Want to start at the beginning? Go here.
Paul went back to the wall where he had met the translator woman. It was sunset, and the moon was just rising. He had to switch with someone else at work to get the night off, but this was the first night of the full moon. He was pretty sure, anyway.
The translator woman didn’t show up until the last rays of sun had disappeared from the horizon and the streetlights flickered on. She came alone, climbing up the wall from the far side as though trying to hide which direction she lived in.
“Where’s Susan?” he asked.
“I couldn’t bring her. She’s sick, she can’t walk this far,” she said. “You’ll have to come back in another week.”
The translator swung herself over the wall and started to climb down, but Paul stopped her.
She looked up. It was hard to see her expression, but she looked patient yet condescending, like when someone knows they have something you need and they plan on savoring the power balance. “She’s sick, I couldn’t bring her.”
“And then next week you’ll come up with some other excuse.” He’d seen workers do that with bosses they didn’t like. They called it the mañana mañana.
“The place she’s living is far from here, it would take too long to get there.”
“Then I’ll start walking now.” He picked her up. She squeaked as he grabbed her, like a mouse in an owl’s talons, but he held her gently and didn’t hurt her. He slipped her into the front pocket of his shirt. “You’ll tell me how to get there.”
She clenched the pocket’s fabric. “It’s south of here.”
He had to cross the ASU campus first, which, like everything else in this city, had grown bloated and modern. The campus was empty at night, except for the odd student walking bent over hunched against his backpack, and some security guards zipping around on golf carts. It felt like an abandoned futuristic city, like a set from a creepy television show he’d watched when he was younger.
They came out the south side of campus through another construction zone, and into a neighborhood not too far from where Susan’s new house was.
“We’re almost there. Turn right here at this next street.”
“You just had me go down that street.” He’d been taking a winding path through the back streets, and couldn’t shake the feeling that he was walking into an ambush. This wasn’t the first time she said they were “almost there” either.
“I’m trying to remember where it was,” she said, in a cringing voice.
He grumbled, and turned right at the next street. At the next block, she had him turn right again.
“We’re walking in a spiral,” he said. “If I were an owl, I’d have eaten you already.”
“It’s here, it’s here,” she protested. “Under that juniper.”
“Under the what?”
“The tree, over there. Hide in the darkness and I’ll go and get her.”
Paul walked casually across the lawn and under the tree. It was as tall as the house, some kind of pine-y smelling thing, with branches that brushed the ground. He snapped away the dead branches underneath it to make a place for himself. Then he scooped the translator out of his pocket and set her gently on the ground.
“You’d better not be messing with me,” he said.
“I’m not. I swear, I’m not.” She scampered off into the darkness.
Paul waited. And waited.
And then he waited some more.
He felt tempted to leave several times. He didn’t know how much time had passed, as he didn’t have a watch, but it felt like hours. He grew irritated. It wasn’t like he had that many nights where he wasn’t working, and he would rather have been at home watching television than here on some fool’s errand.
He waited some more. The translator woman was making a fool of him, playing on his desperation to see Susan again. Ten more minutes, and then he was going to go.
He heard a faint rustling in the juniper boughs and saw a translator woman walk under the tree.
“There you are! Where is she? What took you so long?”
It was Susan’s voice. Higher pitched, but Susan’s voice.
He leaned down close.
What he thought was the translator woman was Susan. He couldn’t see her face, just the silhouette of her body, but she had Susan’s curves too.
“What happened to you?”
“They made me tiny. They thought I killed the translator I found in the garden. I’ve been living with them while I’m waiting for my trial.”
“Are you okay? She said you were sick.”
“Yeah, well, I was, but I’m getting better.” She glanced over her shoulder, but Paul couldn’t see what she was looking at. “That’s so sweet that you came to see me. Did I tell you where I was? I can’t remember. That was a few weeks ago, and I was kind of messed up. Are Zoë and Darius worried about me?”
“I was worried about you,” he said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t even know she was gone. “But I can take you back home now, and you can make yourself big.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not?” He knelt, resting his hands on his knees.
“I need to wait for the trial, to prove my innocence,” she said.
He shoved his feet backwards under the brush and leaned on his elbows so his face was closer to her. “You don’t have to prove anything to them.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You’re a human. They don’t have authority over you.”
“Power is its own authority. You’re a Sunward, you should know,” she said.
He held out his hand. “I’ll take you home now. No one will stop me.”
“Hastuur was able to get into my room, even with Zoë’s cat prowling around. If he could do it once, he could do it again, him or someone else. I’m not safe unless I’m big again, and maybe not even then, if they think I’m guilty.”
“How are they going to make you big again?”
“Same way they made me little. They bargained for magic from someone called the ‘Encanto’ mage. I think they call her that because it’s where she lives.” She cleared her throat roughly, like she was trying not to cough. She didn’t look over her shoulder again, but her body was angled that way, like she was pitching her voice to more than just him. “Tell Zoë and Maggie and Darius I’m okay and that I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“Are they treating you well?”
“Yes. They’re very nice to me, and the food is great.” She rubbed her shoulders with her hands.
He pulled his lighter out of his pocket and flicked it. The flame made a warm sphere of light under the branches. “You’re naked!”
“Oh, yeah, I guess I am.” She looked thinner, like she’d recently lost weight, and her lips were blue. “They don’t wear clothes, except diapers for kids. I got so used to it I stopped noticing. It is a little cold though.”
He held up the lighter with the other hand and picked her up, holding her gently, like a hurt bird. She leaned against his fingers, warming up quickly. He moved the lighter to see her better. Man, she had a nice figure. Curvy in all the right places.
“I’m glad you found me,” she said. “I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get a message to Zoë, but she’s not psychic at all. Is she very worried?”
“I haven’t talked to her. I um, I didn’t know you were missing. I thought you weren’t returning my phone calls because you were mad at me.”
“What for?” she asked.
“I have no idea. I was ready to apologize though, whatever it was.”
She laughed. Her laugh did wonderful things to her breasts. Then her laugh turned into a cough and she curled over, hacking into her hands.
Another translator stepped out of the shadows. He was scarred and fierce looking, except for being small. He had a spear that was taller than he was, dark at the point end like it had been fire-hardened.
“Susan, you ought to be inside where it’s warmer. You’re not well yet,” the translator said. He glared at Paul.
Paul disliked him immediately.
“I’d better go,” Susan said. “I wish we could hug.”
He closed his hand, trying to gently squeeze her. She squeaked.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked, opening his hand. Paul glanced at the translator, who had his spear hoisted as though he were going to stab Paul with it. He suddenly realized how low to the ground his eyes were, and wanted to stand.
“No,” she said. “It’s okay, Tuusit, he just scared me.”
Susan hugged his index finger and kissed it, on the tip near the nail. He hadn’t realized how sensitive his fingertips were until she pressed her lips on it. Her breasts were warm against his knuckle. He wanted to trail his other finger down the curve of her back, but he was afraid he couldn’t be gentle enough.
“I can’t wait until you’re big again,” he murmured.
She winked in saucy agreement, and hopped off his palm.
Tuusit, the translator warrior, slid his arm around Susan’s lower back as she passed, and gently led her towards the wall. Susan smiled and waved goodbye, but she didn’t tell the translator not to touch her.
The translator glanced back over his shoulder at Paul. He gripped his spear and glared with dagger-eyes, then slung his arm around Susan’s shoulder.
Paul resented the treaty, because he really wanted to kill that little man.