Lighthouse: Up a Creek

Note: This chapter picks up after “Intruders“, written by For_Eorzea/SMNerd and featuring siblings Refiltre and Shintu. I suggest reading it first!

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The bus broke down in Willow Creek. The driver told us we’d have a few hours, at least, before repairs were complete. I wondered what to do for the afternoon with a child who couldn’t understand me.

I wanted to get us home. I missed Sept. I was nervous about traveling with Santi at a time when the AAC was sparking riots. Her disguise was good, but I wasn’t sure it was good enough. No matter how blonde her hair, how blue her eyes, she couldn’t hide her other-worldliness.

Nevertheless, it didn’t do any good to stay in the cramped bus station. We’d passed a park driving in, so Santi and I walked the short way there.

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The humid air draped rain clouds over the foothills. We smiled in the sun, in spite of my worries.

Santi looked about her, then ran off toward a bed of winter flowers.

The park seemed deserted, so I tried to convince myself I had no reason for concern. Yet something felt off. I was anxious. Maybe it was just the bus’s mechanical failures, I reasoned, or the disappointment of delay.

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Across the street, I spotted a familiar blue bandana. It was Ritu. I had a sudden panicked flash that she’d come for Santi, followed by guilt at the panic, followed by the rational thought that I should hand Santi safely over to her, so she could deliver her to whatever home she’d lined up for her.

I wasn’t ready to part with Santi, and that made me feel worse–both that I’d grown attached over such a short time, and that I felt selfish enough to want to keep her with me when Ritu probably had a secure place waiting.

Then I realized that Ritu had no way of knowing we’d be here. We were supposed to be on the road, heading towards home, and the plan was she’d pick up my temporary charge at Culpepper Monday morning.

“Ritu!” I shouted. “What are you doing here?”

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“Hey, Mal!” she said. “I’m here on Collective biz. We got wind of protests. Here to keep it all peaceful, if I can. Or at the very least, step in should anybody need it. You know I’m certified in non-violence? Plus, first-aid and CPR.”

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I hadn’t known protests were scheduled for Willow Creek. I thought it was only the more conservative communities like Oasis Springs.

Maybe that was why I felt so nervous. I was picking up the hostile buzz. If only the bus would get fixed quickly!

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“But what are you doing here?” Ritu asked, just as surprised to see me.

“I’m here with Santi,” I said. “Do you want to take her, since you’re here?”

Ritu felt it was better not to. She had work to do, and it might not be safe. We’d stick to the plan. I’d take Santi home with me, and Ritu would get in touch about permanent placement later.

“You want to meet her?” I asked.

“Sure!” said Ritu.

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Santi raised her arms to me when I approached.

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I wrapped her in a hug, and she let out a musical sigh.

“It’s OK, Santi,” I said. “I was just over there, with our friend, with Ritu. Ritu will become one of your friends, too. She’s the one who sent me to fetch you, after all, she and Xirra and Sept!”

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Santi simply held on.

After Ritu headed off to the river path, I realized we hadn’t used the restroom since we embarked on the bus early that morning. I walked Santi to the park facilities.

In the lobby, a man in shabby clothes scolded a small extra-T boy.

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“Why would you paint your face that way?” the man said, his voice a sharp edge. “No amount of fingerpaint layers will save you from the space mutants.”

“Well, actually…” said the boy.

“What?”

“Nothing. Have a good day.”

“Everything OK here?” I asked.

The man shuffled out, and the boy looked up with a quick smile.

We saw the boy with his sister shortly after. My anxiety had increased with the arrival of more people at the park. A scowling teen approached the two kids.

I lingered nearby, listening in, while Santi played on the climbing bars.

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“What are you doing here?” the teen said. “Taking up space.”

“We’re… taking a walk. In the park,” the boy mumbled.

“One does not simply ‘take up’ space, or so I thought”, the girl pointed out. “Do you mean you’re building a rocket?”

“A rocket. Now that would be a stupid idea. What would I need a rocket for. Get lost, twerps.”

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“Do you still have something to say, or…”

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“Damn aliens!”

I approached quickly.

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“Why, hello!” I said to the boy. “Fancy meeting you again!”

“Hi,” he greeted tepidly.

“Is she… you’ve met?” his sister asked hesitantly.

“You know,” I said, with a nod towards Santi, “I’ve got a girl over there who’d love to play with you.”

“Alien lover,” said a teen girl who’d joined us.

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If they only knew. “The term is extra-terrestrial,” I said. “And if you want to be really PC, you could say, ‘other living being.'”

“PC, my ass,” said the girl. “Shove off and move on. Go somewhere there are other living beings like you. Not here. This is our planet.”

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“Damn right,” said the young man. “I was born here.”

“Oh? You didn’t coincide to do so in the town hospital? We’ve more in common than you’d ever imagine,” Shintu’s sister argued.

“Like what? You’re nothing like us!”

The siblings shot each other a look.

“You’re half right. And a half of me wagers you would want to leave it at that,” they said in tune with each other, half smiling.

The teens shot us their evil eyes, in unison, and marched in step to the plaza, where the crowd gathered.

During the exchange, Santi had hopped off the bars. I felt a moment’s panic before spotting her playing chess.

While keeping an eye on the other two kids, I moved closer to the chess table.

“I feel sorry for them,” one guy was saying. “I mean, who comes here–here?–by choice? Likely they got some kind of disaster back on their home planet, so, like any refugee, they’re looking for someplace safe. That’s all it is. Just looking for a safe planet.”

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“One never knows,” said Santi’s chess opponent.

“And what timing. To come to this planet just as it’s entering into its darkest time. Ecological collapse. Economic collapse. Societal collapse. Frying pan, fire. I’m telling you.”

Santi looked at him and began to sing softly, without words.

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The other two kids had jumped off the bars and were making their way towards the drinking fountain when an angry young man intercepted them.

“Facilities for people only,” he said.

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I stood between the children and the man.

“Hey, kids, are you thirsty?” I asked. “I’ve got a few juice packs if want some. You like strawberry-mango?”

“Try blueberry,” snickered the man.

We ignored him.

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The siblings followed me to the bench where we’d left our stuff, and I shared some of our juice packs.

The boy spied a graphic novel tucked in the top of one of my bags.

“Excuse me, but is that one of Chimaera Thrawn’s books? Wow, I had no idea Bow-TIE Scooters had a sequel! Mind if we take a look?”

I listened as the boy read aloud to his sister.

“‘Gimme the space tape, Lamio!’ her aunt called out from the controls. Annoyed, the girl dropped her sketchbook and stood up.

“‘Why should I care where you left it, Lhiiver?’

“‘I mean, sure, you’re in this same ship, and something in the generator is about to fall apart. If I was my nosey niece, I’d do what I’m told to, maybe just to save my own skin.’

“Aunt Lhiiver was on the right track, Lamio knew. She scanned the shelves for a roll of tape, but with no avail. A curse escaped from her lips. Just then–“

“–the lights went out, as a wailing sound could be heard from the distance, somewhere outside the ship. The engine of an older Bow-TIE fighter model.”

“How could you know… hey! Refi! I said no peeking! I’m getting a headache!”

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In the distance, from the river path, we could hear chanting. The protesters were coming closer.

“What do we want?”

“OUR EARTH!”

“When do we get it?”

“RIGHT NOW!”

“Keep the planet great! Keep the planet pure!
Alien microbes HAVE NO CURE!”

The sister flinched.

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Santi’s chess opponent walked past us, and I called Santi to join us.

She ran over with a smile and grabbed her violin from its case.

The chanting grew louder. The vanguard rounded the corner, approaching the plaza.

“Shove off! Move on! Shove off! Move on!”

Santi began to play her violin.

“Keep the planet pure! Make the planet great again!
This ain’t no place for little green men!”

Her music grew louder, strange strains that pulsed like water through stream, magma through earth, blood through veins, light through space.

A pattern lay beneath the sliding sound, but it was too complex to consciously identify or recognize when it came around again, unless one listened with a quiet mind, and then, it sounded like cadences heard a million times before. It sounded like the music of the spheres.

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Individuals broke off from the crowd and wandered over to listen.

I lost track of the chanting. I didn’t know if it stopped, or if the music overpowered it, or if the protesters moved on.

I only knew that I joined the gathering cluster of silent listeners.

Ptolemy wrote that the movement of the planets created music, but what was the energy that moved the planets? Love. The love of the created for the creator.

In years past, when I’ve remembered this moment, I’ve thought of these lines from Merchant of Venice:

Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

But we could hear it. Santi’s violin stretched wide the fabric to let the music in, and it bathed our ears, our minds, our bodies, our spirits in the memory of what we’d left behind when we stepped from stardust to mud to take this form.

I became aware that the chanting had stopped. The silent crowd silent gathered round the small violinist.

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The boy and his sister stood with us, part of the group, as the music entered Santi and came out her violin to wash over us. The lines of sound connected us.

The boy looked up at me. His face shone in a bright smile, and I wrapped my arms around him.

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“Thanks, Mallory. It’s been nice meeting you and the Lightriver-of-Melodies. It’s a very bright light we’re getting to hear.”

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“I don’t have any words,” I said, hugging him tighter. Then I noticed it was growing dark, and the small boy and his equally small sister were here in a park full of people. “I don’t have a car,” I said, “or I’d drive you and your sister home. It’s getting late. Is there someone I can call for you?”

He said I could phone his mom.

I stepped outside the circle of listeners and dialed the number he gave me. A warm voice on the other end said she’d come pick them up right away.

We turned back to the music, smiling at each other, now and then.

Santi played on.

“There she is!” he said, when a car pulled up to the park entrance and honked.

He and his sister ran off.

“Bye!” I called. “Be safe!”

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I watched them run to the waiting car, get in, and drive off. The car honked twice as it pulled away.

I called the bus station next, and the repairs would be done within the half-hour.

I didn’t want to ask Santi to stop playing. I wanted to let her play until the music stopped, until we could no longer hear the energy that flowed through her.

But she lowered her bow of her own accord, smiled up at me, and put her violin back in its case.

As we left the park, the chanting resumed.

“Move on! Shove OFF!”

I couldn’t wait to get us home.

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Author’s note: So many thanks to the Great Eorz (For_Eorzea/SMNerd) for writing this with me! (We had lots of fun!) She wrote all of Refiltre and Shintu’s dialogue, many of the speaking cues, and the excerpt from the Bow-TIE Scooters sequel! Our stories, and several of the other collab stories, will become increasingly integrated with For_Eorz’s stories, so I encourage you to give yourself the treat of reading them! 🙂