“You should go back inside, Liz,” I said out loud to myself after a while. I knew I should, but I also didn’t want to have to face Noise-Maker and explain to them why I got upset. You could always just say it’s about stuff in the past and you don’t want to talk about it. I think they’ll understand those kind of boundaries all right. I nodded to my rational brain and carefully stretched, getting up from the patio chair. Suddenly, a high pitched scream came from the cottage, scaring me half to death. “What the hell?”
I ran through the kitchen to the living room to find a small, strawberry blonde girl screaming her head off at a very confused alien who was trying to pet her. “STOP!” I yelled to both of them, darting to the front door, shoving the girl inside, and slamming the door shut. “Katy Lynn Anderson! Are you trying to wake the dead? What the hell are you doing at my cottage?” I said into the silence as I locked the door and threw the bolt.
“Youngling!” said Noise-Maker, who tried to move towards Katy again.
“Noise-Maker, stay still!” I said to them, holding up a hand. I got the distinct impression that if they had been a human, they’d be pouting. I glared at them until they finally moved back to their place next to the couch, keeping a wary eye on both me and Katy. Thank all the gods, I thought, then put my body between Noise-Maker and Katy, trying to keep her focus on m. “Explain why you just decided to barge into my cottage, girl!”
“What is that thing?” she asked, pointing at Noise-Mark and wide eyed with terror.
I took her head in my hands, more to block her view of the alien than anything else. “Nevermind that now. Why the devil are you here?”
I let go of her, and her face went bright pink. She hung her head and wrung her hands together, but kept her mouth shut.
“Katy, talk to me, or I’ll send you back on the next train!”
“No! You can’t!” Anger showed on the girl’s face. “I turned sixteen yesterday! I couldn’t stay there! They were going to make me have a baby!”
Noise-Maker made a surprised series of whistles and clicks behind me, but the translator didn’t go off. Huh, the curious side of my brain thought, but the rest of my mind was just as surprised as they were. “What do you mean they were going to make you have a baby? I thought they only required you to provide eggs to the mighty cause when you turned sixteen?” I said.
“Didn’t you see the news?”
“You know I barely look at the bullshit propaganda from the city-state. I don’t live there and they don’t give a shit about registered hermits, thanks to the gods!”
Katy put her hands on her hips. “Maybe you should pay more attention, Liz! They passed a new law at the beginning of the year that all fertile women have to become pregnant at sixteen. Mom dragged me into the clinic yesterday morning and this doctor put his hand up me, declared me a virgin, and ran a genetic test for fertility. I know how that test was going to come out, so I ran before they could send me to the Women’s Barracks to become a fuck slave for the military!”
I stared at her in shock. Noise-Maker swore again. Made me glad for their profanity filter. Their swearing, though, made Katy jump. I hadn’t heard about that piece of legislation. “They what?” I said.
“Mom would have sent me to the barracks this morning! She was so excited. There was no way I was going to do that so I came here. She doesn’t know that I still kept in touch with you, and I left all my electronics in the apartment. I need help, Liz! I can’t go back there!”
“Oh bloody hell! You just had to say that last!” I swore creatively for a minute, and by the time I finished, both teenager and alien looked confused. I held up my hands. “Fine. We’ll talk about specific later. Go into my room and take off all the clothes you brought with you, just in case there’s a molecular tracker on them. There’s a box full of spare clothes in the bottom of the closet. See what you can find that fits.”
Katy smiled, her fear forgotten. “Thank you, Liz! You’ve saved my life!” She hugged me hard, bolted for my bedroom and closed the door.
I turned to Noise-Maker. “Well, go on then! Say what you’re going to say!”
“Youngling was upset. I would have fed them to calm them down if they had been one of my brood. Tried to calm with touch, but they made that scared-noise.” They pouted again.
“Yes, well, you’re not human, are you? Katy was stressed out from running away, in shock, and, well, you don’t exactly look all cute and cuddly!” I said, exasperated. I sighed and sat in the armchair. “I will feed her later. It’s nearly an eighteen hour walk from the city-state, so she’ll definitely be hungry once the adrenaline wears off. Shit, she must have been walking all night!” I shook my head.
“Why are they forcing the youngling to reproduce? They can’t be old enough to reproduce yet, can they?” Noise-Maker asked.
I put my hand to my head, feeling a headache coming on. “People with female sex characteristics can start reproducing when they reach a stage that we call puberty. It’s when humans start showing secondary sex characteristics and produce the cells in their body needed to create a child. It usually starts around twelve or thirteen of our solar years, on average.” I rubbed my head. “And I can’t believe I was just able to explain that to you!” I said with a laugh. “I told you, Noise-Maker, not all humans are good. The humans that are in charge of this city-state are fighting war with another city-state over some philosophical bullshit about the people of this city-state being superior. Apparently, someone got it in their head that they need more babies to replace the population they’ve killed off in this stupid war. Or something. I don’t know all the reasons for this new law, but I’ll be damned if I’ll send Katy back for a forced birth of a child she wouldn’t even be able to raise!”
Noise-Maker didn’t reply. When I looked up, they were very still, and their eyes were narrowed.
“What?” I asked.
“These humans of this city-state would take their youngling away from Kay-tee?”
They made a hissing sound that reminded me of a cat, then said something that the translator wouldn’t translate. I would have been amused by the expletive, if the topic we were discussing hadn’t been so serious. Noise-Maker hissed again and said, “I am shocked! Our younglings are fertile after fifty solar cycles, but it is [taboo/sacreligious] to even consider reproducing before two hundred cycles!”
“Two hundred cycles? How long is that compared to Earth?”
They tilted their head in thought for a long moment, then said, “Approximately two of your solar years. The rotation of our planet is similar to the fourth planet in your solar system.”
“So you’re saying that your children don’t reproduce until they’re over four hundred of our years old? Just how long do you live?”
“The Eldest is over 1100 cycles.”
I gaped at Noise-Maker. “2200 years old! Bloody hell! How old are you?”
They made a noise that the translator didn’t translate.
“I’m sorry. I’m just surprised, is all. Is it rude to ask someone’s age?”
“Yes. After two hundred, it is rude.” They hiss-laughed. “However, since you are not one of my people, I will tell you. I am seven hundred of your years old. I was very young to be chosen for our Space Service.”
“Yes,” Noise-Maker replied, then went quiet.
I wanted to ask more questions, but realized that Katy hadn’t come out of the bedroom yet. I stood, making Noise-Maker flinch. I held up a hand. “I should check to see if Katy’s found the extra clothes and whatnot.”
“I hope the youngling is well,” they said.
I went to the front door, double checking the locks. “She will be, as long as she’s here.” I went to the back door, locking and bolting it as well, not wanting to take any chances on another surprise visitor. I came back to the living room and said, “Just… just stay there Noise-Maker. I’ll let you know how she’s doing when I come back out.”
“I understand. Tell them I apologize for frightening them.” They curled in on themselves a little more, then wrapped the afghan around themselves again. What’s that all about? Did something happen to them as a child, or did something happen to one of their younglings? I put that thought aside for later and went into my bedroom, closing the door behind me.
I heard sobbing from the bed. She’d found fresh clothes and had put her old ones in a pile on the floor. I sat next to her on the bed with a sigh, and without saying anything, Katy crawled into my arms. I held her tight. “I know, kiddo, I know. You’re safe enough here for now.”
“I wish my Mom and Dad had never moved to the city-state! I wish we’d stayed out here on the farm! I wish I could have lived out here with you!”
I mentally winced. Brian and Cynthia, Katy’s parents, had once been close friends, but had left for the city-state when Katy turned five, brainwashed by the propaganda. The first couple of years they would come and visit the farm-town during school vacations, mostly so that Katy could see some of her friends that still lived in the small community, but after they became full converts, they hadn’t come back. Katy somehow remembered me and sent me a message when she turned eight asking if I could write to her. I didn’t see why not, since the city-state allowed it. I had had no idea things had gotten so bad for young girls, since all her messages were full of school gossip for the most part. Sometimes she’d ask for life advice, but nothing ever really specific.
You could tell something was wrong, said Nimue in my head. You knew she would come to you, and to Us, one day.
A bolt of terror ran down my spine. The Spirit wasn’t wrong and if Nimue had commentary about what was going on with Katy, then what was happening in the city-state was much worse than the rumors. “I wish you could have stayed with me, too, love, but I’m not your parent.”
“I know,” she replied with a sniffle. “I wish you had been, though. You were always so kind to me. I always knew you were a good person. That’s why I asked if I could write to you. I knew that if anything went really bad, you wouldn’t turn me away.”
We’re not going to cry right now, Liz, I told myself and freed up one arm to wipe my eyes. “Right,” I said in a tight voice. “Are you hungry?”
Katy shook her head. “Who is that in the living room?” she asked, much calmer than she had been earlier.
Oh, thank the gods it’s “who” not “what, I thought. “If you promise not to scream again, I’ll reintroduce you to them later. Their name is Noise-Maker, and they are an alien that crashed in Farmer John’s field last night.” I paused. “Did you hear anything last night?”
She shook her head again, pulling away from me. “I did hear the helicopters last night, but I thought they were coming after me, so I hid the best I could until they went away. I had to hide under one of the large round hay bales.”
“All right. Well, if you want to sleep, you can. Come out when you’re ready, and you can talk to Noise-Maker. They did ask me to apologize to you for scaring you. I think they were trying to comfort you like they would one of their own young, actually, but was confused because you screamed.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I was so scared about running away, and then there was this giant bug-person where I expected you to be!” She thought for a moment. “They won’t eat me or anything, will they?”
I laughed. “Of course not. They haven’t eaten me, have they?”
Katy shook her head and laughed.
“Right. Have a bit of lie-down for now, and I’ll see to your old clothes, ok?”
“Ok,” she said. Katy detached herself from me fully and put her head on the pillows. “Liz, why do you call them Noise-Maker?”
“That’s their name. Well, as close as I can get to it with human words. They told me it was near enough in meaning, anyway.”
“And they won’t hurt me?”
“No. Actually, they probably want to cuddle you, since you were upset. They were quite concerned, actually. If I’m understanding them right, they take children very seriously.”
Katy yawned, and said sleepily, “They can’t be evil if they are worried about kids and want to care for them, right?”
“Right,” I said, picked up her clothes, and left the room. She was asleep before I even shut the door.
“Is… Kay-tee… satisfactory?” Noise-Maker asked as soon as I shut the door.
“Yes. She’ll be all right. She fell asleep. I’ll make sure she has food waiting for her when she gets up. Like I said, she’s been walking for nearly sixteen hours and is exhausted.”
Noise-Maker hissed again. “That is…” The translator didn’t translate what they said. It didn’t have to. The meaning was clear enough.
“I completely agree, Noise-Maker,” I said. I showed them the clothes. “I need to go out and burn these in case there’s any markers on them. I’ll be back in a hour, ok?”
“Understood,” they said, adjusting their positon on the floor. I got the feeling that if anyone came through the door to come after Katy, they’d probably get dismembered, no matter the state of Noise-Maker’s leg. I chuckled to myself as I pulled out a bigger basket from the pantry, and put the clothes in it, along with some lighter fluid and matches. I suppose pissing off an apex predator with a Mama Bear complex would be a very bad idea, I thought, then headed to the firepit at the Shrine.