Lighthouse: Morning Joe

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Mojo waited for us on the front porch when we returned from the overlook.

He stuck around, and our kitchen felt like home with a big dog eating in the corner.

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He raced up to me one evening when I returned from a walk and began to waltz with me. That was when I knew, for sure, that he had adopted us.

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Sept and I never had a honeymoon, unless you count those love-drunk days before our marriage. We went back to the Culpepper almost immediately. We’d left it in Anya’s capable management for over three weeks, and she was getting tired of running things without us.

But even more, Xirra said we had to go back.

We were seldom there at the same time.

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Sept felt it was important to maintain the fiction that he and Max Culper were two different individuals. Of course, all his friends and most of the regulars knew. But he said the ruse wasn’t for those who knew us.

He also stressed that we shouldn’t leave home unattended for very long.

So we took shifts.

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I’d been well schooled by both Sept and Xirra what my duties were at the Culpepper. Watch for anyone new, anyone who seemed unfamiliar with the place or out of touch with the common culture. And then listen for the code words.

Xirra said the first person would come at any time. We couldn’t be sure when. But we had to be ready.

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I’d been showing up every other day for two weeks. Mostly the regulars came through. Aicha Choukri, a friend of Anya’s that she hired to help cover when we’d been out, was still a bit sulky from our long absence.

“You know we ran out of organic French roast,” she complained. “We’re still not fully stocked. One day, I can understand. Two, if you’re really needing some down-time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy Anya got me the job, and even more happy you kept me on. But to leave Anya in charge all that time? What were you thinking?”

I began scheming ways to make it up to her and Anya when a stranger entered behind Ulrike.

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He stopped in the entrance and looked around.

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Then he went to the computer stands, but he didn’t turn the computer on. He simply sat and looked.

“Hi,” I said. He stared.

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I stood behind him in the line at the counter. He looked over his shoulder at me.

Sept had mentioned that in some extra-T cultures, eye contact was considered rude, so I looked straight ahead. I felt him watching, though.

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Anya gave him a small Americano with extra foam. “I added some amaretto syrup,” she whispered, “and extra cinnamon!”

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He sat at the large table, and I sat across from him, still being careful not to look at him directly.

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Then he looked at me. His eyes looked so sad, like he’d seen hardship.

“I’m Mallory,” I said softly. “Mallory Sevens. I’m glad you’re here. What’s your name?”

He pointed at the menu.

I read the first item on it. “Mocha Java?”

He pointed again.

“Organic Guatemalan?”

Another point.

“Morning Joe?”

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He smiled and whistled twice.

“Nice to meet you, Morning Joe.”

Byu jisa,” he said. I didn’t know much Vingihoplo back then, but I knew byu, sweet, for it was Sept’s pet name for me.

I shook my head.

“Do. Nut,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied. “We don’t serve donuts. Would you like pain au chocolat?”

He concentrated. “Cookiestadore. Cookstore. Cookiestory.”

It was so close. Sept had emphasized that I could not lead. The individual had to supply the full code without prompting.

I closed my eyes, and we sat silently.

Then he spoke. “I. Haff. Kumfrum. Da. Cookiestore. Adora.”

It was close enough.

“I am so happy you are here, Morning Joe,” I said. “Byudoxniuki.” Sweet freedom.

I took him upstairs to the second flat.

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“You can stay here,” I said. “Gotukoda.” Home. For now, anyway.

The second flat offered temporary shelter, a place for refugees to stay while our contacts arranged more permanent lodgings and filed the paperwork that would allow them to live openly in a xeno-friendly community.

“You are safe here,” I said. I fully believed that to be true, at the time, for him and all who would seek sanctuary there. “You can take off your disguise, if it’s more comfortable. Baska.” I mimicked, as best I could, undressing from one’s skin.

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When I turned around, he revealed his true form, which looked a lot like his disguise, actually, only paler, bluer.

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He sat at the computer desk, again leaving the computer off.

I explained he’d be here for a few days, and Sept or I would be staying in the flat next door.

“One of us will always be around,” I said. “We’re here if you need anything!”

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He hadn’t said a word.

I talked too loudly, too cheerfully, like I do when I’m nervous and wanting to offer reassurance, I’m sure of it. And he listened, though I’m sure he didn’t understand anything.

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He sat beside me, and I looked at him. He maintained eye contact for a moment, and then he looked away.

“Are you OK?” I asked. “Do you need anything?” He seemed healthy and well-rested. He was clean. But he looked very, very sad.

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“How about if I make some cookies?” I said. And then I realized that was a very awkward thing to say. “Or, not cookies, actually. Brownies! Byujisa?”

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He smiled and sat beside me again. He began to whistle, click, exhale, and sigh. I noticed patterns. It was a language. I couldn’t understand a word he said, either, but I loved the sound of it.

I whistled back, and Morning Joe laughed.

Slowly, carefully, patiently, with a whistle and a click, he began to teach me to communicate with him.

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Author’s note: Hat-tip to For_Eorzea/SMNerd for the Cookie Store code word!

Lighthouse: Bigger than Us

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With each new person I saw Sept with, I discovered something about him. Xirra brought out his passion for the cause. She came to see us a few days after Whisper and Emmanuel’s visit.

We heard a whirring noise as lights shone in the front yard.

“Xirra’s here!” Sept said and ran outside.

She wore a gravity suit much like Sept’s. She didn’t look much like him, though, aside from the pointed ears. She wasn’t moon blue and lithe.  She was indigo, like Octy, and she had a full body like mine. Somehow, that helped me warm up to her more quickly.

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“Come, byu!” she said when she saw me, and she wrapped me in warm hug. “So you are the Mallory!”

“And you’re the Xirra!” I said. “Are you really Situ’s sister? And Octy’s mom?”

“I am, indeed!” she said. “And I’ll be your friend, if you’ll let me.”

She wrapped me a warm hug, and I felt that we’d been friends forever.

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Xirra has always been impossible for me to resist. Anything she asks, I’ll do for her. It’s her smile. She fills me with confidence that I am stronger than I know, more capable than I realize, and braver than I ever thought possible–all because she is all of those things and she not only makes it look easy, she makes it look natural.

We went inside and I dished us up some of Sept’s chili for supper.

“I’ll take two bowls,” Xirra said. “And don’t skimp on the grated cheddar and sour cream! The dairy products on this planet make every trip worthwhile!”

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“Sept tells me you’re engaged” Xirra said. “It’s a quaint custom, marriage. We don’t have anything like it, of course. But we approve, as long as it’s based on love.”

“Oh, this is based on love, all right,” Sept said.

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“I know,” said Xirra. “I can feel it. Your home is drenched in the chemicals of love!”

We’d progressed by then to the cozy cocktail of oxytocin, and I, for one, felt glad to take a temporary break from the heady buzz of dopamine, norepeninephrine, and serotonin.

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“We’ve been kind of high on love,” Sept admitted. “In fact, I’m craving another fix now!”

I giggled. “Easy does it, love-junkie! We’re going to need our own 12-Step program if we’re not careful!”

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“When is the wedding?” Xirra asked.

“We haven’t set a date yet,” I admitted. We’d identified a few obstacles. When we drew up the guest list, everyone, except for my room-mate in college, who wouldn’t be able to attend anyway, since she was getting a doctorate oversees, was friend or family of Sept. I didn’t mind. The marriage would escort me into his family, and I pretended that it didn’t bother me that, in doing so, my own family rejected me. But it bothered Sept. “There must be someone,” he said. “It feels so inequitable this way.”

My main obstacle was Sebastion’s reaction to expressions of romance. “It’s my wedding!” I explained to Sept. “I want to be able to kiss my own groom at my wedding! How can I not?”

“Then do!” he said. “Pops will deal.”

But I didn’t want his father to feel anxious or uncomfortable, and I certainly didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of a public reprimand again, especially in a wedding dress.

“You had better not wait!” Xirra said. “We’ve got things happening soon. The best course of action is to get married straight away!”

“What’s the timing?” Sept asked her.

“It all depends. Look. There’s so much to transmit. Let me just upload it to you. It will be quicker.”

She began to concentrate, and Sept jerked as if he’d been plugged into a socket. I asked him later what he felt like.

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“Overload,” he said. “Too much input. It comes in so fast, and I don’t have a chance to process it all. It will take days, maybe weeks, before I get it all sorted, collated, and stored away. Forgive me if I’m a bit distracted or absent-minded until then.”

The data he was able to process immediately pleased him.

“Xirra,” he said. “It’s really happening then! You’ve set the plan in motion!”

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“What is this, Sept?” I asked him.

“Xirra’s in command. It’s part of the resistance, for slaves and refugees who need sanctuary. That’s where you and I come in.”

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“Sept!” I said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to be part of this!”

The idea of being part of whatever this was terrified me. This was supposed to be our “getting-to-know-each-other” stage of our romantic life, not our “comrades-in-the-resistance” stage. I was in no way ready to begin making sacrifices for something I, at that time, knew basically nothing about.

Xirra just sat there, smiling, while Sept and I launched into our first argument.

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Sept and I have had one argument during our entire life together, and we’ve had that argument hundreds of times. We still have it, on occasion, but we’ve learned to navigate our way through it.

The argument hinges on our different ideas about commitment and what we’re willing to be committed to. I’ve always been willing to commit to Septemus, our family, any critters that live with us, and our home. But this commitment is conditional: My first commitment has always been to myself and my freedom–and if any other commitment gets in the way of that, I’m willing to let it go.

Septemus’s first and main commitment has been to the rebellion. Every other commitment must support that, and if it doesn’t, he’s willing to let it go.

That night, the first time we faced this together, it felt like the end.

“Mallory!” he said tensely, “the rebellion does not wait on you! You need to be ready whenever you are asked to step in!”

“I don’t even know what the rebellion is for!” I said. “How can I support something I know nothing about?”

Xirra just smiled as if we were exchanging endearments.

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“You know me,” Sept said. “If you trust me, that should be enough.”

“I’m not sure I do know you, Sept,” I said.

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Xirra chuckled. “There are all sorts of ways of knowing!” she said.

I left. I went upstairs to see if I could lose myself in a book. I don’t remember what I did upstairs that night, but if it was anything like the other times we had that argument the first year, I threw the book aside, flung myself on the bed, and cried.

Sept’s frustration always dissipated quickly. Like I said, his commitment to the rebellion was first and foremost to him, so why would he waste emotional energy at every ripple that happened in our relationship?

From our loft, I heard him and Xirra chatting cheerfully, enthusiastically. I couldn’t understand a word they said. They were speaking Vingihoplo, and I felt very much alone.

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Septemus 74

A Safe Place

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The day after Panda’s visit, Anakin showed up with his two sisters.

Pops said, “Son. I think some of your folks are here.”

I knew they were coming. I just didn’t know when.

Anakin had sung to me.

ti, pi, ki, EAa Mokogotu
E paya, E Zimi, E Yo Aspi Aa Golan

He and his sisters were in trouble, and he didn’t know where to go. I sang back immediately, telling him to come here. It was safe. We’d take care of them.

I didn’t even have to ask Pops. When Xirra left us the money to build the second floor on the house, she told us that others would come. The extra rooms were for sanctuary, as much as any other purpose.

“This is so beyond me,” Pops had said to me as we painted the spare bedroom. “But I trust you, son. I trust Xirra. If there are folks in need, and if we can help, then that’s what we’ll do. You don’t have to ask. Just let them in.”

He was the first to welcome Anakin, Aayla, and Amadala.

“Our home is yours,” he said.

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First thing they did was make themselves useful. Anakin took out the trash, Aayla did the dishes, and Amadala played with Octy.

“You don’t have to!” I said. “Relax. Take it easy!”

“No, we do,” said Anakin. I remembered how Xirra and Shésti, too, cleaned house, first thing. Maybe I should have cleaned Panda and Harmony’s house when I came to visit… but then Panda didn’t clean when she was here, either, so maybe, if you know the host really well, you don’t have to clean? I’ll have to ask Xirra next time I see her.

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Finally I convinced Anakin to take a break and have a snack. Amadala was washing dishes then.

“I miss Daddy,” she said to her bagoto. “When can we go home?”

Worry crashed down from Anakin. I understood: It’s not custom that drives them to clean. It’s the need to keep busy, to find distraction.

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By nightfall, after everyone had finished two bowls of ice cream, with rainbow sprinkles and cinnamon sticks, and Anakin, Amadala, and Aayla had washed every dish in the house, the kids finally started to get settled.

Octy and  I changed into our PJs.

“Ready for bed, Grapeling?” I asked Octy.

“I’m ready for bed!” said Aayla.

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“I’m not,” said Amadala. She was emptying the trash.

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Eventually, we got everyone tucked in. It was a restless night, with tossing and turning and the girls crying out, and Anakin rushing to comfort them. After midnight, in the still hours, I finally fell asleep in a silent house.

In the morning, the girls were playing. I took that as a sign that they woke feeling comfortable and rested.

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Anakin seemed to agree.

“Everything’s going to be OK, sis,” he said. “It’s safe here.”

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I still didn’t know what was going on. We focused on keeping Anakin and his sisters feeling safe. And I waited for Anakin to reveal more.

In the evening, when he still hadn’t asked anything, I asked him if it was the Kfvico’kyastorr. Had they done something to endanger the family?

“No. I.. I don’t know, ” he said. “I just… I want my dad back, but I don’t want to put him or anyone else in any more danger. I’m sorry maybe I shouldn’t have told you or even come here. I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Who are Kf…vico ky.. Kyastorr?” Aayla asked. “Did they take Daddy? Are coming to take us away, too?”

I swore before I could stop myself. The Kfvico’kyastorr have that effect on me.

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“No, you definitely did the right thing, Anakin,” I said, inside. “We’ll help you figure it out.”

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Aloud, I said to Aayla, “The Kfvico’kyastorr are Backwards-Leaders. They’re everything we’re against. Don’t worry, though. The two strongest women I know are fighting them. They’ll keep us safe.”

“Cookie store?” said Octy.

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After the kids went to bed, Anakin and I had a chance to talk more. He wanted to find Sapphire and Amber, their former neighbors. I knew about them. He’d told me about them the first time we met at the pool party. Amber came on the ship with us. She wasn’t exactly like us. It sounded like she was one of the refugees. Sapphire was her gotojo.

“I know my dad used to talk to Sapphire about a special forum all the time,” Anakin said.

I felt sure it was the same forum Pops joined to get in touch with the other gotojoto.

“Pops is an admin at that forum,” I said.

“Do you think my dad contacted her before he was taken?” Anakin asked.

“I know one way to find out,” I said. I know Pops’ login, and with that, I can access all the data. I mean, even if it’s not readily available, the admin account gives me a backdoor into the database.

“Do you think the shirjotu is using his account?” Anakin asked. “If he is, we might be able to find out what he’s up to and where they took him.”

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It was worth trying. Any information would help.

Anakin and I were pretty well synced internally by now. We’d established a strong connection the first time it met, and now, here in my own house, it just grew stronger.

I could feel his worry. I knew, too, that it wasn’t hopeless. I don’t know how I knew that. Maybe it’s because, deep in my cells, hope abides. Maybe it’s because I was in a position to help.

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Before bed, I logged into Pops’ account. I could trace the users’ login activity easily. Sapphire had logged in recently. It would take some digging to find out more, but I was pretty sure, with a little persistence, I’d be able to.

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I couldn’t sleep. I gave up on tossing and turning and headed outside to play the keyboard for a while. Music settles my mind, especially when I’m working on puzzles, like how to retrieve encrypted data.

While I was playing, Aayla came out.

“Can’t sleep either, munchkin?” I asked her.

“I heard the music,” she said. “Anakin told me that you sang happy songs to him when he was smaller. Can you sing a song just for me? I want to sing for my daddy when he comes home. Can you teach me how?”

“Think you can hear it if I sing inside?” I asked.

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She nodded.

I sang, first inside:

What is home? 
Where is home?

The wind,
The trees,
An ice cream cone!

“I like to sing like that, inside myself,” I said. “But I can also sing this way!”

And I continued, out loud, a little off-key.

“In your hearts,
In your mind

With gotogo
There you find

It’s home.
We’re home.”

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“I love that song,” she said, and she continued in a beautiful soprano.

“If you’re here
And I’m here

We don’t fear.
We bring cheer.

When Daddy’s here.
When Daddy’s here.”

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Pops was up by now, making breakfast. We went up to see if he needed a hand.

“I love staying here!” Aayla told him. “I want to have a long sleep over with Amadala, Octy, and can we bring Amber? We can read stories and eat ice cream. Like the other children from my school. Can we come visit again? Can we please…?”

“You’d better!” said Pops. “Octy, Sept, and I will be waiting! And I’ll even make brownies.”

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Anakin pulled Pops aside as soon as he cleared his plate.

“I couldn’t help but notice you have a rocket,” Anakin whispered, loud enough for me to hear.

“Indeed we do! It’s a gift from the rebels, though Sept and I had to build it. Would you like to see it?”

While they went down to inspect it, I took advantage of the spare moment and hopped back onto the computer to continue my digging.

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Pops told me later that Anakin was full of questions: Where did it come from? How did we know how to build it? How long did it take? Does it work? Do we know how to use it? And, if so, how?

Pops said he answered best he could. He told him he’d check with Xirra next time she visited and that maybe should could share an instruction book.

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By then, I cracked the encryption, and I rushed out to tell what I’d learned.

Pops was talking about Xirra being a fighter pilot.

“Sorry to interrupt?” I said. “Not sorry!”

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They both looked at me.

I dropped the happy bomb. I’d broken into Sapphire’s account. I had her IP address, the time stamp of her last login, which had been yesterday at 5:20 p.m., and her updated street address.

“Oh, wow!” Anakin yelled. For the first time, he smiled a real smile. “Could it really be her? I have to go and make sure they are safe. Or should we send a message? No, no. We’ve got to go now, I need to see them!”

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“What’s this?” Pops asked.

“I’ll fill you in later,” I replied, wondering exactly how I should cast my role as a hacker. Honesty, I reminded myself. I don’t like keeping anything from Pops.

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“Thank you! Thank you!” Anakin said. “I can’t believe you managed to find them.”

He gathered the girls. We gave them hurried hugs, and then we watched them run off down the road.

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“Son,” said Pops, as they turned the corner. “Can you promise me you’ll never leave home?”

Of course, Pops knows that’s a promise I can’t make.

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Author’s notes: Thank you to Charliimai for sending Anakin, Aayla, and Amadala our way. They are in the middle of a frightening adventure, and we were so happy to be able to provide a bit of sanctuary. Hop on over to Charliimai’s Sapphire and Amber to read more! Charliimai and I wrote this chapter together, with Charliimai providing the plot and the dialogue for Anakin, Aayla, and Amadala. These Sims were so delightful–even in the midst of danger! Thanks again, Charliimai! This was loads of fun!

Props to For_Eorzea/SMNerd/Vreliskriri for the phrase “Cookie Store!” (This won’t be the last time you hear it!)