Cora lies in bed, too distraught to hear the door open behind her.
Andaela walks in.
“Cora. We need to talk.”
“Cora, listen to me. Tomnu is readying a small ship for you. He will take you home, tonight.”
“Home? But why? I thought… the Council of Elders… There’s something I need to tell Andeux…”
“Relax, Cora. I know about the child. The Council won’t budge. But they would never kill you now, you are carrying a child of Sixam. Andeux’s father is on the Council. He will not listen to me about resuming relations with Earth, but he will also not kill his own grandchild.”
“Does Andeux also know about the baby?”
“Not yet. I will tell my son later. But he will take his father’s seat on the Council in a few years. Tacah was promised to him when they were younger so he would have ‘pure’ children. Andeux will undo some of his father’s hateful policies, but he can only do so much.”
“You need to go home and raise this child. For Sixam’s sake. And when the child is of age, you must send it back to us, somehow. As his first-born, your child will take over Andeux’s Council seat one day. Having a hybrid on the Council will change Sixam’s politics forever.”
“But until then, you and the child will be safer on Earth. That will keep you both hidden until the time is right.”
“Andaela, I don’t know what to do… I’m scared.”
“Just promise that you will get my grandchild back to us some day.”
“I will, Andaela. And thank you.”
“Now go, Tomnu is waiting.”
“Tomnu, are you sure you want to go? You’ll be gone for over a year, and the entire way back you’ll be alone on the ship.”
“Of course, Cora. We want you to get home. And your child is very important to us all. Besides, if I’m not here, I won’t have to worry about keeping things secret from Tacah until you’re safely back on Earth. By the time I return, they will know.”
The confines of a tiny ship combined with pregnancy hormones make for some tough months.
Luckily, Tomnu is patient and good-natured, and always manages to deflect Cora’s bad moods.
They spend time talking about each other’s lives, and Tomnu teaches Cora a lot about Sixam culture. He also tells her about his friends on Sixam, his family, even a girl he secretly likes.
Sometimes, Cora despairs about going home. She hasn’t seen her family and friends for so long. How will they react to her? To the child? Nothing will be the same as before she left.
Luckily, Tomnu is always ready to be a shoulder to cry on.
“Thank you, Tomnu. You’re the best friend I ever had.”
“You’re just saying that because I’m the only one here,” Tomnu smiles.
“No, I mean it. I’ve only ever had one true friend on Earth, Zane. And then my… boyfriend, Aidan, but I fear he won’t be thrilled to see me, not like this.”
Finally, they arrive at Earth.
“Time to say goodbye to Uncle Tomnu, baby.”
“Bye bye, little one. I can’t wait to properly meet you one day.”
“I’ll miss you, Cora. I hope we meet again as well.”
“I’m sure we will, my friend.”
Under the cover of darkness, Tomnu sets Cora down in a park in Willow Creek. It’s still early morning by the time she has walked to her parent’s house. Hesitantly, she knocks.
It doesn’t take long before she sees her mother through the glass. At first, Alex looks in shock, but then she rips the door open while calling for Don.
Cora is welcomed back with much hugging and crying.
Many hours are spent catching up. Alex and Don wants to know everything.
There is much they don’t understand, but they’re so happy to have their daughter back.
Cora is also updated on the family. Brie and Shawn had a boy and named him Jaxen.
The practicalities must be sorted out. Cora has been declared missing and all her things are in storage. There is much to be done.
Last but not least, there’s the future of the baby. It’s quickly agreed that Cora will live at home for a while, at least until she gets back on her feet and everything is sorted out. Brie’s old room is still a guest room.
“Thanks for the sweater, dad. I can’t fit a lot of mom’s clothes like this. Good thing these yoga pants are so stretchy.”
“I’m so happy you’re home, baby girl. We’ll get you some proper clothes soon. But you better finish up, I think Zane has arrived.”
“Zane? He’s here?” Cora runs to the living room.
Zane immediately takes Cora into his arms and kisses her forehead.
“Zane! It’s so good to see you!”
Zane is not letting go.
“I thought… we all thought we’d never see you again,” he mumbles.
“I know. I feared the same. I’m glad you’re here… what about Aidan?”
“Aidan is… I’m here to take you to see him. I’ll update you in the car.”
After being dropped off, Cora is standing in front of the apartment door in San Myshuno, afraid to knock. Zane’s words from the car ride are still ringing in her head. But she has to do this.
Aidan immediately opens, almost like he has been waiting by the door. For a few seconds he just stares at Cora like he’s seeing a ghost.
“Aidan… hi. It’s me. I…”
Cora’s voice falters. Aidan stares like he is in a trance. Then he pulls himself together.
“Cora… Zane warned… told me you were back.”
“Please, come in, let’s talk.”
The first thing Cora notices is the picture wall. Zane warned her in the car, but still. It’s different to see it with her own eyes.
“You’ve… been busy…”
Cora can barely get the words out.
“Busy?!” There’s a rough edge to Aidan’s voice. “Busy? Are you being serious right now? You disappeared, you… I was investigated for murder. Can you even imagine?”
“There were headlines, Cora. ‘Unhinged sci-fi author claims girlfriend was taken by aliens‘. Can you imagine what I went through?”
“Not only was I heartbroken that you were gone, terrified that you might be dead or never come back, but on top of it all, people treated me like I was insane or a murderer. Thankfully, your parents believed me. And Zane, and, yes, Layla.”
“I see. How lucky that Layla could be there for you the second I was gone. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, you’ve always been…close.”
“Cora, you just showed up pregnant on my doorstep, how can you act like I’m the only one at fault here? Yes, Layla helped me through it, but your absence also made me realise how badly matched you and I were in the first place. I loved you, but you were so… difficult. With Layla, everything seems simple. She makes me happy and I don’t have to fight for her attention.”
“It’s been two years, Cora. We… I insisted we waited a full year, as if the aliens were going to bring you back on some sort of messed up anniversary. I even asked your parents for forgiveness for moving on. What would you have me do?”
“I don’t know… But I guess you’re right, maybe I was a pretty terrible girlfriend. I guess we got together by accident and then just… went along with it.”
“I’m glad you’re back safe, Cora. I’m sorry. Maybe – maybe we can be friends again one day, but right now… I need to focus on my wife and son.”
“I get it. I’m sorry too. Bye, Aidan. Say… say hi to Layla for me…”
As Cora leaves the apartment, Zane is waiting for her.
He smiles sadly.
“I figured you’d need a ride after this. And maybe a hug.”
Cora says nothing, just sobs quietly into Zane’s shoulder.
“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
Wow. Well that ending leaves me satisfied but also sorry for Zane.
“Listen, uterus-haver. Your ability to create new life is valuable to us. Thanks to you doing a sex, which I know about, and about the egg that got fertilized as a result, we are interested in getting you home safely as the incubation chamber for that egg. That egg is very important to us. You? You have an important role, too. As caretaker. Make sure the egg grows up. Then give it back to us. Hope that was reassuring!” ??????????????? Am I getting this right?
Damn—my shipping instincts were way off. Or were they?! Layla. Layla, girl, hear me. Go for a completion run. Do it.
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I figured this would be the situation coming back, but it don’t make it any easier!
At least Zane is there for support
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I wasn’t expecting that! Daaaang!
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