As usual, I’m squeaking in at the end of Taliana’s party. The theme this time is a Garden Party, so I figured it would be fun to revisit my space station characters from several parties ago. And apparently when I think “Garden Party,” I think “Alice in Wonderland.” Also, I had a bit of a fever yesterday. So… you know. Enjoy!
A Station 6 Garden Party
“I don’t know why we had to come down to this blasted surface at all!” Ham bellowed.
Cris winced. They stood at the edge of a sprawling garden party being set up in the largest “room” of a byzantine hedge labyrinth. Station 6 was passing the planet, and all the station’s major functionaries had been invited. Ham, the diminutive hamster-shaped security chief, had brought along a tiny megaphone to ensure he’d be heard in all the ambient noise of a planet’s outdoors.
“You don’t have to shout, I can hear you.”
“Harumph!” he bellowed into the megaphone, pointing it straight at her.
She sighed. The Pheffl, Ham’s species, had lived on Station 6 for hundreds of years. “You could at least enjoy the change of scenery.”
“Change of scenery, my ass.” He harumphed again, but at least he wasn’t shouting anymore. “Grass everywhere like some damn jungle. Bugs and grime.”
“You’re one to talk. When was the last time you took a bath?”
He ignored that. “Not to mention the birds!”
“Enormous birds swoop down, carry you off and eat you!” He flapped his hands back and forth in a vague approximation of wings, staring at her.
She rolled her eyes. “I hardly think that’s likely.”
He sniffed and turned away. “It’s been known to happen.”
“Mm.” She folded her arms and surveyed the party. It would be time to sit down, eat, and schmooze soon.
With startlingly coincidental timing, Ham yanked on her pant leg. “Hey, check out that mysterious figure over there.”
“If you didn’t want to come you should’ve just pretended to be sick,” she snapped. Ham just pointed, and she looked. She had to admit, the person looked mysterious.
“I’m going to go make sure they’re not up to anything sinister,” Ham declared. He tromped off toward an opening in the hedge.
Cris stayed put for a few minutes, but finally sighed and followed him. If the mysterious person was some kind of VIP, Cris should go smooth any offense.
She turned the corner, but the person was nowhere in sight. And how had Ham gotten all the way at the end of the hedge so quickly? She could barely see him. He was gesturing about madly, and she accelerated toward him only to see him start running in the opposite direction. She stopped, then in a flash of insight, looked over her shoulder.
An enormous bird of prey swooped toward her and over her head, making straight for Ham.
Cris started running, but the bird was faster. It snatched Ham off the ground, and with several deafening beats of its wings, lifted itself high above her reach. Ham’s megaphone dropped to the ground, and she could barely hear him shouting “I warned yoooooou…!”
Before she could think, the bird had disappeared. The garden was eerily silent. She couldn’t hear any of the party preparations, although everyone should be just on the other side of this hedge. When she turned, she couldn’t even see the hole where she’d left the party.
She turned again and jumped. A young child in a blue dress stood where she’d last seen Ham.
“Ehhm,” Cris said intelligently.
The child seemed to be pointing upward. “You have to climb that hedge. The one with the vines.”
Cris looked. One hedge corner rose above the rest, topped with flowering vines. She couldn’t tell how far away it was, but for some reason she started walking. When she looked back, the child had disappeared too.
“I must be seeing things,” Cris muttered.
Hadn’t she only been walking a moment? It already looked like twilight, and she had no idea where she might be. But she could still see the tangle of vines, the only landmark in endless twists and turns among the hedges, and she kept heading for that.
When she arrived she felt as if she’d been walking for hours, but it still looked like dusk. The hedges here seemed insurmountably high, mountains compared to the little eight-foot bushes surrounding the party.
Nothing for it but to climb.
As she scaled the vines, she started to hear noises — Ham’s voice, and bird sounds. He was still alive, at least!
A huge nest sat on top of the vines. She got an arm over it, braced her knee, pulled herself up, and froze.
Around a small tea-table sat three newly-hatched birds of prey and Ham. They clacked their beaks like gossips and sipped tea from painted china. Ham’s cup was too big for him, but he drank from it anyway. He spotted Cris and set it down with a splash.
“I told you so!” he said, pointing.
Cris surveyed the scene. “You didn’t tell me about this.”
Ham massaged his brow. “Just get me down, Cris. This will all make sense in the morning…”