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Year 2 Birthday

Posted on Sat Jan 8th, 2022 @ 2:19am by Lieutenant JG Alia Fitzgerald

This was Alia's first birthday without her sisters and she felt their absence keenly. Last year, they had still been gathered on Earth but now all had gone their own ways. They (and their more recently acquired relatives) had sent gifts which were lined neatly on her desk. Patty and Reena were working on an agricultural world as consultants to increase the colonists' food production. They had sent a lovely crystal sculpture of a dancer that somehow always seemed brighter than the light of the room. The figure was next to a miniature tree that required little water but bloomed every few weeks. Zenna was an apprentice mechanic for a firm that salvaged tech... mostly derelict starships. From her there came a book of stories (on actual paper) that she had found on her last junket.

The other gifts she wasn't quite as sure about. Shannon had sent a dress that was unflattering even by Alia's unsophisticated tastes. Dominic's gift was a rock... not a rare or noteworthy one, just something from his latest mine. Eileen had sent a very brief message... just an address and a name... without any other explanation.

She made a face and struggled into the dress. As she suspected, it was ill-fitting, and unflattering even considering that. It was especially tight around her chest but there was nothing to be done... and since it was a rather awful shade of orange, the bad cut was hardly noticeable by comparison. She put on her best smile and recorded a message to her 'sister'. “Thank you so much for the dress Shannon! I love that I have more family now to share this time with. Please tell me what you want for your birthday. Bye!” She immediately started stripping out of the thing after the recording.

Tavay, who had come in sometime during the message, laughed. “Well, I was convinced.”

Alia tossed her the dress, “You can wear it, then.”

“Oh, no no! I couldn't steal your beloved present.”

“Is that woman really so clueless? I don't think I can imagine an uglier dress than that.”

Tavay smoothed out the folds of the dress. “No, I don't think you can.”

The younger girl frowned, “You're serious? You think this is on purpose?”

“I don't think it's impossible.” She put the dress aside and lay back on Alia's bed. “Let me point out, you look just like her dead sister, right?”

“Well, yes, that goes without saying.” Alia had never met the woman whose genes she shared so she didn't feel the pain of her absence... not the way she felt the loss of Eleanor who was her mother in all but name.

“It would be natural if some of the feeling she had for her might be passed on to you, right? Perhaps even magnified since you are the younger version of her sister, not the one she last remembers.”

“So, any love she has would be greater?”

“And any dislike as well. I hate to say it, but I don't think she liked Eileen very much. So instead the image of her beloved sibling returned to her, or even a long-lost niece, what she was got was a detested sister that she thought long dead.”

Alia sat down, “That's... hard to hear.” And she actually did feel a pang of pain that she hadn't expected. Family meant a lot to her, more than anything really, but that even one of her new extended family would dislike her was hurtful.

“Well, it's even worse, from her point of view. You not only look like her dead sister, you are young. And, judging by your sisters, you'll look like this for at least the rest of her life and probably decades afterward.”

“That... that's just not fair!”

“No it's not but there's a bit of light in that tunnel. It might be that she doesn't even realize how she's behaving, not fully. It seems like she's at least making some effort, so I wouldn't say it's hopeless. On some level, maybe she does want things to be better this time.”

Alia was silent, digesting this information. “Soooo... you're serious about becoming a counselor after school?”

Tavay laughed, delighted. “It's crossed my mind. And, frankly, I'm only telling you this now so you don't get hurt worse later. There's some guesswork to this analysis, though I think it's pretty close. If she gets past this, you can have a chance at having a real relationship. But only if at least one of you sees the situation with your eyes uncovered.”

She sighed and flopped on the bed next to her friend. “Assuming you are right about everything, what can I do about it?”

“Not a damned thing. But, if you want to maximize your chances just be yourself. What she sees is the shade of her dead sister. Be ALIA and make her see you.”

Alia pondered this, “I gather this is more of a long-term goal.”

“Relatively.” She ruffled the girl's hair. “But look at this way, you have the rest of your lives to work on it. Oh, by the way, happy birthday!”

Alia hugged her tightly. Tavay wasn't exactly like a sister... she was a friend and that's what Alia needed just then.

“So what do you have planned for your big day? I mean, besides eating a tasty, tasty meal that I'm treating you to tonight.”

“Actually, I have a little mystery to solve. Is the restaurant downtown anywhere?”

“It's your birthday, it can be wherever you need to go. Why do you ask?”

“This.” She showed Tavay the message from Eileen.

“Hmmmm, that is a mystery.” She jumped up. “Well, what are you waiting for? An invitation?” She pointed at the message, “Well, there it is!”

Fortunately for Tavay, the address was within walking distance even for the non-athletic. Barely. By the time they got there, she was more than ready for the mystery to move on to the denouement and then dinner. The address led them to a small shop off the main streets.

Alia cocked her head, “Is it normal for a business not to have a sign?”

“No, no it's not. Let's go in and see what this 'Angelo' has waiting for us.”

Inside was a surprisingly normal music shop. There were a variety of instruments around the room, arranged in cases or displayed on the walls. The area was smallish and empty of any people but an open archway in the back invited further exploration.

The two girls moved through the arch into a room dedicated to the repair and construction of modern instruments. A wide variety of tuners and what vaguely resembled a diagnostic bed for humanoids dominated the area. Alia pointed toward the back. “I think there's another doorway back there, behind the scanner.”

The next room was dedicated to 21st century synthesizers and the one after that to a variety of instruments, mostly ones that had 'electric' in their names. Tavay muttered, “If we come to a room with fallen logs and rocks, I'm leaving.”

“Before that, I think I hear something up ahead.” Indeed they found someone who they assumed to be the proprietor of the shop working busily, apparently immune to distractions. He was wearing a loud floral shirt, short pants and some kind of footwear that was an eye-searing collage of color. He was bent over a violin back that he was carefully planing to the proper thickness.

Alia whispered to her friend, “That looks very complicated. I didn't realize violins had so many parts..”

Tavay was about to answer when the man spoke up. “There's no way you can disturb me more than you are right now, so you might as well speak normally.”

She stammered, “I'm s-sorry, I was told to come here by my... by Eileen Jacobs.”

The man's face lit up. “Oh, you're Leen's aunt?” He finally turned fully toward the two after giving the back one last pass. “C'mon Blondie, Sweetcheeks, I'll get your present for you.” He led them back to a previous room and he brought out a case and put it on a table. “Happy Birthday!”

Alia opened up the case and she saw a gleaming Fender Stratocaster cradled in the molded padding of the case. While not factory-new, it was in superb shape, a gleaming piece of art in cherry red and chrome. She hesitantly touched its surface? “For me? This must be...”

“Rare? Gorgeous? Breathtaking? Yes, yes it is. Your niece acquires items all the time and gives most of them to me. She came across this one and thought you'd appreciate it after the application of my particular genius.” He made absolutely no attempt to hide his pride in the results. “It's fortunate that I stock a small supply of genuine wood for my work to mend the areas that had been damaged by time and misuse. Would you believe this beauty was actually cataloged for years as an Antaran torture device?” He ran a finger down the case, “Although, I have to say, in the wrong hands it wouldn't be too far off.” He gave her a grin, “Why not try it out, Sweetcheeks? See if you have the right hands?”

Alia put on the guitar, frowned and then adjusted the strap to give her arm more room.

“Oh, you wear it low, do you? Don't worry about the attachments... I installed a button power source and micro-amp. Should give you plenty of sound and not change the characteristics of it at all.”

“Okay, then.” She turned on the power and felt it vibrate under her hands as she tested the sound. As expected, Angelo had already tuned it as near perfect as she could detect with her ear. She pulled a pick out of the case and played a strong chord on impulse, wild and powerful. The sound was raw, much more so than in most popular music which either was ultra-clean synthesizers or hearkened back to more genteel music pre-spaceflight. She felt like she was holding a growling cat that would have to be coaxed, mastered, befriended, tamed.

She fell in love immediately.

Tavay grinned, “That is pretty wild, Alia. Can you play anything on that... thing?”

“All I know is some acoustic pieces that I learned from Eileen. I don't know if they would be suitable.”

Angelo sported a grin, much like Tavay's “She likes it, I think. Play whateverthehell you want, 'Cheeks. It's your axe, after all.”

She treated them to a ridiculously amateurish version of “House of the Rising Sun”, enjoying herself all the while. “This is awesome, thank you so much Angelo!” Her heart was still beating wildly as if she had just finished a 100m dash.

“Well, of course you should thank me. That'd be a pile scrap without my skill. I gotta say, though, Eileen has an eye for ability. There's no one better for that keen insight that looks right into your core.” He laughed, “A'course, it's a bit of blow when she tells you that you have no talent for music. I've seen a few egos torn apart by her as well.”

Tavay laughed, “She tell you that?”

“Crap girl, no! If you're lucky, you'll get to hear Bessie when I'm through rebuilding her.”

Alia touched him on the arm, “I'm sure she will be wonderful... whatever she is.”

“Damn straight. Now get along and practice, Sweetcheeks. I want you to do that baby proud and you aren't getting any better standing around her and jawing.”

“Goodbye, then. Thank you again.”

As they left the shop, Alia burdened with her gift, Tavay commented, “I'm really surprised you weren't in full blush mode while we there. You must be getting tougher.”

“Why would I be?”

“Well he kept calling you 'Sweetcheeks'. I was sure that would do it.”

Alia looked puzzled, “He thought I had a nice face, right?”

Tavay started laughing so hard that she had to stop walking because she couldn't draw a breath properly. Finally she was able to say, “Alia, honey, those were not the cheeks he was talking about!”

With that, Alia did, in fact, blush all the way to dinner... and every time she picked up her guitar for a long time afterwards.


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