on top. Kenan’s nerves jangled, but Sonora smiled. She stepped back over to his side, and slid the kitty band gently onto Kira’s head.
Kira’s face screwed up briefly, but then relaxed as she let out a gurgle, seemingly happy.
Kenan stared at her face, she was so… adorable. Things he hadn’t felt before slowly sunk into his being, love and attachment. This was his daughter and he didn’t want to let her go again.
Sonora sat beside him and sighed, resting her head lightly on his arm. “She’s perfect, isn’t she?”
“Purr-fect” Kenan grinned and Sonora laughed with relief.
The full month rolled by quicker than any one of them wanted it to and far too soon they were strapped back into their rocket, blasting away from Earth towards the stars once more. They hadn’t seen much of each other the last few weeks, each one absorbed in their own places on Earth. Kenan was happily telling them all about Kira, with Comey occasionally interjecting bits about his son. Charles was just happy that they both had families now.
“So Comey, did you ever give the lab another sample?” Kenan asked with a jab at Comey’s arm, as they exited the atmosphere.
“No, actually, I didn’t.”
“No kidding?” Kenan was impressed.
“I thought you approved of Red?” Charles asked in surprise.
“More than approved,” Comey laughed, “She’s great!”
“Poor girl, no little sibling for Brendan.” Kenan frowned.
“Well, I wouldn’t count on that…. Exactly…”
Charles and Kenan both stared at him, “You didn’t!?” Kenan gasped.
Comey was turning rather red.
“You did!” Kenan exclaimed, “No wonder we haven’t heard from you. You’ve been a busy boy!”
Charles coughed and turned his head as he grinned.
Comey just turned all the redder and tried to busy himself at the controls.
Kenan’s laughter filled the cockpit as they flew on towards Mine Camp 517.
“Took a bit of a risk there, don’t you think?”
“Oh I think it’s just what we needed.”
“Charles has always been excellent, but he needed something more to bond with them over.”
“Well that was the least of the risks you took.”
“Granted. Kenan was always a risk, but there’s strong leadership skills there. We just had to tone him down a bit. He’ll be even more vital as we expand operations.”
“You really think he’ll calm down now?”
“Oh I guarantee it. No more crazy outings for that one if he wants to stay with Sonora.”
The eyes across the table darkened, “…and Terrance?”
“Terrance required more physical stimulation… something to ground him, so to speak. Distract him from his technical digging. We know he doesn’t just play games, he has been trying to break through the walls. He’s been too close to uncovering the truth.”
“You expect this to work?”
“He hasn’t played a serious game since day one. The reality is cementing in his mind.”
“And what of the children?”
“A small investment for the future of the company.”
“That’s it then?”
“Mission complete. For now.”
“Roll in the next group for Earth leave then. It’s really too bad we can’t work them continually.”
“Humans are too fragile for that, we must tend to their minds.”
“Whatever you say, Doc. Carry on.”
A dark hand reaches up, pressing a red button labeled “517.” The console reads “active” again.