Second Glance
Summary:In which Ilraen gets a hoof in the door.
Timeline:Early 2016; not long after “Flights of Fancy.”
Published:October 27, 2016.
Rating:PG/K+ - Full speed ahead, and drat the torpedoes!
Betas: Darkotas and Phobos.

Farilan hesitated outside Ilraen’s RC, wondering not for the first time why she was doing this. Ilraen was a far cry from a proper Andalite, and yet here she was for another visit. Then again, she had wanted to discuss the strangeness of being in a human disguise, and she figured he was more likely than Iskillion to have tried it before.

She just hoped he wouldn’t attempt to shake her hand again. That had been awkward, to say the least. Sighing internally and hoping this visit would go better than the last, she raised a hand and knocked.

When the door slid open, she was taken aback to be confronted with a human on the other side. He was taller than her, and she noticed immediately that his eyes were deficient: he wore glasses, like the human child sometimes did. Otherwise, he was much the same as most humans.

He seemed, if possible, equally surprised and displeased to see her. He took a step back from the doorway and folded his arms. “Oh. You must be the one my partner’s been going on and on about. What do you want?”

Inside the room, Ilraen peeked out from under the bunk to see who Nume was talking to. He drew a sharp breath in surprise and lurched to his hooves, dropping his book to the grass. <Farilan! How good to see you again! This is my partner, Supernumerary, or Nume for short. Please, come in!>

Farilan’s stalk-eyes narrowed in Nume’s direction, but her main eyes focused on Ilraen. <Yes, I suppose it is good to see you too. Now that we are done with the pleasantries, might I ask that we be able to talk without any unnecessary distractions?> Her main eyes glanced pointedly at Nume.

Ilraen started to agree and took a step toward the door, but Nume stood still as a statue and talked right over him. “Excuse me, are you trying to kick me out of my own response center?”

Ilraen’s eyes widened in horror. <Nume, I do not think that—>

“No, no, no.” He waved Ilraen quiet. “Lady, after all the grief you’ve given me without even being here, if you think you can just show up and put me out like a dog humping your leg, you’ve got another think coming. You could at least make a pretense of treating me with the courtesy due another sapient being. Or don’t little Andalites learn manners at home these days?”

Ilraen made a move as if to go around his partner, but still the human didn’t move. <I am certain you are misunderstanding—> he began, but was cut off again.

Farilan just raised her voice, speaking over Ilraen. <I could ask the same of you,> she said, her nostrils flaring. <I merely wished to converse with your partner and you immediately decide the best course of action is to insult me! If you are going to insist on making a scene, then I will have no compunctions about responding in kind. It’s so typically human of you to attempt to drag your betters down to make yourself feel superior.>

Ilraen buried his face in his hands. There was no stopping the argument now.

Nume barked a laugh. “And it’s so typically Andalite of you to assume I’d need to. Lemme tell you something: humans are superior. We’re the scrappy underdogs of the multiverse. That’s why we always come out on top.”

<I suppose I would be expecting too much of you if I were to assume you recognize the contradictory nature of those statements,> Farilan said, all four eyes narrowed to slits.

“They’re not contradictory. You can’t argue with decades of science fiction.”

Ilraen raised his main eyes and gave the back of his partner’s head a flat stare. <All of it written by and for humans?>

Nume shot a glare over his shoulder. “Show me your canon of great Andalite literature, then you can take that tack with me.”

<Typical.> Farilan sniffed. <You have no special skills to call your own, so you attempt to portray your lack of positive attributes as a strength. It’s a wonder the Yeerks decided to go after you; the only point in your species’ favor is the ability to reproduce at an alarming rate. In Andalite literature we emphasize what really matters: intelligence—>

“Yeah, okay, so the grand theme of Andalite sci-fi is ‘the Andalites save the day by being intellectually superior.’ Meanwhile, the grand theme of human sci-fi is ‘the Humans save the day by being more creative,’ which I will point out is exactly how five teenagers from California kept the Yeerk invasion at bay while the mighty Andalite fleet was off thinking about it.”

<Five human teenagers and one Andalite aristh,> Ilraen said pointedly.

Farilan could only stare. Sure, the human child had given her the first few books of her home continuum to read, but when she realized the narrator was human she’d locked them away in her workbench and hadn’t touched them since. Perhaps it was time to reconsider reading them, if what this human was saying was true.

“Sure, token Andalite, too. Point is, creativity and sheer bloody-minded determination beats pure intellect every time. Kirk blew up enough AIs to prove that. But you know what, I’m an open-minded kind of guy. Our species can split the title for ‘being self-righteous assholes’, unless Time Lords or Elves have gotten there first.”

<Oh, do not get me started on Time Lords; they’re just like humans, except even more secure in their superiority.> Farilan’s nostrils flared. <That, I will concede, is one of the few good points about your species. It doesn’t take much to put you in your place.>

Nume shook his head in disbelief. “Did you not hear a word I just said?”

<I must confess to tuning you out, since most of what you’ve said has been rather trivial at best,> Farilan said, waving an airy hand.

Trivial?!” Nume exploded, taking an aggressive step forward.

<Would you both stop?> Ilraen shouted, cutting his partner off before he could start on another rant. <Please?> he added more meekly, cringing from Farilan’s ire. <Farilan, I would be happy to go somewhere else with you to talk, if you wish.>

Nume flinched at the psychic reverberations in his head. “Ow.”

<Fine. Ilraen, let us go before he decides to delay us further with more pointless babbling.>

Nume’s face was red with repressed anger, and for a moment it looked like he was still determined to hold his ground, but finally he stepped aside. “Go,” he said to Ilraen. “It’s your life. Just don’t tell me about it later. I’ve had more moaning than I can stomach already.”

But Ilraen, once free at Farilan’s side, left all his cares behind. <Come, I know the perfect place. Have you visited the Courtyard yet?>

<As a matter of fact, yes,> Farilan replied, turning away—though she kept one stalk-eye trained on Nume. <I don’t think the grass is quite as good as what we have back home, but I have learned to make do.>

<Oh.> He deflated somewhat at being robbed of the chance to show her something new. <Well, perhaps we might simply walk together. What was it you wished to talk to me about?>

<Oh, this and that,> Farilan replied. <Well, one thing in particular. I do believe you have used a human disguise before?>

<Yes, frequently,> he replied. <And human morph, as well.> This was something he could converse fluently about! But he checked himself. <For my work, of course.>

Farilan nodded, mentally filing away a note about the hesitation. The poor boy had been here for far too long. <I was forced to utilize one myself not too long ago,> she said. <I was . . . rather taken aback by the whole thing. How is one supposed to balance with no tail? It’s amazing such a design flaw was allowed to continue.>

<Ah, well, you will find that the bipedal model is very common among sapient life forms. It has a rather ingenious method of counterbalancing itself by the mechanism of an arm swinging forward as the opposite leg goes back, back as one goes forward. Also, the spine is flexible—not too flexible, but allowing just enough rotation to compensate for the opposite action of the limbs. You must see human acrobatics some time, it is really quite—> He stopped himself. <Er. Different?> he finished weakly.

<I see,> Farilan said dryly. Grudgingly, she added, <I was rather intrigued at the strength they seem to possess in their arms and hands. It certainly makes some things much easier to do, though the inefficiency of communicating via mouth-sounds is most vexing.>

<One becomes accustomed to it,> Ilraen assured her. <Especially using a disguise. You don’t have to struggle to master the body’s abilities the way you do in a morph. In fact,> he added with a reminiscent smile, <my partner flatly forbade me to do so on our first mission together. I never fell or stammered afterward.>

<At least he’s good for something, then,> Farilan said coolly.

<He is a very good agent, and very intelligent, though he does not even have one leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing anyone’s manners,> he admitted. <I do apologize for that.>

Farilan folded her arms, realized she was mimicking something she’d seen the human child do, and quickly unfolded them. <I accept your apology on his behalf,> she said.

They walked a little way in silence after that, passing gray door after gray door. Presently, though, they came to an intersection, and down the right-hand corridor was a door where agents were coming and going. Ilraen paused to smell the air, and a lightbulb went on in his head.

<You know,> he said, <mouths might not be the most efficient way to communicate, but they do have other uses. I would like to show you . . . oh, but you do not have a D.O.R.K.S. on you just now, do you?>

Farilan gave him a sharp look, but shook her head. <I do not,> she said, reaching for her bag, <though that does remind me: I brought you something.> She pulled out several neatly folded pieces of paper and handed them over. <I remembered you were working on a project and thought these might be of use.>

<You did?> He unfolded the first piece carefully. <This is a diagram of a capacitor and heat sink . . . but I do not know these designs. They are very advanced.> He looked for the label. <Why, this is from the C-CAD! If I could incorporate these elements into my Mark IV model, then . . . .> He stopped and raised his main eyes to Farilan’s. <You remembered my CAD project. I . . . I was afraid you would never wish to speak to me again. But you said you would try to assist me, and now you have.> By this time he was beaming. <Thank you!>

<I do keep my promises, however much I might regret them,> Farilan said.

<You will not regret this,> Ilraen said, cheerfully lost in examining the other diagrams. <It is all right that I have these, isn’t it? Makes-Things and the others do not mind? I will return them in perfect condition, of course.>

<These are my own personal copies,> Farilan said, biting back a scathing remark about the other technicians’ authority over her. <I have already memorized them, so feel free to keep them.>

Something about her tone made him look up again, but he brushed it off and smiled. <Then I owe you all the more. If you like, I will share everything I know about going in human disguise. I have actually written quite a lot on the subject, if you would care to read my notes.> A blush crept up his face at the thought of her reading his silly observations, and he almost wanted to take it back, but that would have been even more foolish. Instead, fool that he was, he kept talking. <And perhaps we might go and do some human things around Headquarters, as a—a practical study?> He could have kicked himself. She would never go for it, and she would scorn him even more for being so un-Andalite . . . .

Farilan tilted her head. <That actually sounds rather intriguing,> she said. <I don’t suppose you have taken notes on other species as well? I’m curious about the rest of Headquarters’ inhabitants.>

Ilraen’s knees quivered in relief. He started walking again to cover it, leading them away from the little café. <Yes, though not nearly as extensive. I have written of my experience with each species I have morphed or used in disguise, and some of my observations of the more remarkable races I have met. Oh, I must introduce you to Alice and her herd. We Andalites run well enough, but you have not truly run as though you were flying over the ground until you have been a meara.>

<I’m afraid I will have to take your word for it,> Farilan said. <I do not possess the morphing ability, myself.>

<But you can go in disguise,> Ilraen pointed out. <The effect is not as immersive, but it comes close.> He frowned. <I do not know what became of the morphing cube I possessed in my home fic. I never asked—I was much too preoccupied to think about it after my recruitment. I wonder if anyone knows now.>

<I suppose the disguise generator will suffice,> Farilan mused. <It would certainly be interesting to study other species from their point of view, so to speak. And it would be advantageous to have a comrade in such endeavors.>

<I am pleased to be of any service that I can,> Ilraen said with a bow. <I shall send you my notes promptly. I only need a little time to make them more presentable.> And to cut out anything that might damage his newly won position with her, such as any mention of Orken and even anything as Yeerk-like as Stargate’s Tok’ra. That was a conversation for a much later date, after he’d had some time to open her mind to a broader perspective on the multiverse.

<Take however long you need,> Farilan said quickly. Much as she was excited by the prospect of learning more about the majority species in Headquarters, she couldn’t say the same about speaking to Ilraen again. Then again, she’d come to see him today, so she could hardly complain. <I’d much rather your notes be presentable than not.>

The corridor turned from gray to black, and just like that they were back in front of RC 999.

<Well, it seems that is the end of our walk. One must not argue with the Narrative Laws,> Ilraen said ruefully. <It was wonderful to see you again, Farilan. I meant to write or drop by so many times after our last meeting, but I was afraid, and I did not know what to say. The next time, I will know.>

<That’s . . . nice,> she finally said. <Well, I look forward to our upcoming collaboration, Ilraen. I hope you find those schematics useful in the meantime.>

<Oh, I will. I do.> He nodded. <I can already see how to modify the circuitry to incorporate the more advanced heat sink. That should make it much more efficient. Thank you again. The next time we meet, I may even be able to show you the final product. It has only taken eight years,> he added light-heartedly.

<Then I wish you the best of luck,> Farilan said without humor. <I shall see you soon, then?>

<Yes, very soon, I hope. Work permitting, of course.> He turned a stalk-eye to his RC, just in case the console chose that moment to go off, but it didn’t. He sighed. <I suppose this is goodbye for now. I do not think it would be wise to risk another confrontation between you and my partner.>

<Yes, I do not wish to encounter him again,> Farilan said, sniffing. <He was extremely rude to me when I was doing nothing but giving him the courtesy he deserved.>

Ilraen decided it would not be wise to get into a confrontation with her himself just then, either. He was going to teach her about humans, and she would soften in the process, he just knew it. Picking his words carefully, he said, <Perhaps the next time will be better. He is my partner, so if we are going to work together, he cannot always be avoided.>

<Shame.> Farilan’s stalk-eyes waved in agitation. <I shall endeavor to keep my distance, nonetheless.>

He wanted to tell her Nume wasn’t that bad, but on the other hand, a healthy distance between the two of them was probably a good idea. He just nodded.

<Until we meet again, then.>

Ilraen nodded some more, ears low against his head. <Goodbye for now.>

Farilan raised a hand in farewell and turned away, her hoofsteps ringing through the corridor even after she was out of sight. Strange as it was to think, she was actually looking forward to their next meeting.

Neshomeh’s Notes

It’s choppy seas ahead, but the good ship Faraen is underway. {= )

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