I end up carrying Anya the the last hour or so before twilight sets in and we bed down for the night. She’s not heavy and watching her try to walk while her eyelids are dropping is a bit too much for me.
Yvonne tries unsuccessfully to hide her laugh, so I dump my backpack into her arms and ignore her complaints about it.
Bat looks just as amused as Zane and Lilia.
We don’t make it back to the waterfall, but Anya’s so tuckered out from the day she eats dinner and crashes without complaint.
By the next evening, we’re back at our ships, somehow going slower on the way down than up with Anya wanting to splash in the river as much as humanly possible. But we don’t have to make camp, so I’m comfortable walking when it’s nearly dark.
It’s good to see my ship again, even after only a few days. It sits undisturbed alongside Zane and Lalia’s, collecting fallen leaves. I cycle open the airlock, let out the gangplank so Anya doesn’t have to hop in, and deposit my pack on the floor of the ship.
“Are we taking the egg shells to the station tomorrow?” Anya asks, bouncing after me as best she can, tripping a little on a fallen stick but regaining her balance. She’s been glued to my side since yesterday, and I’ve given up trying to put any amount of space between us. Yvonne is constantly smiling in our direction, but she isn’t saying anything about it, so I don’t bother trying to be snarky. She didn’t rise to any of the bait last time, anyway.
“Sure, if you’d like.”
“Yes! La said she’s going to make cheeseburgers!”
I smirk, letting her yammer on to me about every conceivable food she likes—several of which I’ve never heard the names of—before she heads off to find Lalia. Bat prances out after her.
I stretch and gaze around my old rust-bucket of a ship. It’s doing a little better now Yvonne’s paid me and I stocked up on supplies. Bat was going wild on the repairs before we left for our little hike. Probably could still use a little straightening up though, especially with the two princesses living in here as well. Tomorrow.
I shower. Find a clean pair of clothes. Glance out the viewport to find the humans have set up another campfire between our ships, cooking over it instead of the stove they have in their ship. There’s still a shred of sunlight, but fading. I turn on one of the ship’s exterior lights facing away from them so it isn’t bothersome, and grab the shell of the old robot and the bag of its parts.
Finding a seat in the fragrant grass, I spread out some of the pieces and try to figure out the best way to go about fixing the voice box so it can at least speak to us more reliably. I make a mental note to buy wiring and maybe take this particular part in to Pak before we head off-planet. Staying here a few more days sounds good.
Anya finds me after a few minutes, sitting cross-legged and watching me fumble through the voice box repairs. She’s back to bare feet, and there’s plenty of grass around here, so I don’t worry about her hurting herself.
“Can you get it to talk again?”
“Not sure. Giving it my best shot.”
“The food’s almost ready.”
She stares at my side so long I follow her gaze, trying to figure out what’s wrong. It’s just my smaller pistol, usually hidden under my coat but now in the open with the balmy weather
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Can you teach me how to use that?” she asks.
I raise an eyebrow. “Why?”
She shrugs. “You guys know how to.”
Her nose scrunches. “Doubtful, but okay.”
She has no idea. I feel no particular need to fill her in on all the gory details.
“Yvonne knows how to shoot,” she points out. “And you said you can shoot guns out of people’s hands.”
“I did say that, didn’t I,” I mutter.
“And Bat shoots too!”
She watches me expectantly. It isn’t the worst idea. Can’t decide if Yvonne will chew me out for it, and whether or not that’s a deterrent or a bonus. If it annoys her, such will be my payback, I suppose. A little target practice won’t hurt. She doesn’t need much coordination with her new limbs for something along those basic lines.
“Okay, but just target practice. I’m not showing you the mechanics until I’m confident you can handle it comfortably.”
She claps her hands softly, grinning, which is one of the most annoyingly adorable things she’s done so far.
What the hell have I gotten myself into?
It’s not so bad, I suppose.
Helping her up, I find a spot in the trees where it’s open and the grasses don’t obscure anything which could be hiding. The trunk of a large tree will make a decent target, even in the fading twilight.
“Alright,” I mutter, taking out the smaller pistol with less recoil and noise. “This is the safety, I’m turning it off, don’t ever pick up one of my guns when the safety is off, understand?”
She nods, watching my hands. I let her take it and she holds it gingerly.
“It’s not going to bite you, just don’t ever point it at anything or anyone you’re not prepared to badly injure at the very least.”
Crouching beside her, I hold up her arms at the correct level, showing her the best way to stand and where to look through the sight.
“Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull. Go ahead, aim for the big tree.”
She swallows, but furrows her eyebrows in the same concentration her sister often employs. A long pause passes, and a shock of blue cuts the air and misses the tree by a long shot. My new ears don’t crackle at the sharp noise even if the flash of heat annoys my eyes. I glance over my shoulder, but other than Lalia peeking her head around the corner of my ship to see what the noise is about, no one comes running.
“Relax. I never hit anything on my first try either.”
“Can you do it?”
She’s never seen me shoot. Shrugging, I take my other pistol and plant a shot into the dead center of the trunk. Her eyebrows raise.
She nods, lip-chewing smile more determined. I readjust her grip. Her new fingers are tiny to fit her age, but the pistol is small enough she can hold it properly. I remember Audra teaching me to shoot. It wasn’t with a tree in a forest, and I was a little older than Anya, but it was a similar beginning process. I swallow tightly.
“Go ahead, try again.”
It takes her five more shots, but eventually she hits the tree. It’ll probably be easier in daylight, but she seems thrilled enough as it is, bouncing in place a little while still holding the pistol safely forward. She’s got good sense about it, at least.
“Good, wanna keep going?”
She aims, taking another shot hitting closer to the center of the trunk. I take another glance back. Yvonne is sitting on the wing of my ship, legs dangling off, watching us. I can barely see her shape in the shred of lightover left, mostly just her heat signature against the cool of the craft.
She waves, and I stare for a long moment. There’s the look on her face again, the weirdly soft one I don’t know how to interpret. No annoyance touches her expression when my eyes stop glitching enough to catch her face.
I wave back, and she smiles.