The Transformation Story Archive The Paradise Saga

Homecoming (9)

by Don Simpson

Copyright 1995

(Note: This closing chapter of the Paradise Saga was written by Don Simpson at my request, since it primarily involved his characters)

"...Laudato si, misignore, per sora luna e le stelle -- in celu lai formate clarite et pretiose et belle..."

Rocky was out on his balcony, leaning on the rail, singing into the indigo void that surrounded the repair station. Cynthia had taught him a lot of songs from her origin-world and from other Earths she liked; and after long watches spent drumming and dancing strength into portals, he would re-balance himself by practicing them.

This was his basso profundissimo arrangement of the Solar Chant of Holy Francis; one of his favorites, reminding him of the songs of his own origin-world and of his love for it.

"...Laudato si, misignore, per sora nostra matre terra..."

Through his mind-link to the station he felt a portal open and shift to the entrance potentiality across the room. The rhythm of the portal manipulation was Cynthia's, as was the mind-flavor the station linked to as she came through, and the scents of her body and of her favorite perfume (Byzantine Dusk, by Nesmiths). And her voice: "'I praise you, Elder, for our sister, Mother Earth' -- that's beautiful, Rocky. I confess that I sometimes wonder what my cousin Pastor Erik would make of you, hooves and horns and all. But I think Francis would have just called you 'brother satyr'."

"Or 'brother demon'?," asked Rocky, trotting across the rug-strewn room to give her a hug.

"Maybe. He thought of devils as God's watchmen, not as evil creatures." She returned his hug full strength -- enough to crack his ribs if he'd been human. "And don't ask me why 'the Hidden Fire' would need watchmen. No theology before supper."

He nodded and, over the link, caught her amusement at the slight twitch of his ear -- an echo of the flick that meant yes back home. He made a mental note to work on that and the rest of what was getting to be a long list. "Okay. Supper! I got hummus, I got baba gamoosh, I got rice with tamari brazil nuts, snegga grubs and cranberries...."

Another portal signature, the shutter-quick precision that marked Rampus's entrances. A cinnamon-colored blur whirled across the rugs and up to Cynthia's shoulder. "Speaker Cynthia is on-station," Rampus's voice announced crisply, as she rubbed her head against Cynthia's. Then she began purring.

"It's good to be back," Cynthia told them. "As much as I like that particular version of Manhattan -- and, Rocky, you should come with me next time. They're doing the Midnight Ice again. We were such a hit, remember?"

He had enjoyed it, certainly. Hundreds of masked and costumed people skating from dusk to dawn around the connected frozen ponds of Central Park. He and Cyn had practiced interesting moves from her collection of ice skating movies, and drawn a crowd of followers. She'd costumed herself as an 'Arabian princess' and him as a jinn with billowing Turkish pants concealing his goaty legs and a huge turban over his horns. Rampus, wearing a pink neck-ribbon, had been introduced as part Siamese, part some imaginary breed Cyn invented. No-one suspected what was in their midst.

"Well, maybe," he said, "if I get to see enough of my family first. Haven't see my sister's new kid yet, at all. Supper?"

"Please, it sounds wonderful."

Rocky ducked through the drapes concealing the cookroom. His hooves clicked on the bright tiles as he moved pots from the cold to the hot side of the maxwell, and put sheets of platebread on a tray with little piles of parsley, mint, and tarragon. Abruptly, the mind-link shook with another portal opening. A big one, over by the balcony doorway. He spun and sprinted into the main room, teeth bared, fists clenched, tossing the drapes aside with his horns.

The station shouldn't be letting in a stranger, but he didn't recognize the feel. It had an almost instinctive deftness in the touch, a casual ease that was very like... "Aaron?"

What stood among the carpets and cushions was -- and wasn't -- the groundshaker stallion that Aaron's mind had been put into. The body configuration and scent were unmistakable, but there were almost centaur-like shoulders and arms on what had been the neck, and the head had a number of small differences. On the mind-link he could sense a powerful presence, with an animal clarity and directness; none of the verbal underchannels of a human mind. The head turned toward him. "Hhhrrahk-hih-hih!," it said. "Rocky!," said the mind-link's vocal channel.

Rocky felt his hair bristle and his belly go cold. His eyes were wet and blurry, and the sound of the room seemed hollow. He took a deep breath. "You're just in time for supper," he said, "Won't you join us?" He walked over slowly and, reaching up, gave the apparition a hug. Cynthia came over and hugged from the other side. Rampus stood up on Cynthia's shoulder and did a cat's welcoming head-swipe. As Rocky held onto Aaron, the tears spilled out of his eyes, leaving dark streaks down the stallion's hide.

They had supper. There was a basket of apples for Aaron, and a plate of minced eel for Rampus; and Rocky and Cynthia shared the trayfull of food Rocky had fixed. Rocky found the conversation eerie, as Aaron's mind continued to appear non-verbal to the mind-link while not talking, yet produced perfectly good speech when required. His accent was bizarre, due to the odd vocal tract, but easily learned even without the mind-link. Gradually the whole story of Aaron's transformation came out.

"I've got to have a long talk with Bob," said Rocky, "That was a double-line red zone you went into! Most people don't come back from there."

"Ih'h oh-kay," Aaron insisted. "I-um ph-ine. I li-kuh ha-ow I a-um." And he did, in fact, radiate a calm confidence that Rocky had not found in him before, an almost solid aura of self containment.

"I like how you are, too," Cynthia told him, "very transparent, very integrated." She looked him over admiringly. "If I can talk you into wearing a saddle -- actually, bareback would be better, you're wide-backed enough -- I know some worlds where you could really stretch your legs. The plains of Ausester, where the macrocrystaloids break through the grasslands. The beaches of Mageston during the Ammonite migrations."

"Th-ey suh-oun-duh ve-ry bu-ti-fu," Said Aaron, "I oo-ud li-ike to der-ah the-im."

"Splendid," said Cynthia, "Let me get you your drawing tablet." She sorted through items in one of ornate trunks against the walls, and found a huge pad of heavy, slightly textured paper. There was a box of pens and pencils under it. She handed them to Aaron. He clamped the pad in one hand and set the box on it, fumbling for a pen. Contents and box went in every direction, rolled across the pad, fell to the rugs, rolled under cushions.

Finally, he got a grip on one of the pens. He picked it up and poised it over the pad, and brought it down. As it touched the paper, his hand moved in a quick, twitchy gesture, and came back up, leaving a rough squiggle. The pen came down again, the hand moved. An ugly, lop-sided blob had been added.

"Un-un!," said Aaron (it was "no" on the mind-link). His hand moved over the paper with greater speed, making loops and squiggles, sometimes running off the edge of the paper, until the sheet was mostly black. He looked around, then lifted the pin high. It hit him at the corner of his jaw.

Rocky felt a chill go through him. Still, the mind-link showed only a stallion's uncompromising determination.

Aaron tapped the pen forward along his jaw until he could grab it with his teeth, then ripped the top sheet off the pad and crumpled it. Then he carefully retrieved the pen from his mouth and started again.

The tempo sped up, Aaron filling sheets and tossing them, wadded small, into a pile. He was no longer having trouble putting the pen in his mouth, and the motions looked smoother, more regular. He stopped, looked at the last sheet. "Yeh-is!," he said, and crumpled the sheet. Rocky was confused. Yes? Yes, what?

Aaron's hand came down again, moving fast and unhesitatingly over the pad. Up. He held out the pad.

"It's you, Rocky, "said Cynthia, "and good, too. He's caught that look you have around the eyes." She beamed. "I want it."

Rocky looked at it. It was a good resemblance, true, but it also had that less definable quality that transcended resemblance. It was more than good. Aaron wasn't getting in his own way anymore.

"Ah, Aaron," He said, "I have a friend back home who'd love to have you in her household."

"I li-ike my mare-hs," said Aaron.

"I can tell," Rocky agreed with a grin, "you have their smell all over you." Rocky's nostrils flared. "And they smell real happy, too. Well, you look to be about eight times Thorn's weight, so it prob'ly wouldn't work. Real pity, though."

"Aaron," said Cynthia, "could you do my portrait next?"

He drew for hours, first from life, and then from memory -- worlds he'd seen, and people he had met -- until the pad was used up.

They persuaded him to stay over so they could talk further the next 'morning', and put him in a large interior courtyard that was mostly grass around a few ornamental boulders. Getting him through some of the doorways was not easy, and Rocky decided to have the hive-sprites enlarge the station doors during their next active cycle.

"What a life he's had," Rocky said, as he and Cynthia sat around a tea table from Fola, carved to resemble five interlocked squid. "First he gets into an involuted universe out in the Big Fog somewhere, which completely transforms his body; then those U.O.C. meddlers get him..."

"The Oecumenum are certainly far too stodgy," Cynthia said, "but they are good people in their own way. They stopped the Sclorg. They cut the Bormite invasions down ninety-five percent..."

"Yes," Rocky agreed, "and almost everybody uses their translator technology. But look at the way they sealed off the Nacrites. And used Aaron's paintings for the filter generator to do it. They've marooned half the interesting people we've come across!"

Cynthia sipped her tea. "I know that. I have the Nacrite painting in my bedroom, and I'd love to visit that world someday. You don't see me working for the Oecumenum, after all. But I suspect you're angry at them because you feel you've done badly by Aaron yourself."

Rocky winced. "Well, yes," he said. "I took him out of a place where he was stable, and it nearly killed him. I got him what I thought was a really sweet new body, and he goes into gender shock. I never even heard of gender shock! So I store him in the most male body I knew of..."

"I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so male," Cynthia said, smiling, "and it did seem to do the job."

"Except," said Rocky, "it was supposed to be temporary. If he hadn't gotten turned into a plant, I could've had a clone body grown for him, easy. But his gene code's gone. I looked at somatic image drift in non-original clone bodies, mind-body melding technology, computer thought-mapping...."

"Let it go, Rocks." She put a hand on his shoulder. "He's something new now, and he seems to be happy. I hope we have something to offer him, because I like him, and I'd like a friend who's a big, talking horse who draws beautiful pictures. And it looks like he could still be the portal navigator you were looking for. And if he is...."

"Then we could find where they went. After all these years, I don't know if I dare to hope anymore."

Out in the courtyard, under the starless indigo sky, Aaron stood in the tall grass, leaning against a house-sized boulder. His head nodded, his mind drifting in and out of dreams. In his dreams he was running across a vast prairie, where stars grew underfoot, and comets shimmered along the gullies. Others seemed to be running with him, pacing him in the dark. And the land went on forever.

But that was fine. He wasn't running to or from. Just running. He was home.

Homecoming (9) copyright 1996 by Don Simpson.

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