The trip back to the corporation’s Earth-based headquarters was uneventful, except of course for the wristband complaining again about how uncomfortable traveling at light-speed can be. Leij sat between Tommy and Sabreen with her arms around both of them as they each peered out a side window from the back of the ship. They were exhausted but couldn’t sleep. Tommy could only think about the nightmares he was going to have about big purple aliens.
Earth approached rapidly, and the whole trip from the moon lasted only a few minutes. Corporate Headquarters looked large even from miles above. It was made up of hundreds of small structures that surrounded several large, warehouse style buildings. Tommy could now see through the illusion and noticed several giant spires shooting beams of blue light up into space. The ship flew alongside one until it reached a docking platform, where a couple of green aliens directed the remainder of their approach.
The landing site was oddly crowded this time. Hundreds of people, Earthling and alien, standing around. He could still see the plastic outline around each of the aliens, but was no longer fooled by it. The wristband began to vibrate and glow as it picked up a few of their conversations near the ship.
“Do you think they’re going to shut us down?”
“I don’t know. I heard they brought in a MeDai to investigate.”
“a MeDai? Was it that serious?”
“It must have been a ULOST violation or something.”
Leij stood as the door of the ship opened with its usual swishing sound. She stepped out first to help Sabreen and Tommy down the stairs and to the ground. Tommy could hear the gasps as the aliens in the room noticed the still glowing wristband on his forearm.
“It is a MeDai then…”
“They’re going to shut us down.”
“Something terrible must have happened.”
“Or something big is about to happen.”
All the Earthlings stood quietly, trying to figure out what everyone else was saying and why they were gathered around a limousine pulling into a warehouse.
“Who are these kids anyway?”
“I think they’re related to the owner.”
“They must be. Look at the security they have!”
Tommy hadn’t paid attention to it before, but they were in fact surrounded by a contingent of green and purple skinned aliens. He looked up at Leij who was leading the way through the crowd, but didn’t dare ask his question for fear that someone might hear it. He could, however, safely think out to the wristband:
“Why is everyone so amazed with you and I?”
The overheard voices died down in Tommy’s head as the wristband replied, “I suppose it has something to do with the history of my species.”
“What kind of history would cause all this commotion?”
“As I told you before: I’m a rarity. And I think most creatures become suspicious when they don’t know much about someone or something they’re confronted with.”
The answer settled his mind for time being, but Tommy knew there had to be more. There had to be a reason for so many people feeling so mesmerized. There had to be a reason for all the aliens, except Lehnair of course, giving Tommy the “royal treatment” whenever they met him.
Leij led the group down a corridor, and then, when they were out of sight, through a door that opened into one of the advanced alien hallways. Everyone hopped onto the automatic floor, even Tommy, who was becoming more comfortable using it. Something was wrong though. Someone was…
“Missing! Where’s Sabreen?” Tommy darted around as he realized she was gone.
Leij reached back and pulled him up close to her, “she met up with her Dad back there. You must have been pretty distracted to have not noticed.”
“She didn’t even”, a small lump formed in Tommy’s throat, “say goodbye.”
“Why would she say goodbye?” Leij looked perplexed but caring.
“I just thought we were friends, and well, that’s what friends do.”
Leij placed her hand around the back of Tommy’s neck and gently stroked his red hair with her thumb. “Oh, I see. It’s an Earthling custom. I’m sure she didn’t know, or even figure that’s what you would want, being a MeDai and all.”
“What do you mean? ‘being a MeDai and all’…”
Leij raised a single eyebrow. “You haven’t been a MeDai long, have you?” she asked, already knowing the answer. “I imagine she was thinking that you could come and visit her whenever you want to.” She finished with a wink, “so you see, this wasn’t really a farewell.”
The ride back home took substantially longer than the trip back from the moon. It was because Leij was taking Tommy back in a regular, Earth style automobile. It was an older, boxy model, probably so it would be large enough for Leij to fit in comfortably. She also happened to be quite a good driver for being an alien and all. Tommy was at ease on the heavily trafficked roads through Illinois. He even considered chatting with the two green-skinned aliens in the backseat a few times, but whenever he’d start a conversation they’d act too nervous to respond.
Tommy hadn’t forgotten about the trouble he was in, even before disappearing from the house. He was supposed to stay in his room while his parents decided on a punishment for him “scaring” the people from Dad’s work. He also remembered that he had been sent to his room without any dinner last night. His stomach grumbled so loud at the reminder that it made the aliens in the back look around to see what caused the odd noise.
Everything being covered in snow, but Tommy recognized his old neighborhood the moment Leij turned the corner onto his block. He leaned his face into the side window and curled his fingers tight around the door handle. The car followed the curve of the street and Leij found a place to park between the piles of snow in the street west of his house. Tommy threw the door open (wedging it into a snow bank) and ran towards the front door. He slowed down, surprised by how cold he suddenly felt. The company’s headquarters and the car must have had amazing climate control. Leij and the two aliens (who’s outlines transformed into plastic dolls in police uniforms) caught up before Tommy reached the house.
“Hold up,” Leij said as she came along side him, “let me do this.”
She pressed the button for the doorbell, and Mr. Twist came and opened the door. As quickly as Tommy could imagine how much trouble he was in, his Dad shouted out his name, picked him up, and gave him a gigantic bear hug. Mrs. Twist came charging down the stairs and joined in the embrace. “Where have you been?!” she asked as tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
“I think I can help there,” Leij interrupted.
Mr. Twist looked up at her, “Leij? How did you… I mean… how? Well, I mean, why are you here?”
“Hello Mr. Twist. I happened to be in the neighborhood when I saw this young man wondering down a road in a not-so-nice part of town. I recognized him from the pictures you keep on your desk at work. These two fine gentleman,” she pointed to the aliens in police garb, “thought I should come along to help drop him off.”
“Well, thank you! Thank you so much!” Mrs. Twist reached out and gave Leij a big hug.
Hugging her back, Leij cupped her hand behind Mrs. Twist’s neck, instantly soothing her. Tommy gave Leij a curious look, to which she winked in reply. “He mentioned he was in some sort of trouble when he left home. You might want to take it easy on him – he’s had a hard day.”
Mrs. Twist barely reached Leij’s shoulders, but looked up and asked her, “would you care to stay for dinner?”
With her lips spreading into one of the biggest smiles Tommy had ever seen. “I would love to,” she replied.
Tommy broke free from his dad and reached over to join in the hug with Leij and his mom. “Thank you Leij.”
Looking down at Tommy, his mom cringed, “but not until after you’ve had a bath. What is that all over your shirt and pants?”
“Oh,” Tommy had ignored all the ink stains on his clothes. “I guess I fell into something.”
Tommy got dinner that night, as well as what most kids would consider to be a pretty hefty punishment.
His Dad explained over the kitchen table, “I hope you’ve learned that running away is never a good choice. It sounds like you had a pretty rough time out there in the cold.” He glanced at Mrs. Twist, and she nodded back confirming that now was as good a time as any. Leij sat quietly, enjoying her third helping of lemon chicken and potatoes. “We’ve decided that in order to help you understand why we should treat the people from my work so nicely, that we’re going to take away your portion of what it is they give to our family.”
Tommy looked at his dad with a raised eyebrow. His parents rarely made sense until they got to the point.
“What I’m saying is: we’re going to take away your allowance for a few months. If you want any money, you’re going to have to earn it by working around the house.”
Letting out a surprising laugh, Tommy pushed his chair out and ran around the table to give his Dad a hug. “Thank you! Thank you SO much!”
Leij choked so hard that she had to spit some of her chicken into a napkin. His Mom and Dad didn’t know what to think.
…on to Chapter 19 The End?