Surprise! Happy Halloween Earthlings! Enjoy your holiday along with this special entry of Life on the Hybridian Way where Felix meets his new assistant and all her smiling friends! :)
It had been a terrible night – terrible! – and all Felix wanted was the comfort of his lab.
He walked as fast as he could without actually running, ducking his head and pushing through the static soup filling the harshly lit corridor. He ignored the few stares from the Hybridians walking down the hall and the even fewer greetings, most of them barely more than grunts. It had taken them a few months, but the rest of blue sector had learned to tolerate his human presence.
At least they don't scatter like they've just seen a Jumble rat anymore, he thought grimly. Only took them a month and a half.
Their vague animosity buzzed against his bones, making his skin itch. Felix walked faster, as if that could take him out of the bubble of their suspicion. He wanted- no, he needed to be in his lab. The smell of hot metal, the sound of the machinery, the humming whine of his favorite laser cutter. It was the only space on this whole ship that was his.
He turned the final corner and heaved a sigh of desperate relief when he stopped in front of his door. He keyed open the door, the universal numbers for '712' mutely shining under the overheads. They were worn, their edges smoothed from long years of service. The words written in plain old English above them however, were new, their raised edges still sharp from the cutting laser.
Nice to see they finally got my name on the door, Felix thought with a touch of pride as the door slid open. He breathed in deep, anticipating the sight of the long rectangular room waiting for him, with his favorite station a massive block center left before the door, its top smooth and clear like glass. There was another smaller station for the other half of the room that he'd been using as a table, since he didn't share the room, and the walls were lined with the large equipment – the 3d printer and the computer station hooked directly into Persephone's artificial brain and the like – while cabinets and counter space for the smaller stuff filled up the space in between.
He heard the door whoosh open and a small smile touched his face as he opened his eyes to the familiar sight-
-and saw it covered...by pumpkins?
Felix stood there, gawking. Yes, they were pumpkins! Pumpkins everywhere! Pumpkins on the lasers! Pumpkins on the strain gauges! Pumpkins on the crystallized light emitter! They were on his station and his tools and in his sink. They sat in cutesy little gabbing clusters and on top of each other in bizarrely grinning totems. They ranged from handheld babies to one worthy of the name 'The Great Pumpkin' sitting by itself in a recently emptied corner like an overgrown bean bag chair. They were a sea of grinning, gap-toothed, gaping pumpkins and they were all staring at him with arrow-slit eyes from every corner, surface, and cabinet. Even from the top of the 3d printer!
I've been invaded by gourds!
He stood outside the door so long that it closed. He blinked, trying to make sense of what he'd just seen...and coming up with nothing.
Hesitantly, he put in the key code again. Please be a hallucination. Please be a hallucination. Please, please, please-
If they were all in his head, they were remarkably persistent. They still filled the room when the door slid away into the wall, and as he stepped across the threshold, he noticed more of them.
Oh man, they're multiplying. I always knew they multiplied behind your back.
He stood just inside the door, unable to make himself get any closer. They were leering at him with their narrow eyes. At least they don't smell, he thought as he looked around, the hairs on the back of his neck rising on end. The smell of pumpkins made him ill. He didn't go outside on November first at all. Thanksgiving could be salvaged with pecan pies and stuffing, but not November first.
He looked up and saw a banner, bright orange with blocky black letters, stretched across his back cabinets that read Happy Hallowine! One side was noticeably lower than the other.
A woman in one of the familiar pale gray lab coats was fussing with one end of the banner, her back to him as she stretched on the toes of her low heels to try and reach the crooked side. Pearly white hair was bound up in a high ponytail at the back of her head and he could see the silvery patina of her secondary skeleton over the top of the typical high Hybridian collar. A friendly yellow-orange streak – to match the pumpkins naturally – trailed down one side of her pony.
He finally remembered how to talk. "What in Orion's Belt...?"
The woman turned around so sharply she almost fell. Felix caught a glimpse of large coppery-brown eyes set in a pale oval face, like a moon that could blink.
She caught herself and tripped over to him, her heels making clacking noises against the hard surface of the floor. Felix was glad she wore the lab coat; it helped contain the flash of her clothes underneath. Her blouse was bright red and her skirt a dark autumnal brown with a bright yellow design falling from the side of her waist and curving past the lowest corner before mirroring the hemline, reminding Felix of a leaf falling. She wore a pale orange sash knotted at one hip and her sheer stockings were colored to match, tucked into pointy-toed low-heeled boots.
She beamed when she saw him, showing straight rows of teeth as white as her hair. "Oh it's you! I'm so glad you're finally here!" She stopped beside him and swept an arm out to take in the many, many pumpkins. "Like what I've done with the place?" From the pleased smile on her face, she obviously expected a favorable answer.
Felix stared at the room staring back at him. "No."
The stranger only laughed and shook a finger at him. "Doctor Watts warned me you were a stick in the mud. But I told him there's never been a stick that could resist my charms."
She beamed that smile again, and a cold sensation ran along his spine. Everything about her screamed fangirl of one sort or another.
"Who are you?" Felix demanded.
She blinked copper-brown eyes at him, smile momentarily eclipsed by a look of blank confusion before it returned in full force. "Oh, right." She stuck out a hand and beamed. "Lu'naiti of Hybridia, graduated top of my class from the Royal University specializing in micro-crystal construction and interactive holo-programming before becoming technician first class of his highness's ship. You can call me Lunai."
Felix stared at her hand, then looked up at her from under shaggy bangs. "And you're here to...redecorate?"
She giggled, the sound rimmed by static. "Of course not. Doctor Watts asked if I would like to be your assistant – well, one of them anyway – and I said yes, so feel free to consider this-” She spun in a circle with her hands held up to take in all the grinning faces. "-my resume!"
He looked at her sideways. "At pumpkin carving?"
That electric giggle again, the accompanying ripples in her field charging the little hairs on his arms. "No, only one of them's real. The rest are either holo-projections or crystallized light sculptures. All penned and programmed by yours truly." Her smile took on a note of pride. "I thought that since you didn't hire me yourself you'd want to see what I'm capable of."
Felix hid his surprise as he grudgingly leaned closer to one of the pumpkins clustered on his favorite table. He could see uneven cut marks around the eyes and mouth, like it had been cut with a kitchen knife, and the light within flickered and guttered like there was a candle inside, even though he saw nothing when he peeked past the single tooth in the mouth. The outer skin was bright and semi-mottled, not one color like most people would assume if they had created a 3d model, but there was no smell of damp squash, no smell at all actually. It was made entirely of crystallized light, like she said.
"Very convincing," he admitted with a grunt as he straightened up and stepped away, putting some distance between him and the sculpture. "Now get rid of them. Please," he made sure to add for the sake of office politics.
Her expression fell but didn't crash into disappointment. "You really don't like them?" she asked.
Felix shook his head, tucking his arms under his armpits. "They creep me out," he admitted. "They never stop staring at you. And they look like they're on fire but they don't burn. I don't like it."
"Oh," she said, sounding surprised. "Well fizz, I thought this would make you feel more at home, given that by Earth's calendar it's only a few days until your All Hallow's Eve celebration. My research showed Hallowine is a very popular holiday." She perked up quickly enough. "Well, it was just preliminary research after all. I still can't wait to learn more about Man from a real human!"
Felix stared at her. She made it sound like she was going to observe him rather than assist him. "It's Halloween," he corrected her first. "And I hate jack-o-lanterns."
Her bright smile faltered. "Aw, but they're so cute!" She leaned over and scratched one gourd under the chin, like other people would pet a puppy.
He grimaced and shuddered, trying not to look the jack-o-lantern in the eye. "Look whatever-your-name-is-"
"Lunai," she repeated, hardly put off by his sharp tone.
"Lunai, I don't know what Watts told you, but I don't need an assistant. I've made it this far without one and, quite frankly, it would probably take me a month to catch you up."
Far from disappointed, Lunai laughed, the sound lighthearted. "Well of course you need my help, silly human. How are you going to run the equipment if I'm not here?"
He edged around the stack of pumpkins standing on top of each other at the corner of his work table. "I'm sure I'll figure it out- Gah!" He jumped back when he saw the one grinning at him from his stool. Unlike the others, this one was real. He could smell it from here. "For the love of- Would you get them out of here?" he snapped.
Lunai made a face he was very familiar with – the one that said, "Aye-aye Captain Crazypants." – and stepped around him to pick the jack-o-lantern.
He waited until she'd taken it around to the other side before taking his empty seat. He scowled at the woman when he saw she was still there, watching him with bright curious eyes.
She looked away first and nodded at the computer set against the wall, hooked up to the Persephone's equipment list and available supplies. "All of our equipment is field manipulated," she told him. "And as a human, you just don't emit enough bioelectricity to control anything. That's why none of the other labs here have keypads, because they have sensors tuned in to specific field lengths. It's like-” She narrowed her eyes and looked up and to the side as she thought of a viable comparison. "-it's like if you tried to operate a remote without any fingers." She shrugged. "I'm here to be your bioelectric fingers."
Felix frowned. He had of course already noticed that the Hybridians controlled their doors and quarter controls with their static fields. Watts had assured him he would address his more organic handicaps, as it were.
This is not the solution I had in mind, Felix grumbled to himself.
But he didn't see a way to argue against it. He doubted whining to Watts would do any good and he'd only feel like a tattle tale.
"Fine," he grumbled, "but you've to get rid of these things!" He watched the one sitting on top of his current gauge sidelong. It was staring at him with big eyes and an even bigger grin.
He picked up his tab stylus and turned the pumpkin around so its back was to him.
"Oh all right." Lunai blew out a put upon sigh. "But your Earth holidays are so exciting! The best we have is the Day of Northern Congress – that's the anniversary of when Emperor H'rische unified the continent – and people stare when you dress up for that." She tilted her head at him. "Don't you like dressing up?"
Felix let his head fall back and held back the exasperated groan trying to get out. "Yes," he told her, hoping it would de-pumpkinize his lab faster. "But the other kids always made fun of my costumes, chased me down, and took my candy, so forgive me if I'm not too keen on the decorations!" That and the ringleader Tommy Canor – an older kid in his apartment building who resented Felix because he got to skip grades while Tommy was repeatedly held back – had crammed a semi-rotten jack-o-lantern on his head when he was eight. His head had gotten stuck inside and he'd had to use his plastic lightsaber as a blind man's cane so he could find his way home. He'd picked pumpkin guts out of his ears for three days and gotten a seed up his nose.
"Aw..." she said with sheer pity, her big eyes growing rounder.
He frowned at her. "Stop that." He pointed his stylus at her.
She quickly obliged, her pale face returning to her happy neutral. "Can I at least keep the banner? Or I could redecorate for you! I saw this really cute image on Organicisms where someone had put spider webs all over their house! And there was a thing called a scarecrow and-Oh! We could make a haunted lab!"
She emitted a high pitched squee as she jumped up and down, her excitement building to dangerous levels.
Afraid she would cover his lab with real webs instead of the fake cotton ones, Felix held up his hands. "Look, you can keep the banner if you promise not to add anything else. It's not exactly worth decorating when you don't even have the candy anyway."
He thought that would be the end of it, since the Persephone wasn't exactly expecting a huge shipment of sweets and Lunai struck him as a 'do it right or don't do it at all' sort of person.
She gave a small gasp and clattered across the room. Felix shook his head, not bothering to look up. Watts and I are gonna have a long talk next time I see him, Felix promised as he ran a finger down the side of his work table, activating the monitor that was set inside, made to look like glass. The whole table lit up and holographic icons and notes left from his last session sprang up above it, casting a dim blue light over his chin.
He frowned at them, sifting through his notes with careful fingers. He was just starting to get into it when the clack of Lunai's boots reappeared. She stopped next to him. "Like this?" she asked brightly.
Felix sighed, closing his eyes for patience before turning around-
-only to find his nose inches from a great big bowl of Fruitsy Rolls.
He looked over the rim of the bright green bowl at Lunai's smiling face. She lifted the sea of brightly colored candies out to him, her eyes large and expectant. "Come on," they seemed to say, "you know you want to."
Green eyes flicking down to the colorful wrappers, he reached down and carefully pulled out a bright red one. Cherry had always been his favorite.
"Thanks," he mumbled as he untwisted the ends.
She grinned. "Feel better?" she asked.
He popped the candy into his mouth and shrugged one shoulder. "A little," he admitted.
He chewed in silence, facing the shiny surface of his monitor. He could practically feel happiness radiating off Lunai like light off the sun.
"I still don't like pumpkins," he told her.
She giggled, the sound sending a ripple of giddy sparks through her static field so that it sounded like a bumblebee was bouncing across it. "That's okay. They clean up easy."
She snapped her fingers, field snapping with it. The bioelectricity coursed through a dozen different systems, flicked twice as many circuit board switches, and all but one of the pumpkins dissolved into light and crystal energy, taking their creepy staring eyes and too-wide smiles with them.
He found himself staring suspiciously at the one left behind. "What fancy-pants tool did you use to make that one?" he asked.
Lunai grinned, orange streak flashing amidst her pearly white hair it swayed. "These babies." She held up her hands and Felix saw the nails had been painted in patterns of bright red and muted brown to match her outfit. She smiled as she watched his face, taking note of his surprise as she picked up the single real gourd. "Never program a computer to do something you don't know how to do yourself. It never looks good and it'll take twice as long to get it right," she told him with a wink. "That's the secret to my success."
He nodded his head as she turned and left, the small pumpkin propped against her hip.
He waited until she was gone before taking another cherry from the bowl.