Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Shapeshifter, #Space Opera
“Madame Skarrow, why are your people bowing?”
Madame paused, “You have mastered manipulating metal. It is a skill that all textile folk dream of.”
“I am a mechanical talent; I move metal.” Niad was firm.
“You weave metal into a working machine, bring power through the fibres. You are a textile talent; your chosen medium is simply metal work.” Madame Skarrow laughed, a bright sound filled with joy.
They went further into the building until they ended up in an atrium where Niad saw her parents seated at a table with a tea service and three men in magistrate uniforms.
She remained in her Guardian persona until her mother jumped up and ran forward for a hug. No one could resist that.
“Niad, we have some documents for you to sign.”
Her father got up and stroked her hair. “It’s a big day, Niad.”
“Madame Skarrow has taken the social hold off your mother. We are finally getting a covenant contract. You are our witness to the name change and that includes yours.”
Niad looked to her grandmother, and she noted the distinct aura of power that the woman was wearing.
“Because I was lied to, because I want my daughter back, and I want to know the man who helped you become the woman you are. He has a sense of purpose that will be an excellent addition to the Skarrow family.”
Niad blinked. “Just like that?”
“Just like that. Those closest to me have conspired to hide my daughter, and I let them do it. I am giving my daughter the reins of the company to drive or destroy it as she will. I deserve no less, but I hope that we may begin a relationship.”
Niad blinked back tears beneath her mask. She nodded, and her parents hauled her over to where the pile of documents was waiting next to the tea service.
She turned to Tauron, “Do we have time for this?”
He grinned and crossed his arms, standing at guard. “If a call comes in, I will go without you. Be with your family.”
She snorted. “Like hell.”
Mlina grinned as her mother blinked in surprise. “That is my baby. She was like that as a toddler. Perfectly obedient unless she was being left out of things.”
Nmir grinned. “It was worth every credit to send her to the Citadel for training. She could be normal there and do what she was meant to.”
Madame Skarrow signed the first round of documents as family head. She authorised it all.
Mlina signed next and then Nmir. When it was over, they paused and shared a long and loving kiss. Niad grinned.
She caught a glimpse of Tauron, and he was staring at her as if wondering if she would put up with the same manoeuver. She winked and then took her turn with the stylus. The first document was her parents’ legal declaration that neither was bound by an outside contract, the second was witnessing the covenant contract, and the third was her mother’s declaration that Niad was her legal genetic heir and entitled to her family name.
The final document was the one that made her hesitate. It was the transfer of her name from Wyfirth to Skarrow. Her father had already signed his name.
She looked to Tauron. “Does this mean I have to change my Guardian designation?”
“No. You can remain Guardian Wyfirth. It was as Wyfirth that you signed your contract.”
Niada smiled. “If you sign, you can wear the Skarrow name on your days off and drop your lenses for public events with us.”
Mlina smiled. “I wish my father were here for this.”
Niada snorted. “He will remain on the family island for the next two years, his son and his child on another. They will be fed and cared for, but they know what they did. He should never have tried to take my daughter from me in favour of his son. The Nimlin family has no business working against the Skarrows.”
Niad looked over. “Mom, Dad, I think Madame Skarrow wants more grandkids. You had better get started.”
The look in her parents’ eyes said they wanted to get started, but Niada raised her hand. “That would be lovely, but you also need to consider that you will be passing on the family name. You need to find a man and begin your own family. I have decades left; I want to see another generation.”
Niad blinked. “Um. Good to know.”
Tauron was smirking.
She signed the name change and offered up her ident numbers so that the magistrates could file for new identification for her.
Niada was standing near the happy couple. “How did you afford to get your daughter off world?”
Niad watched her mom keep her arms wrapped around her father but turn to speak to her grandmother. It was cute.
“Niad started to work in the repair shop when she was eight, light stuff at first and then more of the hands-on stuff. She had saved up ten percent of the fees by the time she was sixteen. We sold our house and mortgaged the shop, living in the small apartment above. We sold everything we had and finally had enough to send her for training.”
Niad walked over to her parents, and they opened the hug. She finished the story. “I started working as a Specialist for the Citadel and made enough money to get myself home and paid off most of the mortgage before I touched down. The rest was done a year after I returned.”
Nmir squeezed her shoulder. “It was worth every moment of deprivation to see your face when you came home. Finally, you knew your worth, and others knew it as well.”
Tauron spoke calmly. “The world knows it now.”
There was silence as that statement hung in the air.
Niad sighed. “Well, as happy as I am and as curious as I am about how this all came about, I did come here for a purpose. Madame Skarrow, was there any progress on my suit?”
Niada sighed. “Call me Grandmother. I have arranged something special to protect you, child. Come with me.”
She held her hand out, and Niad left her parents and took it. Without another word spoken, her grandmother led her further into the workshops and to a wide door with an impressive lock on it.
Niada smiled. “Your uncle tried to get in here before I had them banished. This is a very impressive lock. I spared no expense for the security.”
She pressed her hand to the plate, and the clicking of the door filled the space. The mechanism inside was moving, and Niad tracked the cylinders and the gears as it gradually unhitched to swing open.
The scent of earth and sun came to Niad, and she smiled. “He wanted to steal from a garden?”
“Yes, but let me bring you to what I am growing in here. I had to set up a special containment unit for it. Udell has a toxic atmosphere, and this needs it to grow.”
They walked through the rows of trees and plants until they reached a tall glass case. The item growing inside was familiar.
The long fronds were extended in the outline of a body, including the head.
“I have been training it to use as a gift for one of the Guardians or a head of state, but if I can’t protect my own granddaughter with this armoured Masuo, I am not a good grandmother, and that is something I desperately desire to be.”
“You don’t need to give it to me. I am sure that the Citadel will be able to send me something.” She knew that the gift was expensive and rare. Only a few Citadel Specialists had Masuo, and less than that had the armoured sort, thickened by years in a toxic environment.
“It is yours, Niad Skarrow. I want you to have it. As your clan head, I am ordering you to take it.” Niada smiled.
She beckoned for Niad to step up to the case, and when she did, she whispered, “Hold your breath and take it. It knows what to do.”
Niad did as ordered, and when the figure detached from the plant it was growing on, she backed away. Niada closed the case quickly.
The plant turned to a thick liquid that ran up Niad’s arms and under her suit. She felt it pressing against every inch of skin, and it moved up her cheeks and jaw, learning the planes and contours of her.
Her grandmother stepped in and opened her Guardian suit. Niad’s skin was already covered.
“I have heard it can take days to program the Masuo completely. You seem to have it under control.”
Niad helped push the suit down over her hips. “It is getting a little personal, but I think I have a grasp on what it takes to communicate.”
She ditched the other suit and stood as the substance clasped and released her. She closed her eyes, envisioning the suit her mother had designed for her that first day.
The small sound that her grandmother made had her opening her eyes in an instant. “Grandmother, are you all right?”
Tears were in Niada’s eyes. “It is one of Mlina’s designs, isn’t it?”
Niad nodded. “She did it for me on my first day. I thought it would be nice to wear it daily.”
“She always had such a lovely style with the designs. It always stood out.”
“Well, is any part of me showing that shouldn’t?” She turned slowly.
“No, you look lovely. Am I wrong in thinking that you and Guardian Tauron have something between you?”
“Grandmother, I have known him for a week, and we primarily talk when he is hauling me out of a situation after I overexert myself.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
She wrinkled her nose as the face that so resembled hers looked at her wryly.
“Fine, we believe we have a mutual interest, but we won’t explore it on duty.” She admitted, “We are waiting until we have a coinciding day off. It is not likely to happen.”
She thickened the heels of the suit so the change was more obvious, and she put her fists on her hips. “How does it look?”
Her grandmother responded by stabbing her in the abdomen with pruning shears.
As the blades snapped, Niada grinned. “I would say that you are protected now, Niad. I won’t light you on fire, but I believe that the suit should stand the test.”
Niad blinked. “Right. I think we should get back to the others before you decide to stab me with anything else.”
Niada grinned. “Can you turn it into a gown?”
“Let’s walk and find out. I am going to have to learn what constitutes a gown, and I believe you might know the answer.”
They locked up the greenhouse, made their way back to the initial atrium where the magistrates were no longer in attendance and her parents and teammate were deeply in conversation.
As she crossed the room, she turned the gown she was wearing into a bodysuit again, and she grinned. “What do you think?”
Her mother was staring at her in wonder, her father grinned and her partner asked, “But is it stab proof?”
Niada cackled. “Yes!”
It was a peculiar moment to share, but it was their first as a united family. The tale of her grandmother’s stabbing attempt was now part of Skarrow history. Niad hoped she got a brother or sister to share the story with.
Guardian Wyfirth pulled herself free of the aircraft and gave the signal to Tauron.
She flexed her arms, and her suit expanded with the web-like wings between her arms and legs. It had taken some practice, but she was now able to glide free of the aircraft and drop down to where Tauron was waiting with the riot runner modified for high altitude.
He was breathing just fine, which made her wonder what kind of modifications had been made to him.
She glided free, wind roaring past her and her suit providing goggles.
Tauron matched her speed, and she grabbed his shoulders, pulling herself down behind him. The suit shifted for a more comfortable ride, and she wrapped her arms around him. They rode the runner down to the flight centre and settled down to check on the crew of the craft that had nearly crashed in the city.
Tauron was better at this stuff than she was. She let him go first.
The passengers and crew disembarked, and Tauron was speaking with them while Niad went and checked her handiwork on the engines.
A tap on her leg got her attention. A small voice said, “Excuse me.”
Niad looked down. “Oh, hello. Were you on the aircraft?”
The little girl was clutching a dolly in her hand, and Niad was very nervous when she noted the very specific pattern on the suit.
“Yes, Guardian. Are you Guardian Wyfirth?”
Niad crouched down and smiled at the child. “I am.”
The girl clutched her dolly harder. “My mom says that you are a mechanical talent.”
“Those are big words, but yes. I am.”
The girl grinned. “So are my mom and dad. They say I can be a Guardian now, and it is thanks to you.”
Niad smiled. “It is because of my mom and dad. They helped me become a Guardian by making sure I did all my homework and my chores.”
The little girl furrowed her brow. “How did chores help?”
“I learned that life is filled with hard work, but doing it right means less work later. If the man who had fixed this aircraft had done his job right the first time, you wouldn’t have needed me. As it was, I am very glad I was able to help.”
The little girl swayed a little. “Can I hug you?”
Niad opened her arms. The little girl squeezed her neck, and the Guardian Wyfirth doll dug in as well, but Niad hugged onto her until the little one let go.
“What is your name?”
“Liima. Liima Denfork.” The little girl jerked her chin up as her low-family name was spoken.
“I am very happy to meet you, Liima. Can I take you back to your parents now?”
“Okay.” Liima held her hand out, and Niad walked back to the crowd of passengers.
Tauron grinned at her and her small companion. “Oh, good. She found you.”
Niad gave him a dark glare. “Liima even has a Guardian Wyfirth doll; she just had to check it for ID.”
Liima’s parents rushed over, and to Niad’s shock, they hugged her, thanking her for her part in their rescue.
A line formed as the passengers hugged her, and she thanked them all for thanking her.
This was the first event where she had been confronted with alive and alert citizens after an event. Usually, Tauron had her whisked away by now.
When the security forces had escorted the citizens off the tarmac, Tauron escorted her to the riot runner, and they headed back toward base.
“So, how long have I been an action figure?”
“You mean a dolly?” He chuckled in her ear. “Since your grandmother had them made. Guardian Wyfirth dolls are finding their way into every store in the nation with the proceeds of all sales going to children’s charities.”