It was completely unfair. This horrible universe had stolen Mom’s face and Daddy’s warm arms from me. Then, it replaced them with robots, and for an encore, it took away my voice and my tears and left me helpless. I buried my face in tiny furry arms and began shaking with frustration.
I heard my mother asking, “Mrs. West, is a bedroom available? For privacy, please?”
“I… what? Why would you need…”
Mr. West’s voice interrupted his wife. “Use Sam’s room. Down that hall, second door on the right.”
“Thank you,” she answered, and left the room. Mrs. West fussed quietly at her husband about what he had done, but otherwise there was little talk.
Daddy’s hand continued to stroke my back, but I could feel his troubled mind. Of course he could feel my own anguish. Once he realized that his hand wasn’t helping, he stopped and simply held me, his mind singing a soft song of soothing. It gave the feeling of real Daddy, and helped a little.
I stayed curled up even when I felt Mom’s presence approach once again. I didn’t raise my head again until Daddy stepped over to the sofa and put me down.
That’s when I saw my mother in her real body for the first time. She was a bigger version of me, with darker fur. Her back seemed to be a darker shade, while the fur on her chest and tummy lightened almost to my color. She sat curled on the sofa, looking at me with dark gold eyes with no pupils.
But even outside her mannequin, I could feel it was Mom.
Zindavoor faces don’t show emotions, but I guess that’s because we don’t use our eyes to see them. I felt concern, worry, and even fear in her mind. It almost seemed to me that she was afraid I was too angry to forgive her.
I just wanted to go to her. I tried to move, but I found I also didn’t know how to walk in this body. I wobbled and fell in a miserable heap on the sofa cushion. But Mom uncurled and came to me instead
I don’t know if Zindavoor hugged their kids before they came to Earth, or if they learned it from Humans, but I’m so glad they hug now, because when I felt her arms take me in, it might have been the only thing that could help me just then. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t cry, but I could stay there, in my mother’s real arms, still shaking and scared, but not so lonely anymore.
My father sat on the sofa next to use, and began speaking to me in a gentle voice. “Sorry your parents both are. Sorry to not raise you Zindavoor way. To do right, move to a Zindavoor enclave. Children live, grow right way. Elders want try something new. To raise you in Human society, along with Human kids.”
I finally looked up at Daddy again. His eyes were sad, but he felt much sadder. “Zindavoor so small need special mannequin, to stay in full time. That hurt you. Never learn Zindavoor voice. Emotions yes, but no voice. Doctors say no telling you until later, or make it worse. Such a mistake….” He closed his eyes, put his face in his hand.
For a long while, both of them remained silent. Then, Mom let go of me, and Daddy picked me up again. She jumped off the couch and scampered down the hallway like a long-legged ferret.
I can’t say I felt better, but just knowing that I wasn’t the only one that looked the way I do gave me a sort of security. Then, somehow Daddy’s arms felt like they should once more, even though they were still just a mannequin and still so many times bigger than they ought to be.
Mr. West spoke up first, after that, asking the Major, “So, what are we going to do about this?”
She said something back to him, but I didn’t catch it, because other people were coming into the house, now. Some sort of van was outside, to pick up the specters and my mannequin. It was kind of disturbing to watch, because they didn’t put it on a stretcher or anything. They just brought in this box and tossed it in, like trash. I guess that was because they didn’t see it as me. But the thing was, I still saw it as me. I wanted to complain about how they were treating it, but… well, I couldn’t talk, remember?
Three soldiers came in and saluted the Major as the clean-up crew departed. They wore the same uniform as Mom did, but one of them had stripes on the sleeves. Rufus and the police officer left during this time as well. I realized the new soldiers were replacing them so they could get back to their posts.
When my mother came back out in her mannequin, the three soldiers snapped to attention.
Know why people say ‘snapped to attention’? I think it’s because you can hear it. All the motion sounds, the taps of heels, the clicks of weapons, the jingle of equipment all happen in one simultaneous snap.
She returned their salute and they went back to their original posture. I still found it confusing that this military officer with the hard eyes and strong jaw was the same furry little Mom who was just hugging me. But I couldn’t deny she felt like the same person. She turned around to me and Daddy.
“The specters target Miss West, so many Zindavoor work outside this house tonight. To keep a discreet guard all around. To have one more glass out there, Father is also outside.”
She turned to the Major. “Major, Tawny is alone tonight. To stay to guard Miss West. To stay with someone familiar, to contribute… it is best for her.”
The Major gave a concerned frown. “Are you sure she’s up to it, right now? I wanted to give the kid a break. She’s already done more than anyone has any right to expect of her.”
My mother shook her head. “To be active, to contribute, to take part… these are the medicine for Zindavoor heart, Major.”
Then she gave me a gentle smile. “Today Tawny prove is true Zindavoor.”
Mom praises me when she believes I deserve it, but… she has pretty high standards. Daddy has always been easier that way, so I guess getting praise from Mom has always been a bigger deal to me. It took a moment to understand it was because I had fought bravely… I guess maybe that’s not a thing Human mothers praise in their daughters, but to a Zindavoor mother, it’s a big deal.
I had deep concerns about my mother’s pride in me almost getting myself killed. It was still just silly to me that a race of living plushy toys had evolved into some sort of warrior culture. Mom? I wanted to ask, Aren’t you worried about leaving me here? You want to protect Sam, but what about me?
But the glowing warmth from Mom, for whatever reason she felt it, was a special thing. I finally settled on enjoying it and hoped I would understand later.