|Summary:||In which Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill meets Farilan-Haothil-Esthine.|
|Timeline:||January 2016, about two days after Farilan arrives in Headquarters.|
|Published:||January 19, 2016.|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - Classic boy-meets-girl story. With centaur aliens.|
Ilraen was alone in the response center when a knock came at the door. He had just come back from his morning ritual in the Courtyard, and Nume was still in the Cafeteria enjoying his tar-like coffee and book of the week. Ilraen was poring over a well-thumbed electronics manual, trying to find what he was missing in his CAD project. He had been working on it for so long, and he felt sure that it should work. It just didn’t. He would have to ask someone in DoSAT next time he was by that way—though more than likely Tess would just give him one of those evil smiles of hers, the ones that said “I could tell you, but what fun would that be?”, and as for the rest, who knew? He wasn’t a tech; they didn’t have to tell him anything.
The knock shook him out of these thoughts. It was an unfamiliar one—delicate, light but not hesitant—and he couldn’t think who would be calling on the RC at this time. Brow creased in a puzzled frown, he called out <Just a moment!>, put down the manual, and activated the control panel.
<What can I—?> he began, only to find himself struck dumb by the sight of his visitor. In the equivalent of a jaw-drop, his tail thumped limply to the floor and both stalk-eyes swung forward to join his main eyes in boggling.
She—she was a she. Her fur was a scintillating shade of lilac, her main eyes winsomely large in her petite face, her tail-blade as fine yet intentful an instrument as a scalpel. There was an undefinable scent about her, similar yet distinct from his own and as unlike any human’s as wine to beer. She stood a full head shorter than he, maybe more. If he was fine-boned, she was like a glass sculpture. He had an immediate, fierce impulse to protect her—to cup her gently in his hands and set her down someplace soft and safe. In response, he reflexively picked his tail-blade off the floor and held it up, at the ready. He felt the blood rushing to his limbs, his brain, his face.
The rational part of his mind, of course, knew that he was just shocked at seeing a female Andalite for the first time. He ought to stop being so silly and say something. Really, his staring was verging on rude.
But all he could manage was <You . . . you’re a female!>, which was hardly a model of good manners.
Her stalk-eyes, which had been idly examining her surroundings, swung forward to stare at him. <Really? I hadn’t noticed.>
Ilraen blushed bright enough to guide a ship on a stormy night. <Forgive me, but I have never met a female of my own species before. I was beginning to think I never would. It is really such a pleasure, like—> He was babbling, he knew. The emergency control center was sending up red flags, begging the speech center to stop, but it was too late. <—like spotting a mythical beast one has only ever found in fanciful drawings. It is not the same, and the real thing is far more wondrous than an image could ever capture in mere ink.>
<Ah . . . huh,> she said after an uncomfortably long silence. She wasn’t entirely sure whether she should be flattered or not. <I was told I would be able to find an Ilraen-Aroline-Fothergill here. I assume that would be you?>
<Yes!> he said, too eagerly. He desperately pulled it back, feeling like the biggest idiot in the multiverse. <I am. That is, it would.> Grammatical. A PPC agent must be grammatical.
The other Andalite inclined her head in greeting. <I am Farilan-Haothil-Esthine, of the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. It is a . . .> There was a slight, but very noticeable hesitation. <. . . pleasure to make your acquaintance.>
<Farilan,> he repeated, savoring what might be the prettiest name he’d ever heard. He extended a hand formally, and stood there growing ever more anxious while she simply gave him a cold, unblinking stare.
<What are you doing?> she finally said.
<It’s—I’m—> He didn’t understand the problem at first, but then he remembered: Andalites didn’t shake hands. There wasn’t much point in demonstrating that one was unarmed when one had a deadly weapon as a natural part of their anatomy. <It’s a human gesture of goodwill,> he explained, <considered polite upon making a new acquaintance. To return the gesture, you would clasp my hand. If—if you wanted to.> He hoped she did.
Farilan just kept staring. What was the matter with this Andalite? One who had never seen a female before, apparently, but also one who used such blatantly human means of communicating? She was beginning to regret having sought out his company. <Why are you lowering yourself by using human gestures?>
That was not a reaction he had anticipated. Confusion, perhaps disinterest, but he was not prepared for outright disdain. <Lowering?> he murmured, stung.
<Yes, lowering.> Farilan’s nostrils flared. <I do not care if humans are the majority species in this organization; I refuse to stoop to their level.>
Somehow, through the devastation he was feeling, Ilraen got the impression he’d struck an already-raw nerve. He was glad his partner wasn’t around. A remark like that would have set off an argument to last a week or more.
However, getting into a debate about the merit of various species’ cultural norms was not what Ilraen wanted from his first meeting with a new member of his species, and a female at that. He took a deep breath and, in the most conciliatory tone he could manage, said, <Farilan, was there any particular reason you came to see me? I would like to oblige you, if I can.>
<Yes, as a matter of fact. Another . . . agent informed me of your presence here.> Her stalk-eyes swung back and forth. <I wished to seek out the company of other Andalites.>
He brightened immediately. <Ah! In that case, please come in. There is not much room, but you may stand in my ‘scoop’ under the bunk, if you like. The grass was grown from a cutting from the Jahar.> He hoped that, at least, would find favor. He stepped aside and gestured her in with a half-bow.
Farilan nodded and moved past him, picking her hooves up in small, dainty steps. <Perhaps I shall have to look into doing something similar for my own response center,> she said, examining the blue and green grass with interest.
<It is a comfort to have something from the Homeworld, even just a little piece. Especially since I have never been there,> he added tentatively, and rushed on before she could respond to that. <But it sounds as though you have. May I ask how you came to be here? When did you arrive?>
Farilan, now staring at him with all four eyes, shook herself slightly. <I arrived exactly forty-nine hours and twenty-two minutes ago, assuming my internal clock has not been too terribly altered by Headquarters’ unusual time field. As for how I arrived . . . my Z-space ship’s engines malfunctioned. I arrived here instead of Leera, and . . . well, I decided to stay.> Farilan’s shoulders sagged slightly. <I thought it would make for an interesting opportunity to study the alien species gathered here.>
<Oh, are you a xenobiologist?> If that were the case, though, he couldn’t think why she looked so disheartened.
<An engineer, actually.> Farilan tapped the flash patch pinned to her sash. <I opted to join the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. It seemed appropriate at the time. But be honest with yourself, would you have been able to pass up such an opportunity? The notes I will have gathered by the time I return home will make me a legend.>
Ilraen quickly decided not to mention the fact that it was extremely unlikely she’d ever be allowed to share her notes with anyone outside of Headquarters. His unease for her sake was betrayed only by a brief flick of his ears. <Well, there is certainly much here that is worthy of study. I am also intrigued by the technology. Only as a hobby, but I have nearly mastered the Character Analysis Device.> He gestured to his worktop, mostly obscured from Farilan’s perspective by a bookshelf. <It should work,> he said, more or less to himself. <I am at least confident that it will not explode upon activation this time.>
<Hm.> Farilan moved around to see what he was gesturing at. <I’m afraid I do not yet know enough to assist you in your project, but give me several more days and I will see what I can do.>
He blinked at her in surprise. <Thank you. The other techs, or at least my friend Tess, seem to find my fumblings amusing, and are unwilling to give away the department’s secrets so easily.> He said this with amusement himself. He really had no business mucking about with a CAD, and he knew it.
Farilan looked rather annoyed. <It would seem that they find it amusing to mock Andalites in general, then,> she said.
<Oh, no, I would not say that,> he replied quickly. <They tease me, but they also indulge me even though they do not have to. I think they would like me to join DoSAT, actually, but I have no real interest in doing so. It’s just . . . a proper Andalite ought to have a science.> He shrugged.
<There are many other things that make a proper Andalite,> Farilan said pointedly.
<I . . . I know.> He didn’t know what else to say. How did he keep putting his hooves wrong?
<And yet you’ve never been to the Homeworld,> she said dubiously.
<Not by choice,> he nearly wailed. He had to make her understand. <I was recruited from a badfic in which my role was simply to give the morphing ability to a Sue, and I have been here ever since. But, I was given some knowledge of my people via the Culture Implant I received shortly after my arrival, and my understanding has been augmented by what may be found in the Animorphs canon and some small contact with Agent Iskillion and—and others.> He stopped himself from mentioning his friend Orken 7861 at the last second. Even thinking his name felt dangerous in Farilan’s presence.
Farilan just stared at him. <I . . . see,> she said at last. She did not feel particularly inclined to say anything else, glancing at the door and wishing Ilraen weren’t between it and her.
Ilraen pressed on into the silence. <I do value our culture. I do my morning and evening rituals whenever I can. I believe in duty, honor, and respect. I wish I could have been taught properly, but I have done the best I can on my own in this strange place.> He wanted to beg her not to think less of him, but the rational part of his mind knew that she already did. He was bailing a sinking boat with a teacup.
<Well, I should hope you have,> Farilan began, when her pager beeped. She tried to not let her relief be too evident in her body language as she checked the message. <It would appear the loud human child wants me to fetch him cocoa,> she said. <I must depart. It was . . .> She cast around for a truth that wouldn’t be overly insulting. <. . . interesting, meeting you.>
And just like that, he was sunk. <You are leaving? But . . . .> He backed out of her way even as he struggled to think of a way to stop her. She’d only just gotten here!
She stepped past him and made her way to the door, pausing when she was thwarted by the unfamiliar control panel. <My deepest apologies,> she said, trying to make her tone match her words, <but my duty as an ‘intern’ calls.>
<Oh. I see.> He really didn’t. <Well . . . perhaps we could meet again sometime? I could show you the Courtyard; it’s where I go to do my rituals . . . ?>
<Perhaps,> she said offhandedly. The door finally opened at a wave of her hand. <Anyway, I really must be going, so if you’ll excuse me . . . ?> She stuck her nose in the air and left posthaste.
<All right,> Ilraen said belatedly. The door slid shut again, and he stood still, staring at it without seeing it, trying to piece together how everything had gone so horribly wrong.
He stirred only when the door opened again and he found himself face to face with Nume, back from the Cafeteria.
Confronted with the sight of Ilraen looking like he’d been hit in the face with a shovel, Nume hesitated on the threshold and looked around to make sure nothing was going to jump out at him, explode into flames, etc. Upon finding nothing out of the ordinary, he entered. “Jesus, Ilraen. What’s the matter with you? We didn’t get an awful mission while I was gone, did we?” He checked the console, but it was reassuringly blank.
<No,> Ilraen answered distantly. <I met someone.>
“Okay . . . ?” Nume dropped his book on the console, eying his partner askance.
<Another Andalite. A female.>
“. . . Oh, hell.”
Poor Ilraen never had a chance. I had fun writing him with hormones and his Culture Implant ganging up on his higher brain functions, though. ^_^
Iximaz’s Note: Haha, poor Ilraen indeed. Farilan was less than impressed, to put it nicely. Which is a shame, because I think he’s just adorable.
Didn’t make it any less fun to crush his dreams underfoot, but there you go. >:)