Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 17
“Wow,” Seika said, looking around. “Nice house!”
“It’s a little big,” Holly said. “I mean, for me and Dad. But everywhere we’ve lived we ended up finding some way to fill the space, so Dad said –”
“– this time we’ll make sure there’s always enough space,” Trayne Owen’s voice finished.
“Hey, Dad,” she said, noticing how that phrase was actually becoming normal, and trying not to let the Steve part of her freak out, “This is Seika, Seika, this is my dad Trayne Owen.”
“Hi, Mr. Owen! Thanks for letting me come over.”
“It’s my pleasure, Seika. I’m glad to see Holly’s made a friend already. Holly, have you got homework today?”
“I did it all last period, Dad, so I didn’t have to worry.”
“We both did,” Seika confirmed. “Otherwise Mom wouldn’t have let me come either.”
“All right. You two go have fun; I’ve still got a little work to do before dinner.”
“So what does your dad do?” Seika asked as Holly led her toward her room.
“Technical consultant. Means he comes up with ideas to make things work that aren’t, mostly. He’s really good at it.”
Seika paused, staring at the wall of weapons in the living room. “Wow, are those your dad’s?”
Holly almost corrected her, but caught herself. Remember the cover story. “Mostly. A couple are mine, but most of them are Dad’s. Same for the posters and a lot of the books.”
The wall wasn’t set up identically to the way it had been in Steve’s apartment, and Silvertail had in fact added some keepsakes of his own which looked very exotic. The extra space had also allowed Steve to unpack pretty much everything he owned; someone like Dex might have noticed some similarities, but the setup and number of items was different enough that it probably wouldn’t immediately set off alarm bells. Not that I’m going to be bringing Dex here anyway. He’s not part of this and he doesn’t have any need to know.
The latter was a good thing, despite the fact that Steve occasionally really missed Dex. If Dex had a flaw, it was that he wanted things to be magical and special so badly that Steve suspected it’s be very difficult for him to know the truth and not really, really envy Steve, despite the . . . challenges presented by becoming Princess Holy Aura.
“So, um, Holly, can I ask you something?” Seika said as they came into Holly’s room.
Why does she sound so nervous? “Sure, what?”
“Well . . . you’ve never mentioned your mom, so I was just wondering . . .”
“Oh.” She found herself dropping her gaze to the floor, without even thinking about it. “I . . . well, we lost Mom back when I was pretty little.”
“Lost? You mean –”
“She died. She’d said she was feeling ‘funny’ and out of breath, and then she . . .” Holly heard her voice trembling, and swallowed, stopped.
“Oh. Oh, fu . . . I mean, I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay,” she managed. Using the truth the right way works. Doesn’t make it hurt less.
Because that was the truth, even though it had happened to Stephen Russ, not Holly Owen, and almost thirty years ago, not seven or eight. But thinking about it now, as Holly, he saw it all too clearly. He could remember watching his mother just collapse to the kitchen floor, and the paramedics arriving, and eventually having his father take him aside to tell him that Mother wasn’t ever coming home.
She blinked hard, wiped away a couple tears. Convincing, anyway. “‘Sokay,” she repeated. “Just don’t talk about it in front of Dad.”
“I won’t! Promise!”
“I guess I’d better be ready to explain for a while,” Holly said after a moment of thought. “I mean, that’s a question people are going to ask.”
“You’re probably right,” agreed Seika. She looked around the room. “Wow again. I think your room’s bigger than our living room. And is that a Powercom Shine Pro?”
“Yeah, maybe you can help me learn more about it. You use Powercom computers, right?”
“Yeah, but we don’t have a Shine Pro!”
Holly began to relax again. Seika really was a geek of the kind she knew well. They spoke the same language. There were still hidden verbal landmines all over the place, of course — evading the discussion of why she’d been previously using a computer ten years out of date took some mental gymnastics, for instance, given that Trayne Owen could obviously have afforded to buy her a new computer every year if she wanted.
With a little effort, though, she kept their talk mostly focused on learning about the geeky subjects that interested young members of that intellectual group. Homestuck had been a stroke of good fortune, but Holly was all too aware that she didn’t have a clue about most things the younger crowd did as a matter of course.
I’m really going to have to practice my texting, she thought. Even while we’ve been here, Seika’s texted three different people. It’s completely habitual with her, and I guess everyone else our age.
“So, Holly, what do you think about this Princess Holy Aura?”
Holly started and barely got hold of herself. Don’t look guilty, for chrissake! “Princess who?”
“Well, that’s what people say her name is. You did hear about the two monsters, right? That rock-worm and the huge blob-thing that people saw at the mall?”
“Oh, that! I didn’t hear about this princess thing, though.”
“Well, look!” Seika expertly tapped out searches into the computer.
Wow. Even more stuff than I thought. That’s not a half-bad picture of Holy Aura, either, though it’s a little blurry. “Dad was wondering if it was some kind of weird publicity stunt for a movie or something.”
Seika gave her a look reserved for idiots. “What’s your dad on? The one parking lot was totally trashed, there was damage to half the mall, and people like my friend Alyssa are in therapy after what they saw!”
Holly raised her hands defensively. “Hey, I was just saying what Dad said! I didn’t know anything about it!”
“Then it’s time to teach you how to get the truth out of the Web! Never listen to the news — I’ll bet your dad thinks they tell the truth! Look, here’s what I do . . .”
Holly was impressed. When I was a kid, I don’t think teenagers knew what politics was. She’s fourteen and already looking for her own news sources. And boy is she sharp. This just reinforced her conviction that trying to hide the truth from anyone who did get involved would be worse than useless.
She glanced up, startled. Light had faded to twilight as they talked. “Coming, Dad!”
“What’s for dinner?” Seika asked.
“Sushi. I hope you like sushi?”
“I love it. So does my little brother Van, so he’s gonna be jealous.”
They came into the dining room where there was a variety of sushi on elaborate display. “That’s really pretty, Mr. Owen. I didn’t hear the delivery guy come, when did it get here?”
Holly saw Silvertail’s human form give a broad grin. “No delivery guy, Seika; I made these myself.”
Seika stared as Holly shot Silvertail a “seriously?” look. “You made this? Awesome.”
As they sat down, the phone on the wall rang. Trayne picked it up. “Hello, Owen residence. Who? Oh, Mr. Cooper. Yes, we were just sitting down to dinner. They’ve been getting along just fine. I could bring . . . certainly, if you’d rather . . . That would be fine. It’s a Friday so I don’t require a fixed bedtime for Holly, so the time’s entirely up to you. Of course. Thank you for calling!”
“That was my dad?”
“It was. He says he will pick you up at around eight-thirty to nine; they’re going to watch a movie with Van.”
Time passed quicker than Holly liked; she was genuinely sad when she heard the bell ring downstairs. “That’ll be your dad.”
It was indeed Seika’s father; in contrast to his at-best-average-height daughter, Dave Cooper was a mountain, at least six foot three and built like a linebacker. “Hey, Sei, you have fun?” he said as they came down the steps.
“Lots of fun! Dad, this is Holly, Holly, this is my dad–”
“Hi,” Holly said. Crap, I’m still not used to being this small. Shaking his hand feels like I’m a kid shaking hands with my Uncle Pete.
“Hello, Holly, nice to meet you,” Dave said, then turned to Trayne. “So, did Seika behave?”
“I sincerely doubt you ever have a problem with her behaving. I hardly heard a peep from either of them except at dinner. Oh, here.” He handed Mr. Cooper a snap-top container. “Seika mentioned others in her family might want some, so I’ve packed the leftover sushi in there.”
“Oh, now, I can’t take–”
“I insist. Consider it a hello present from someone new to the neighborhood who’s glad to see his little girl’s made a new friend.”
“Well, that’s kind of you. Have to reciprocate next time, then. Seika, would you like to have Holly visit us?”
“Can she? Tomorrow?”
Mr. Cooper laughed. “That’s short notice, so I’d have to check it with your mom. But if it’s okay with Mr. Owen?”
“I have no objection.”
“All right, then I’ll give you a call tomorrow and let you know.”
After a few more goodbyes the door finally closed. “That seemed to go well,” Silvertail said, reverting to white-rat form.
“Were you worried?”
“Of course I was. You are hardly a professional at deception, Steve, and in fact your basically honest nature makes it difficult for you.”
“Not much deception,” Holly said. “I’m . . . well, not really Steve so much anymore. He’s there — it’s not like I’m forgetting him — but the longer I live as Holly the more I am Holly. I just have to watch for the places where Holly’s . . . blank, filled only by whatever Steve has.”
“Yes. But I must give you credit, Steve — Holly. Your decision to spend considerable time accustoming yourself to being Holly, even at the risk of more attacks, was indeed the wisest possible course of action. You can pay attention to what is happening around you without risking betrayal of your basic nature.”
“Good thing, too. If I was still really thinking as Steve all the time, I don’t think I could possibly have relaxed around Seika.”
“I suppose not.” He looked at her, beady red eyes suddenly narrowed. “But you have something else to say.”
“Yeah. Remember how you said these adversaries are shaped by the modern perceptions and beliefs? Would it be more likely to be things relevant to, well, my age group? My peers? Or to the adults?”
The little rat’s face became visibly thoughtful. “An interesting question. In many prior civilizations the . . . memes, so to speak, were less fragmented. While children might have different interests, they rarely had completely separate mythologies, so to speak. Are you saying there is a separation?”
“Ohhhh yeah. Millennials and younger kids have a whole new set of, well, urban legends, stories they tell each other, invent whole cloth and pass around. Some of them don’t go anywhere, others go viral. And after a while, some start to be less stories and more actual internet mythology. Seika was touring me around all the sites she visits and where her online friends hang out, and boy, there’s a lot of this stuff. Tumblr legends, creepypastas, all sorts of stuff that’s . . . well, partly ironic, partly just stories, but you can tell reading some of the forums that some of it may not be.”
Silvertail shimmered, becoming Trayne Owen again. “Show me.”
She watched as Trayne skimmed page after page, and saw his expression growing darker every moment. Finally he closed the web browser and turned toward her.
“What is it, Silvertail?”
“I am very much afraid,” he said after a moment, “that your generation’s fascination with the insidious and macabre may serve as the foundation for the most horrific and implacable manifestations ever faced by mankind.”