The boy looked uncomfortable, and his forehead was starting to shine. His shirt collar was hanging down inelegantly. Who wore a green shirt anyway? He was cute, obviously a romantic fool, but he wouldn’t last two more minutes.
“This is a nice place,” he said with a hesitant smile.
Look me in the eye, the girl wanted to reply as his eyes returned from examining the surroundings to staring at her lips. Instead, she nodded. Why had she accepted his invitation?
“And it’s nice that they allow you to take your pet with you.”
The girl’s thoughts went straight to Artemis, the animal nested on her lap. She felt Artemis stiffen, and she stroked her on the neck to soothe her. It was inevitable that people would mistake a firnex for an unintelligent pet, probably thinking it was a simple fennec fox, but speaking with so little tact and by repeating a bland adjective demonstrated stupidity.
“She gets special treatment throughout Yubenia,” the girl said. It was true, too: many restaurants in the city of Yubenia knew to tolerate Artemis’s presence. Orders from above. The girl looked at Artemis and smiled. She wanted to see if the boy had any wit. “After all, she is more intelligent than most humans, including you.”
The boy chuckled uneasily.
“So how do you know this restaurant?”
He was either mentally deficient, without humour or a combination of those elements. Pity, he had shown so much potential in that club the other day. Perhaps he was only good at dancing.
She glanced at Artemis, who was scratching her jaw with her paw. Boring indeed. She stopped stroking Artemis and reached for a button on her belt.
“My mum had a fling with this guy –”
She stopped upon hearing the tone on her intercom.
“Oh, speak of the devil. Sorry, I have to take this.”
The boy nodded, and she put her hand to her ear.
“What is it, darling? You want a way out of a date again?”
“What? That’s awful! How did you do that? I’ll be there right away. Which hospital?”
“Do you want a lift back home?”
“I’ll pull over a transport, don’t argue.”
“All right, I’ll be there in five minutes maximum. Same place?”
“Okay, stay put! I love you!”
She turned back to the boy, hoping that distress was plain to see on her face.
“I’m really, really sorry, but my mum just had an accident.”
She let Artemis hop on the floor before taking her coat.
“That’s terrible,” said the boy.
“I know, but I guess that’s life. Thanks for the invitation, though.” She rushed to the door of the restaurant, and waved back at him. “Call me, all right?”
She stepped out into the cool evening breeze of February as the door cut the boy’s inevitable reply from her hearing. No, he did not have her number, nor would he ever be able to find any means of making contact.
As the girl walked away from the restaurant in the empty street, she smiled. She liked being elusive, a stunning whirlwind without a name. It had been so since the age of fourteen. Nearly four years later, she still enjoyed this game.
Artemis barked a few times, and the girl laughed.
“If I took you to clubs, I’d never dance for fear of losing you in the crowd.”
Artemis uttered a low growl amidst higher pitched barks.
“Are you crazy? I’m antisocial enough as it stands. If I didn’t go to any parties, no one would even know I exist. No one would care.”
Artemis stopped walking, and a soft growl came from her canine mouth.
The girl smiled and brushed a stray lock of her dark hair behind her cold ears.
“I know you do. I’m sorry, I’m being foolish again. I’ll make it up to you, but first, let’s go find Mum. We don’t want this poor guy to see us loitering out here, do we?”
Artemis shook her head, and a keen-eyed observer might have noticed a smile appear on her face.
As they walked briskly towards the usual meeting place, the girl sighed inside. Despite how close she was to Artemis, she still felt human at times, and had her own desires. More so than her mum, it seemed, though Parmil Szarnu didn’t freely talk of her experiences with men, especially given that Borreli, her best friend and possibly the closest she had ever had to true love, died half the galaxy away some eight years ago. Here on planet Culuria, however, there didn’t seem to be a single young man capable of creating any kind of lasting spark within the girl. She wanted to be inspired. Her eyes drifted to the stars. She hoped that she would find a way to leave this planet with Artemis before too long.
They came to a junction opening on a park, the Bardrien Memorial Park. Why she always wanted to use that park as meeting point, she didn’t know. She certainly didn’t want to hurt her adoptive mum’s feelings, but there was something deeply refreshing about coming to a place that honoured her birth parents, even a dozen years after their respective deaths.
The girl read the plaque on one bench in the park, despite knowing it off by heart: ‘To Kristala, who dedicated her life to her husband, to her daughter and to scientific progress on Culuria. You shall always be remembered’. At the opposite side of the park was a similar plaque for Ernie Bardrien.
This park had been inaugurated less than a year after the separate deaths of Ernie and Kristala, of whom the girl had few memories nowadays. She was still young when they died. Kristala would indeed always be remembered on Culuria, but not necessarily by her own daughter.
Artemis hopped onto the bench and shivered. She barked. To anyone else, the barks would have been meaningless, but the girl knew that Artemis had advised her not to sit on the icy bench.
It was the one human voice that the girl trusted and loved unconditionally. A smile growing on her face, she turned to see a vehicle hovering ten metres away.
“We’re coming,” she shouted before putting her arms level with the bench, her palms upward. Artemis accepted the offer and nestled her golden fur in the girl’s arms.
A caring face looked at them from the vehicle, still as beautiful as ever, looking much the same at the age of thirty-eight as it had ten years beforehand, back when they first met.
A door opened, and the girl walked inside the vehicle, settling down comfortably into a seat.
Artemis jumped onto the adjacent seat and barked. The girl knew the meaning, although her mother had to check a translation device. It had been several years since they found Artemis, but Parmil still had trouble with a number of the newer words Artemis had created to adapt her language. The words appeared on the device.
“Do the rules allow me to drive?”
“Sorry Artemis,” said Parmil. “Although we can bend many rules for you, I don’t think they would allow you to have a licence.”
“Then I am afraid that you must wait before this dating nonsense no longer bothers you.”
Parmil laughed, and the girl blushed.
“I’m sorry, Mum.”
“I know, darling. It’s all right.”
The girl bit her lip.
“Did I disturb you in the middle of something?”
“So now you ask?”
The girl felt her cheeks redden.
“No, darling, it was nothing important. I was just chatting with Ekrid.”
The girl smiled.
“How is he?”
“He says that he misses his goddaughter, but he’ll be back on Culuria in two weeks.”
“Good. Since he took up his new interplanetary advisory job, the government on Culuria has lost some of its quality.”
The girl saw her mother raise an eyebrow.
“Since when are you interested in politics?”
“We have discussed it often, for years.”
Parmil seemed surprised.
“Sorry Mum, we didn’t want to bore you with that.”
“A wise choice,” Parmil said, nodding. “Well, if you like it, girls, then so be it. Do you have any other surprises stored away for today?”
The girl laughed.
“Mum, who do you take me for? A magician?”
“No, the devil. Worse: Wadina Szarnu. Now activate your seatbelt, and let’s go home. I’ve got a kettle boiling.”
The following week seemed to last for ever, the days dragging along as Wadina thought about the prospect of speaking to Ekrid again, for the first time in over eight months.
Wadina looked forward to seeing her godfather for one reason in particular: he was her primary source of political knowledge, and through him she had learnt much of what happened behind the scenes in governments throughout the galaxy. For the longest time, Ekrid Malrow was a permanent member of the government of Culuria, a title bestowed upon him for his services to the planet’s population, but his influence went far beyond the confines of this small planet and the Residio star system. Now, he was a special advisor to each of the three major interstellar governments: the Yolniun, the Absolem Constitutor and the Azzurdi Empire. All because of Arpia, a little group of idealists fighting piracy who had become both the government of an independent planet and a household name.
Was Wadina part of Arpia? She had it in her blood, but she became a teenager only after Arpia’s glory days, when the actions of a few changed the face of the universe. If anything, the Wadina of today was ‘post-Arpia’, a product of an era in which the old crowd could only recount the past and not work towards the future.
“Artemis, we’ll have adventures of our own,” she said, looking out the window of her room at the two setting suns of the Residio system.
“If you say so, young one.”
“Ugly expressions suit you well, too. Where do you want to go? You have explored half the galaxy already.”
“I don’t want to explore. I want something to happen, something big. A radical change in the universe, like what happened when we met.”
Wadina did her best not to react to the laugh that Artemis made.
“I remember days when you looked for stability in your life, but those days are long gone. You want adventures? We have had this discussion before, and I have already told you to be patient, little cub. It will come soon.”
Artemis licked Wadina’s hand after speaking, but Wadina frowned.
“You definitely seem more confident than last time. What do you know?”
“I have observed that space is moving differently recently. Something is stirring. What it is, I don’t know, but maybe Ekrid will have answers.”