Kevin wasn’t a tall boy, by any means. Nobody really picked on him because he was fast, agile, and the rumor had it he was a ninja. Of course ignoring the fact that his mother was Chinese and not Japanese aside, like the true Ninja of old he did nothing to dissuade those rumors. He had no idea that that was about to get him into more trouble though.
He actually studied Taiji, or Tai Chi, which could be just as deadly in the right circumstances, but he preferred not to find out. He also belonged to a survivalist club, or at least, his alter ego did.
Hailey was big on camping, and survival skills. She could identify over two dozen kinds of mushrooms, and exactly what they would do to a person who mistakenly ingested them. She even had her own YouTube channel, ‘The Survivor Girl”, with over 500,000 subscribers the last time she had checked.
Kevin had a decent allowance which afforded him both hobbies actually: Hailey, and Survival training. Hailey wasn’t really a hobby so much as how he felt about himself though. He knew that no matter how much puberty hated him, he’d always have that Hailey look to him, which made him happy.
He wasn’t only Hailey when out with the survivalist club, but it was his best chance to be himself - or rather herself - to spend time sitting around a hand-built campfire, eating whatever they could forage, or in a pinch, a packet of MREs, and talk about things going on in their lives without the distractions of cell phones or social media.
About the only awkward conversations were when the other girls would mention something about Girl Scouts, and she’d have to come up with a reason why she hadn’t joined, mostly due to money issues, and time constraints of her family, etc.
She did enter a lot of martial arts tournaments, showing off Tai Chi as a combat form, though she rarely entered actual ranked competitions. Wendy had been to his house a few times when his parents were gone, to help film episodes of Survivor Girl, but for the most part, they tended to hang out at her house, or at the mall.
Hailey laced up her pink camouflage hiking boots, tied an old sweatshirt around her waist in case it got cold, grabbed her survival bag, and her neon teal sun visor as she headed for the door. Both her parents were gone, but they knew where she was going, they had wished him good luck before they took off and she had started taking off Kevin and becoming Hailey.
Hailey wore makeup like any typical teenage girl, except when she was going on a survival meet like this. There just wasn’t any point. She did however have an emergency makeup kit in her bug out kit: you just never knew when it could come in handy. David, their bug out leader, said that lipstick made a good marker in a pinch, and a compact’s mirror was a perfect signaling mirror.
Plus there was always the chance of going over to Wendy’s or another friend’s house after returning from a camping trip. She might go into the woods without her makeup, but she wouldn’t set foot into civilization without it.
“Hailey!” A young blonde haired girl her age called out. She was shorter than Hailey by about an inch and a half, and had a Fluttershy yellow hoodie tied around her shoulders and neck, hanging off loosely under her bug out bag. “Did you go get firearms tested yet?”
Hailey waved, nodding. “My small arms instructor had this super cute breast cancer awareness 9mm, so I rushed out and got one too.” she laughed. “I also reapplied for my hunting license.”
“Oh good. I just got mine done too. I'm glad I’m not the only one that waited so long.” She laughed. Britney, the girl’s name was, at first glance you would think Barbie, those plastic girls from school. But she wasn’t. She was pretty down to earth despite having wealthy parents.
Someone wolf whistled from nearby, and another blonde haired girl, with a fishing rod slung over her shoulder, cat called as she approached. “Oh I love those boots,” she giggled, and hugged Hailey.
“Hey Wendigo,” Hailey teased her. “What’s with the fishing tackle? I thought it was whatever you could fit in a pack?”
Wendy laughed, and then grinned impishly. “Oh, it is. It’s carbon fiber, and it breaks down like a pool cue,” she said, demonstrating, as she had the whole thing down to its own little carbon fiber carrying case in a few seconds, hanging off one of her backpack straps.
“Show-off,” Britney teased, giggling now too.
“Did you guys hear about Scott?” Wendy asked. “He’s in the hospital.”
“Jeez, what happened?” Hailey asked as they started walking.
“Stepped on a snake while out chasing Pokemon,” Wendy answered. “He’ll be okay, but his leg looks like one of Popeye’s arms.”
“That is so why I don’t play Pokemon go.” Hailey sighed. “So I mapped out our route, and I checked ahead with the forest service. They said to watch out for bears, but otherwise to have fun, and they’ll send someone to check on us if we don’t check in again by Sunday.”
“Since it’s just us girls,” Wendy said, digging out her cat ear headphones, “Anyone mind a little music while we hike?” She giggled.
“Sure. We’ll be meeting the rest of the group at the destination right?” Britney asked.
They were going to be a two day hike before they met up with the boys. That was the plan. Scott was going to come with them, before the snake incident, anyway.
“So how’s life on the homefront?” Wendy asked as they trudged down the narrow hiking trail. She had her special telescoping walking stick that she used to occasionally poke a rock, to make sure there wasn’t something hiding underneath it.
“Same ol Same ol, but did you hear my Uncle Rob got hired by a private company?” Hailey asked. “Apparently NASA’s been quietly privatised for like six months now.”
“Oh shit, are you serious?” Wendy asked, looking up. “How is that even possible?”
“There was a big scare about budget cuts and stuff, so NASA outsourced from the government.” Hailey shrugged. “It’s not who you think it is either. Elon Musk is still doing his own kind of batshit crazy,” she giggled.
“So who then?” Britney asked.
“Some big private company called Galactic Trek. Someone’s obviously a Shatner fan,” Hailey giggled again. “My uncle says they’ve been quietly developing a new kind of fusion powered engine for like ten years now, and the next step is asteroid mining, a space station on the moon, and then Mars by the end of the year.”
“No way, Fusions like 20 years off.” Britney shook her head.
“Gotta go with Brit on this one,” Wendy nodded. “I mean they have the capability, yes, but they can’t maintain it more than a split second at a time.”
“Well my Uncle Rob says different.” Hailey shrugged. “Then again...” she trailed off. “Eh, nevermind. I shouldn’t talk shit about him. He’s really bad-ass.”
“What?” Britney asked. “We won’t repeat anything. You know that.”
Hailey blushed a little. Wendy put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s rest here for a sec,” she said as they came upon a natural rest area, with a couple of large boulders by the hiking trail. After Wendy dutifully checked for snakes, scorpions, and other poisonous fiends, they sat down to catch their breath and drink some water.
“So,” Britney said expectantly.
“Okay, I’ll tell you, but this does not leave us,” Hailey sighed. “I overheard Rob talking to my dad recently about the new experimental plane. He um... He says he saw something while he was up there... Something that shouldn’t have been there.”
The girls began walking again, apparently content not to press the matter any further. It was halfway through the first day when Hailey stopped, “Hey guys, want to watch for me? I have to use the ladies tree.”
“Oh yeah sure.” Britney nodded. “And per my job in the bug out group, I did remember to bring the hand sanitizer and the wipes.”
“This time,” Wendy teased her. “Watch out for snakes,” she giggled out.
“Ugh, snakes.” Hailey groaned as she walked down a side path that was more concealed with bush. Before she even knew what was happening, a white light engulfed her, and that was the last thing thing she remembered.
Hailey woke with a start, a pair of soft, warm lips pressed against hers, forcing oxygen into her lungs. “Oh, it worked!” the girl, who had a decidedly blue tinge to her skin, despite her rather normal looking brown hair, announced relieved. The other thing Hailey noticed, there was water lapping over her legs she was laying in beach sand. She coughed and choked, spitting up some clear water from her lungs, as the blue girl helped her roll onto her side.
Hailey blushed. That was about the closest she had ever been to being kissed. The blue girl didn’t seem to notice though, sitting back and laughing a little. “I’ve never swam that hard in my life.”
“It looks like her possessions survived intact,” another girl said. She looked mostly normal, platinum blonde hair and a cute pink skirt - and a long, white cat like tail.
“Good. help her up,” a woman in her mid to late 20s called from nearby. “Let's get her on the ship before the sun sets and we lose the current.”
“My glasses...” Hailey mumbled. Everything was a blur without them, but she could definitely make out some things, like her rescuers not quite being human, or the fact the sky was a lovely shade of cotton candy pink.
“Oh,” the blonde haired girl said, producing a pair of red framed glasses. “You mean these?” she asked, carefully placing them on Hailey. She smiled sweetly at her. Hailey blinked. She could now see that the blonde girl had bright violet eyes, as well - at least in the few seconds before the other girl lifted her up like she weighed nothing at all, and carried her onto the boat.
It was a strange design like nothing Hailey had ever seen before. It had a shallow draft like the old Viking longboats, but it was large and wide. The owners, it seemed, used ladders or a gangplank to climb on board. It was also crafted from some kind of wood that Hailey couldn’t quite place despite her extensive wilderness knowledge.
“I’m glad we stopped here,” the lone human in the group said. “Good eye, Ella.”
“Well, ear, actually,” the blue girl, Ella, giggled. “I heard the splash, knew it was too big to be a fish.”
“That and this is the first time we’ve ever seen these types of trees before.” the blonde haired girl, Brie nodded. “I was able to collect some samples. If they self-replicate separate from the host organism and if we can control the process the possibilities are endless, but at the very least if the density and molecular structure is similar to the ironwood trees then we have a new limitless source of wood.”
“Damn, we could commission another ship for the guild, and hire another set of members.” Rebecca, the aforementioned lone human said with an excited grin.
“Easy,” Ella said as she gently brought a skin of what sounded, by how it sloshed around, like water up to Hailey’s lips. “Drink this. It’ll help with the headache.”
“Thanks,” Hailey groaned, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca, the aforementioned lone human, said to Hailey. “We’re just really excited. I know you have a lot of questions.”
“Where am I?” Hailey asked “Where are Wendy and Britney?”
“They’re probably safe, just wondering the same about you,” Ella said helplessly. “We’re not exactly sure where ‘here’ is, though. We were brought here against our will, too.”
“I was right in the middle of proving Grklok’s third law of psychodynamics when there was a bright light. I thought my experiment had exploded,” Brie laughed. “Woke up on a beach here with nothing but my omni scanner.” She paused. “Oh, I’m Brie. Ella is the one who saved you, and Rebecca is our fearless leader.”
“Thank you again,” Hailey said. “Are... I mean is everyone here female?” If so, Hailey thought, then whoever abducted her was in for a surprise.
“Oh no there are males here too.” Rebecca shook her head.
“It’s just that,” Brie said, “The scientists tend more to be female - not as a hard rule, but as a general expectation. Like I said, I was working on a school science project when they brought me here. It suggests a female-driven matriarchal society on their part, that perhaps they view males as a work force? Hard to say without more data.”
Ella leaned over to Hailey. “You get used to that. Brie’s race is hyper-intelligent - emphasis on ‘hyper’. Frankly I don’t know why they brought me here. I’m not that smart, and like Brie, I’m just an adolescent by my people’s standards.”
“Also very strong, like all your people,” Rebecca added. “Ella’s people, the Ionians, are galactic peacekeepers and mediators, and from what I’ve seen, she’s one of the best.”
“Yes,” Brie giggled. “My people have a word for Ella’s which, in Galactic Standard Trade - or English as you know it, roughly translates to ‘Do not piss off the Statue’.”
“That’s all one word?” Hailey asked. Ella and Rebecca laughed. Brie stuck out her tongue and giggled.
“You don’t know how hard it is to retrain yourself to speak GT when on a, Xggdrkglxtk,” she said a strange word that sounded like a series of guttural throat noises. “The mind works faster than the mouth, but verbalizing it is the only way to get it out.” She paused to giggle again. “That’s why they call me Brie, by the way.”
“Because none of us has the necessary organs to pronounce her name properly,” Ella nodded.
“My species, the... Well I’ll use the GT name, the Sartori-”
“Thanks,” Hailey giggled.
“We evolved an extra set of what you’d call vocal chords,” Brie nodded. “The best artisans can even sing in harmony with themselves. I, personally, sound like a sick gylarc caught in a waste disposal unit.”
“Almost home!” Rebecca called out.
“Already?” Ella said as she sat up.
“We caught a lucky current I think,” Rebecca nodded. Hailey sat up now. She could see from her vantage point on the medium sized ship, a large island. The beach seemed to stretch for miles, with a massive dock and a number of other ships, some smaller, a few much larger, either moored or coming and going. They were mostly sailing ships, but with a few with no visible means of power.
“How long have you guys been here?” Hailey looked shocked at how built-up the apparent island nation looked. Just from the docks, it looked like some kind of tropical paradise with all the modern amenities, including electricity.
“Our oldest member, Tricia, was the first that we know of to arrive here,” Ella said. “Approximately 60 galactic standard years ago.”
As soon as they were close to the dock, Ella leapt over the railing and landed on the reinforced dock, which shook slightly. Rebecca threw down a mooring line and Ella, with just one hand, pulled the ship the rest of the way into dock and tied it off there.
“Wow,” Hailey said, shocked. “No wonder you call her people ‘Don’t piss off the statue’.”
Rebecca laughed as she and Brie lowered the gangplank to the dock. “They’re very even tempered and gentle, but ridiculously strong, and their skin is like iron.”
“Kinda like Rhinos back home.” Hailey smiled as she nodded her head. It only just dawned on her, at that, that she still had her neon teal sun visor jutting out from her forehead like a large sign that read’ TOURIST!’. She quickly pulled it off and stuffed it into her bag, and then dug out her emergency makeup kit.
“Much denser muscle tissue, but the same basic idea yeah,” Rebecca nodded and offered her hand to help Hailey step down off the ship, after she finished applying a light coat of face covering, anyway.
Ella knelt down and leapt, landing on the ship again, where she disappeared into the cargo hold as a young woman with shoulder length, wavy blonde hair and green eyes approached them.
Her hairstyle looked like something right out of the 1940s, but her clothing style was most similar to Ella’s - some kind of material resembling silk in muted, light colors, and she spoke in a distinctly British accent. “Hello ladies,” she said warmly. “How was your trip? Oh, I see you found another lost as well!”
“She’s the first one ever dropped in the water that we know of,” Brie said. “If Ella hadn’t heard the splash she could well have drowned.”
“Or the waters could’ve given her gills,” the woman laughed softly. “For all their other healing powers we’ve seen. Welcome to Heart Island,” she said as she offered Hailey her hand. “I’m Tricia Small.”
“Hayley Dawson,” Hailey answered. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to stare,” she said sheepishly. “It’s just they told me you had been here 60 years.”
“Oh I have,” Trica laughed. “Like I said, the waters have strange healing powers. I used to be a clark at the London Museum, restoring artifacts, cataloguing and organizing. Running a society, turns out, wasn’t much different,” she teased. “Oh my,” she said as she watched Ella walk down the gangplank. It bowed under the weight of the girl and the two large tree trunks she had slung over her shoulders.
“You aren’t going to believe this,” Brie said, and then launched into a hyper tangent about how the trees self-replicated rapidly, but only in very specific soil conditions as if they were programmed not to completely overtake the island, and the possible uses for a self-replicating tree. Only Trica seemed to fully follow, nodding along. Ella and Rebecca just went about unloading other samples from the journey until she had finished.
“Fascinating,” she said, as Brie stopped to take a breath. “Simply marvelous. With this new ready access to wood we can expand our exploration efforts vastly. I’m thinking at least three more full rigged ships and crews.”
“The winds are still favorable for efficient travel, but the currents always seem to bring us back too,” Rebecca laughed.
Hailey still had a lot of questions, and it seemed to show. Tricia took her aside. “I realize this must all seem very bewildering to you,” she said. “And I won’t lie to you. Many of us have accepted that we will never leave here, but many more still hold onto hope that there’s a way back. If you need anything at all, we are more than a community, here.”
“That’s right,” Ella spoke up now. “We’re like a big family, or clan. We take care of each other here.”
“I think I might have picked up some new data on the teleportation methods the Overseers use,” Brie spoke up hesitantly. She never spoke hesitantly, and so had everyone’s undivided attention. “I was doing a cursory scan of the beach when Hailey was brought here. There’s a spike in local ionized radiation levels coinciding with her falling in the water. I need to go and analyze this data.”
“Use the main lab,” Tricia answered. Brie nodded and shot off quickly. Trica turned back to Hailey. “Come, I’ll give you a personal tour of the city.”
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