“And welcome to Casa de Alien Grunt Work!”
Samira presented their house with flair. Wouldn’t 272 years of living jaded her a lot more? Half that did a number on Vega, after all.
“You know,” Vega said. “You know, it actually looks fine.”
It fit in with the rest of Newcrest, which wasn’t a bad thing. Three stories–or two and an attic–of Victorian-inspired house, with ample deck and garden space. Vega used to have to share much closer and plain quarters with her husband, son, and roommates.
“Yeah, I know it ain’t what an immortal living in Twinbrook is used to, but I already think of it as home,” said Samira. “How was your place?”
“Oh. Open floor plan,” said Vega. “Well, eventually we got to that.”
It took one glance from the porch to see what all four of them were living there for. Four remaining Antarean buildings, all within a block from the house.
They existed in her old world too, albeit not worth defending there. No Antareans wanted to return there after that disaster. But Vega had still heard of the abandoned buildings at the Klaiat Base in the Empire State. The Peace Gardens had survived the war, as well as the Experimental Gardens, the Embassy…
…and perhaps most importantly, the Illat Memorial Observatory.
They expected concrete plans to come in soon enough, through one of the communicators throughout the house. Those were the red, glowing, double-ended plummets that sat on tables and other surfaces. Each one led to a different line, and it was up to Vega and whoever else could work them to figure out where.
But in a twist, the house as a whole looked pretty snazzy.
And she couldn’t forget the best part. In a cramped kitchen, Vega found something that made up for the tight squeeze. A whole rack of tea bags! There even was an untouched box of Lady Grey, Vega’s…third favorite. Someone would have to place an order for plain Rooibos, and the Moroccan Mint box was empty.
One could almost say that Vega was tickled to be in that house. At least they had hot drinks, and the brilliant minds of Antares were always on call. Always. She envied those pure Antareans, who didn’t need to sleep. Meanwhile, she always was a poor leader because of the need for sleep. Six hours. But that was still enough to sleep through a meeting or an ambush.
Well, no wonder she ended up on Earth again. It was a tight vote, but no one re-appointed her as the governess of Almeisan-2. And it was all because of sleep!
Vega enjoyed her tea at the breakfast nook. It gave a lovely view out the window, perfect for people-watching. Granted, she enjoyed that much more in Twinbrook. Maybe because it didn’t take her long to know everyone there. However, Twinbrook didn’t offer the fun of watching confused humans try to break into The Embassy. The fence was easy to hop, but all the structures were otherwise impervious.
The house had other simple pleasures too. Although hunting down a lighter was tough, the fireplace in the parlor was already full of fresh logs. As the day grew a little darker and colder, a fire was welcome.
Not to mention that Vega could try out those leather couches.
She held out her hands to warm them. She soaked in the solitude. The other three were outside, doing almost the same exact thing. There was a fire-pit outside and a circle of folding chairs around it. Samira also grabbed some seitan sausages and bell peppers from the fridge for roasting, before Vega got her tea.
But even in the solitude she asked for, Vega got a little bored for a grand total of two-point-five seconds. She then turned her head around.
Upright pianos were so hard to come by those days. In a sea of grand pianos and electronic keyboards, was there room for them? But the previous owner must have gone on a long hunt for one. Vega didn’t think that any of her new housemates had it in them.
Gosh, it had been ages since she played piano on the regular. Sometimes she played it at parties in Twinbrook, but always had excuses not to as well. Screwtape is sleeping in before that dinner shift. Samhain prefers to meditate in peace. Baby Sheila/Marco/Alhena/etc. needs to sleep. But during those periods as a child on Earth staying with dad, he signed her up for piano lessons.
“Sonatina in F Major” came back to her easier than she expected. It was one of her favorites to play for her son, when he was a tot. While she wished that she better remembered one of the adapted solo pieces from Hylomina of the Fifth Court, what was wrong with Beethoven? Vega was alone and having actual fun until Bar 45.
“Finally, someone who can play that!”
“You’d love to meet my daughter.”
Oh great, the housemates were back. As if someone would ignore a sonata played from inside their own house. But didn’t Vega close all the windows? Didn’t the house have some sort of soundproofing? If it didn’t, may the All-Mother help Vega if the others brought anyone home.
“Are you saying that one of your werewolf kids could play a concerto?” Vega asked to Cadmium. It was her voice, and she was the only one who admitted to having children. Or had them readable on her mind.
“Yeah. It was kind of her job,” said Cadmium.
“I just didn’t want this nice piano going to waste,” said Samira. “Did you really just want your stuff to go unheard?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I want!” Vega threw her head back as she groaned in disgust.
“You girls probably don’t even know Beethoven! Let alone the Fifth Court’s Royal Orchestra, or even Melhayana’s godawful Third Court Choir.” She then stormed off, pushing any of the ladies away if they were in her path.
Even while ascending the stairs, Vega still heard a “That’s rude, pretty sure Melhayana was my grandma” from Samira.
And a “Well, we saved the attic for you” from Willow.
She grumbled to herself as she climbed both sets of stairs. “Isn’t this perfect? Banished to the attic.” She took a break to check in one of the second floor bedrooms. Lots of rusty red, so it was likely Cadmium’s, and it struggled to fit a double bed and a dresser.
“I’m being downgraded from that. How great.”
But as it turned out, there was no downgrade to be found.
The attic, while not spacious, might have been one of the best rooms in the house. It had clean hardwood floors and new sepia-colored wallpaper. Vega could sleep in a comfortable bed. She could read whatever was stored on the a-frame bookshelf. She could meditate, or indulge in the one good thing the Earth offered.
While it was an older model, she had a telescope! Compared to the one at the Observatory, it was nothing. But Vega wouldn’t touch that one without permission. The one in the attic pointed out the lone window, and all it needed was for Vega to focus it for her own eyes. She got an up-close look at some oak leaves and waited for nightfall. If she was lucky, she might even get to see her real home in the heavens.
The night felt like it was taking a better turn. Vega went back downstairs to grab dinner, and they met her with…forgiveness. Even a smiling Samira saying “I don’t eat meat and the others don’t, but I prepped some chicken sausages ‘cause I don’t know what you like.”
Vega had to return that kindness a little. “The seitan ones are fine.”
They settled on plans for the night. Willow was to guard the Observatory and keep an eye on the Experimental Gardens. The latter’s remaining plants were hardy, and the seed stores were kept where no human could go. Humans couldn’t work any of the Observatory’s tech, but there were so many horror stories of outsiders breaking Antarean machines. And humans were some of the worst in that regard.
Samira wanted to take a more reluctant Cadmium out to the warp pad, for a night in Windenburg. It had dancing for Samira, and cute Deutsche guys for Cadmium, which won her over in the end.
And so, Vega had the house to herself, and complete solace in her attic. Even with Newcrest’s light pollution, she still had a beautiful view. The most important stars and planets shone bright through her telescope.
She focused on Altair when her concentration was interrupted.
“Hey, you mind if we talk for a bit?” It was Willow, the only other housemate still in the United States that night.
“Isn’t there an observatory that could be getting vandalized right now?” Vega asked, all quiet and deadpan as she tried to find her place in the sky again.
“Well, I was over there, but…okay, it’s something kinda personal,” said Willow. “And please don’t take this the wrong way.”
“You are? I thought you were…well…forced into this.”
Vega gave Willow a smile, something she was always selective with. “I chose this. I could have said no to my recruiter. I’m just….adjusting.”
“It’s all I can really do to make sense of it.”
“So what’s bothering you?”
“I don’t wanna say it,” said Willow. “Not anymore.”
“We’re alone,” said Vega. “Look, I’ll do my best to take this in the best way I can. You’re better than the others. Certainly better than Cadmium and the spawn of the wretched Third Court.”
“Yeah…it’s about you.”
She took a deep breath, and exhaled loud and slowly.
“Okay,” Vega said. “What is it, about me?”
Willow took a step back. Her face cringed and contorted with each word she said. “So, uh, this is gonna get personal. Well…I spent my whole life around my dad, and…uh, you’re as worrying as him.”
She hesitated less with telling the story. Maybe it was how Vega kept an explosion of emotion inside that time. Even if it baffled her how a weightlifter like Willow felt threatened by a short, un-athletic Vega.
Willow didn’t hesitate as Vega mined her head for further details and accompanying visuals. It helped, as she was brief with what she said.
“Dad was a bit of a nervous wreck ever since I was a kid, pretty much.” Dad was named Journeyman. His looks pointed to no particular court, and he was an obvious hybrid. Vega’s best guess was the Fourth. It made him the child of…a “frenemy” on a huge political scale. Willow’s mum tickled Vega much more. She was close with dear Julienne in her world too, in spite of her best friend and mild crush being Jules’ fiancé. And boy did she downgrade with Journeyman!
“So you had to deal with that?” Vega asked her. Willow nodded.
“All my life,” she said. “I didn’t get a break from him…I didn’t want to. He’s my dad.”
“Like, he was really high-strung, belligerent…he tested me.”
“But then I grew up and realized that he was just…ruined by everything he’s seen.”
Willow wasn’t even looking at Vega, at the end of it. But she did end up conjuring up the power to kick Vega out of her head. “So…I worry that the same’s happened to you. You lived through even more than he did, right?”
“Like, in terms of years? Probably.”
“How many people did you watch die?”
“More than someone should.”
“In Twinbrook, or?”
“…This conversation is over.”
“Fine. I’ll be at the Observatory ‘til dawn…barring the worst,” said Willow. “Stay safe.”
“You too, you too.”
Maybe she could have gotten a number for comparison, if Journeyman himself was there to read. But Vega was confident in that she had the most tragedy to brag about. From casualties in Antarean wars to the humans who made a mistake and latched on to her. Granted, her humans tended to die old and at home, but she couldn’t help but watch all of them.
And she was hardly the mourning type, not matter how many people expected it of her. Vega would visit the urns she kept all the time, but recounted only what made her angry. Sheila wanted to ruin my poor son’s life and Clarissa and Rebecca were the in-laws from Hell. Eva and Wei never wanted anything to do with Antarean life and I kind of wish I was nicer to Harwood. He was the only one who seemed to understand.
She took to her telescope again, but turned it on its pivot. It pointed not at the sky, but just a tenth of a mile down the road, at the Observatory.
Willow stood there stoic, poised for an attack. And for a while, she was as alone as Vega, save for the company of loud crickets and frogs.
But the world wasn’t about to give Willow a boring night.
It just gave her a boring human.
A/N: Note to self for Eight Cicadas, Samira becomes a vegetarian later in her life.
Mmm, seitan sausages! For all I know, they’re not good for roasting over a fire.
A plummet is also what’s known as a plumb bob, and yeah, it’s the inspo for the diamond above sims’ heads. Most plummets aren’t double-ended, at least from my search, hence the specification.