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Copyright by Theresa L. Ford
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She was a small, skinny child, looking half-starved and bewildered. Stringy
blond hair, not brushed well, still tangled in the back, and large rheumy
blue eyes, as if she had trouble focusing. She sat calmly on the bench,
swinging her feet back and forth, as they didn't quite reach the ground.

The amusement park security man glanced around. There was an elderly man
sitting on the opposite bench, but he got up and left without looking at the
girl. Visitors, some stumbling along tiredly, some enthusiastically pushing
through the crowd, carried on without a second glance at the girl. Not a
parent in sight. The security man wandered toward her slowly, not realizing
that had he run up to her, he still wouldn't have frightened her off.

He sat down next to her and idly looked about, still scanning for a parent.
"Hiya! Enjoying the park?"

The girl looked in his direction but did not focus. Her feet stopped
swinging. A brief expression of panic crossed her face and quickly

He rubbed at his temple, a slight headache coming on. Not unusual for the
summer heat. He smiled in what he hoped was his least threatening, friendly
smile. "Are you lost? I'm a security officer for the park. I can help you
find your parents. What's your name?"

She didn't look away, but she still didn't seem to be focusing on him. He
resisted the urge to pass his hand in front of her eyes. Had some trauma
caused her to retreat? He slowly reached into his pocket and produced his
security identification badge. "See this? It's my badge, so you know I'm a
security officer."

Still nothing. Maybe she was dehydrated in the sun? The day was what the
employees would not so affectionately refer to as 'a real scorcher'. "Why
don't we go get out of the sun? Your nose is turning a bit red from
sunburn." He reached out and touched her nose, which was just a little
pink. The child didn't flinch back. In fact, she didn't seem to notice.

By now, he had decided the child's parents were probably scouring the park
for her. He stood, and ever so gently took her hand and pulled her
standing. She wobbled awkwardly. "Come on. We'll go see if we can find
your parents."

How trustingly she seemed to follow him. Parents should be more careful of
their children. Lost children were recovered all over the park, especially
on a crowded day like today. They passed by a roller coaster as it zoomed
past, and the girl turned her head in the direction of the sound, but didn't
seem to see the ride. Maybe she was blind? No. No parent would lose a
blind child at an amusement park. Drugged, then? He began to feel a bit

They arrived at one of the many security stations around the park. While
the girl seemed to be happier out of the heat and in the air conditioning,
she refused to answer or even acknowledge any questions. They issued a
park-wide alert with her description. Any parent would surely contact park
security, and in fact, it was odd that they hadn't been contacted yet.

The officers tried bribery -- a nice hotdog with ketchup and mustard, some
french fries, and a nice large glass of icy lemonade. For a moment, the
child didn't seem to know what to do with them, but then promptly started
eating. Her table manners were meticulous, if awkward, down to gently
wiping the corners of her mouth with the napkin.

Afternoon turned to evening. They had announced over the loudspeakers that
any parent missing their child should contact security. It wasn't until
about an hour before the park's closing time that they began to wonder what
they would do if no one claimed the child. The girl, completely unconcerned
about the stir she was causing, calmly continued swinging her feet, while
sitting in the chair they had put her in.

The girl was turned over to the county police department at closing, and she
was subsequently dropped off at a children's shelter, after they had taken
her fingerprints and entered her statistics into the missing and kidnapped
children's database.

At the children's shelter, she was processed, that is, showered, checked for
lice and drugs, and issued a standard nightgown. Normally, they wouldn't
have done the drug test, but the girl continued to be completely
unresponsive. The woman who tucked her in bed lightly kissed the girl's
forehead in a motherly fashion and whispered that it was safe to sleep and
that she would be ok. The child didn't respond to the comfort.

The drug tests were negative. No parents ever came looking, despite the
newspaper notices. After a week, the girl started focusing on things and
people, but still didn't speak. Her awkwardness disappeared and she became
uncannily graceful, reminding the staff of a graduate from a fine ladies
college. The child didn't fidget, didn't slouch, didn't run or play. The
other children avoided her like the plague.

The staff named her "Grace" because they got tired of calling her "the
amusement park girl". The child answered, in her silent way, to the name,
and the staff wondered if they had accidentally chosen the girl's real name.
They put her approximate age as five years old, and some staff member,
feeling sentimental, wrote down May 20 as the girl's birthday.

Two months later, Grace was transferred out of the children's shelter, to a
more permanent home, Saint Marietta's Orphanage. Grace was enrolled in a
weekly therapy session, where she avidly watched the psychiatrist play with

For ten sessions, Grace failed to smile, laugh, or show any emotion at all.
She pointedly refused requests to assemble blocks, choose shapes, or play
with the toys the psychiatrist spread around her office. Quite
unexpectedly, on the eleventh session, Grace shocked the psychiatrist by

Grace quirked a half a grin at the psychiatrist. "Do you think you might
stop playing with the puppets and help me with my nightmares?"

Dr. Shaw was so startled that she dropped one puppet. "You can speak?"

"I suppose so. While puppets tend to be a really good medium to reach
unresponsive children, you really don't need them with me."

"Why didn't you say so before?" Dr. Shaw had to quell the stream of
questions that rolled through her mind.

"I was studying you, trying to determine how competent you are."

"How old are you?"

Pause. Then Grace shrugged.

"What is your name?"

"Grace." Promptly.

"Last name?"

Pause. Grace shrugged again.

"Where do you live?"

"Saint Marietta's Orphanage." Again, very promptly.

"Where did you live before that?"

"Jask Children's Shelter."

"Before that?"

"Busch Gardens."

"Before that?"

"There was no before that. At least I that I can recall. I have lots of
information swimming around in my mind, so there must have been something
before that, but I can't remember anything before sitting on the bench at
Busch Gardens. That's why I was hoping that you could help me with my
nightmare. I've been thinking that maybe it might have something to do with
why I can't remember."

"Why didn't you speak before this?"

"I was scared."

"What were you scared of?"

"I don't know. So, would you like to hear my nightmare?"

"Yes. You are very odd for a five year old."

"Am I? I don't feel like I'm five. I have knowledge a child shouldn't
have." Grace studied the doctor. "I guess I should have responded to the
puppets. I can see I've put you ill at ease. I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize. I'm sorry. Tell me about your nightmare?"

"Well. We are at the amusement park."

"Who's 'we'?"

"I don't know. I can't see them. I can tell they are more than friends
though. I can feel their presence and how much they care for me. They
wouldn't have left me if it weren't necessary. I know that for certain. We
are running through the people, trying to get lost, except we stand out.
People are looking at us funny." Grace paused, breathing slightly harder,
and swallowed. There was a sheen of sweat across her forehead as she
concentrated on remembering. "We stopped and they were arguing."

"How many people were with you?"

"None. I mean. Two. There were two of them. They were arguing about me,
but I can't remember any of the words. Just how it made me feel."

"How did it make you feel?"

"Like I should have been frightened, but I wasn't. I trusted both of them.
I think they were arguing about something that would hurt me, but I was
brave. I just don't understand. I know I told them to do it, that it was
necessary, and that I trusted them both. But I don't know what they did.
The nightmare ends there."

"How often do you have this nightmare?"

"Every night. It wakes me up. Do you think hypnosis might work? I can't
help but think that if I knew what happens after that, I'd understand why I
feel so abandoned."

"Hmmm. Possibly. Have you been hypnotized before?"

Grace shrugged.

"Maybe your parents were having financial problems?"

"I've thought of that. I don't think so. It doesn't feel right."

At that moment, Dr. Shaw's secretary knocked on the door and announced the
arrival of the next patient. The doctor was both frustrated and relieved.
Children shouldn't talk like adults and have adult vocabularies.

Grace returned to the orphanage, deep in thought. It took her a moment to
notice the whispers around her. The kids were calling her names and saying
she was weird. The staff watched her like she had grown a few horns out of
her head.

It didn't take Grace long to discover that talking to Dr. Shaw had been a
big mistake. She could see fear and awe in the eyes of every adult. They
treated her differently, refused to speak around her, acted like she was

By the time Sister Josey, the head of St. Marietta's, had gathered enough
nerve to call Grace into her office, it was too late. Grace had made a
decision to act like a normal five-year-old until she could figure out what
was going on. It was apparent that Dr. Shaw was not going to be helpful
enough, and Grace had heard several of the staff members mentioning testing
and institutionalizing.

Sister Josey tapped her fingers on her desk, noticed herself doing it, and
forced herself to stop and put her hand in her lap. Grace fidgeted.

"So what is your name, child?" the Sister asked.

"Grace." Grace remembered seeing Jeanie, one of the other girls with her
thumb in her mouth. Grace stuck her thumb in her mouth, and despite the
rather acidic, icky flavor, proceeded to suck on it. The words 'crooked
teeth' and 'germs' danced around in her mind. Grace squelched them.

"Your real name. I know that is the one you were given at the shelter."

Grace thumped her foot against the chair leg, making a rather loud rhythmic
noise. Speaking around her thumb, she muttered, "Grace. I dunno any other
name." 'Enunciation', 'speech therapy', and 'dictation' popped forward.
Grace ignored those too. "Can I go play?" She looked longingly out the
window, where the other children were running around.

"No, we're talking, Grace," Sister Josey said firmly. "How old are you?"

"I dunno," Grace answered. It came out "I unnah." Her thumb tasted really
nasty and her fingernail felt like it might get soft. She gave up on her
finger, and opted to smear what was left of the saliva on the chair arm.
She noticed she had a rather deep revulsion of the action, and logged it to
analyze later. She must have been a very meticulous child before the park

"Dr. Shaw says you are quite intelligent for your age."

Grace did not miss the Sister's posture and inflection that implied that Dr.
Shaw had said quite a bit more than that, and not quite so pleasantly. A
five-year-old wouldn't have noticed. Grace tried to remember what she knew
about five-year-olds. The problem, however, was that she couldn't recall
things on demand. Different associations brought up different words, but
she couldn't request any information from her memory. She noted that fact
and stored it away. Eventually, she'd have enough notes to figure out who
she was.

Sister Josey was frowning. The words 'short attention span' bounced lightly
into Grace's thoughts. Grace ignored Sister Josey and wandered over to the

"Please have a seat, Grace, and tell me about your conversation with Dr.

From Grace's odd free association came 'children never do what they are told
to until it's repeated several times'. Grace pretended she didn't hear
Sister Josey.

Sister Josey repeated herself, more firmly.

Grace continued to watch the hopscotch game going on outside.

"Grace!" Sister Josey shouted.

Grace looked over at her calmly. "Whad?"

"Sit down."

Grace ambled slowly over to the chair and sat down, fidgeting.

"Now, tell me about your conversation with Dr. Shaw?"

"Mr. Will and Mizz Sara talked." Mr. Will and Mrs. Sara were the names of
Dr. Shaw's puppets. "We talked 'bout my bad dreams." Grace wondered about
the morality of saying two truths consecutively to produce a false

"Mr. Will and Mrs. Sara?" Obviously Sister Josey didn't understand the

"They nice. Very friendly. Can I go play now?" Grace was thumping the
chair leg again. She noted her aversion to telling lies, giving false
impressions, and using the word 'can' when she should have used the word

"Yes, Grace. You may go play."

Only after Grace was standing on the playground wondering what to do, did it
occur to her that she should have shouted 'Yipee!' and run out of the room.
She obviously wasn't five years old. What was she doing in a
five-year-old's body?

The girls were playing hopscotch. She went over and watched them. While
she was trying to figure out the rules of hopscotch, she realized she
remembered all the rules to football and baseball. In a rather maddening
tumble, batting averages and visions of collector's cards and meaningless
facts crashed through her mind, sending her reeling backwards. She almost
fell over. The word 'vertigo' popped forth uselessly. She sat down.

Grace wondered how she was going to convince a psychiatrist that the entire
session had been an elaborate hallucination. For some reason, the thought
of making Dr. Shaw think she was having a nervous breakdown was distasteful.
Maybe it would be ok to let Dr. Shaw know the truth, but just let her think
that her patient had gone into denial and was unresponsive to therapy.
Probably not as effective as sending Dr. Shaw into insanity, but it felt

When she thought she understood the rules, she asked, "Can I play?" and was
loudly refused. Grace wandered off to the side and imagined the lines and
played quietly by herself.

By her next therapy session, Grace had mastered the art of being a
five-year-old. She talked to the puppets, played with the toys, and had a
very short attention span. She didn't understand "big" words, ran around in
circles, and tried to stick toys in the electrical outlets. Dr. Shaw was
very unhappy with Grace. Nothing was "accomplished".

That night, Grace had the nightmare again. They were being chased. Someone
was going to kill them. A strong voice that she always associated with
playful love and attention was saying that she had to hurry. The other
voice, the one that she associated with safety, was pulling her along. She
was tired. Her feet hurt. She kept moving because they told her to. She
trusted them. Faces of strange people blurred by, only she didn't know what
they were. The eyes were staring at her and her companions.

"What are they?" she asked.

The first voice answered. That is when the two started arguing. She was
too naive to understand, the second voice said. The first voice said it was
too dangerous. Then there were no words, but the argument continued. It
would hurt her, the first implied. There was no choice, the second argued.
She would die if they didn't. The first said again that it was too

That's when she said she trusted them both to take care of her. That they
could do it, and she would let them.

She woke up screaming, sweaty. "What was it?" she yelled into the darkness.
"What did I let you do to me?"

Sister Josey was in the doorway, soon, telling the girls to go back to
sleep. She sat on the edge of Grace's bed. "It was just a nightmare,
Grace," she said quietly, her hand on Grace's shoulder.

"I was scared." Grace sat up and hugged Sister Josey, crying into the
Sister's night robe, because that's what five-year-olds did when they were
scared at night and had nightmares. Sister Josey hugged her and comforted
her as any parent might do.

When Sister Josey left, Amy, one of the older girls whose bed happened to be
next to Grace's, leaned over and whispered, "You're a monster, Grace. You
may fool Sister but we know the truth." And she rolled back over on her
bed, turning her back to Grace.

Grace pitched her voice so that only Amy would hear. "I know more than
you'll ever know, Amy. Ever, in your entire life." Grace stared at the
ceiling for a long time watching the reflection of the moonlight.

About midway through the school year, Grace's life became even more
complicated. She began hearing voices. At first she thought she was going
crazy, and then as she started wading through them, she discovered they were
the thoughts of those around her. This was even more terrifying than not
knowing who she was and she had no one to talk to about it. The nightmares
that had slowly tapered off came back full force. She continuously felt
like she was literally bursting out of her mind.

One day, during a test, Grace was working through the steady stream of test
answers droning around her, and the teacher's bored thoughts, Grace heard a
different voice. "Are you there?" its wispy tendrils searched. It was
asking her. She knew it as surely as she knew it was daylight outside. She
was too frightened to try to answer it.

It came back with regular consistency, always from a different direction,
sometimes stronger and closer and sometimes farther away. It hid on the
outskirts of other people's thoughts. "Where are you?" and "Are you there?"
The thoughts were faint and didn't leave an echo like most others.

Then came the other foreign thoughts. They were trying to catch the elusive
first one. Grace monitored it all, much like someone would monitor their
ham radio. At the thought of a ham radio, a steady stream of information on
how to use one, how to get certified, and all the stations, poured through
her mind, along with endless conversations she knew had once been

By the time she had all the conversations sorted out in her head, she
discovered that she had actually passed out in her classroom and was now in
the school's infirmary.

"He's gone into hiding," one of the other voices thought strongly. "I told
you it was too soon to try to triangulate him."

"You wont find him," Grace thought back, before she realized what she was
about to do. She felt it project out of herself into the space of the room
and beyond. It felt oddly natural.

"Oh?" the foreign voice said. "Are you with him? Who are you?"

"Don't answer! They'll be able to find you." This was the first voice,
solid this time, with an echo. It wasn't even bothering to travel with
other voices. It felt familiar, reassuring.

The nurse was patting Grace's forehead with a cool cloth, and speaking soft
comforting words. Grace pushed the nurse's hand away and sat up. "It was
the voice from my nightmare!" she said anxiously to the nurse, who looked at
her blankly. She tried to stand up, but the nurse pushed her back down.
Grace argued, "I've got to find him. He's from my nightmare! Don't you

"I understand you are overwrought and exhausted, Grace. Rest. Sister Josey
is coming to pick you up. I'm sure she'll be along any time now."

The nurse was thinking that the rumors about Grace were true and was backing
away slightly. Grace realized she had dropped the five-year-old's voice.

The foreign voice came through stronger, closer this time. "You really
should come to us. It would make your life so much easier. Why are you
hiding? For that matter, why is a criminal telling you what to do. Surely,
you don't want to be a criminal?"

Grace didn't answer.

Quietly, from a great distance, the first voice whispered, "Be back for
you." It was barely there, and for a moment, Grace thought she imagined it,
but then realized it was pitched for her mental imprint. It must have taken
someone with great strength to do that, perhaps two people. They'd have to
know her.

Where did that knowledge come from? How could she be so certain of it?
Grace pretended to pass out again, and listened to the others discuss how to
find her. She noted her sheer terror at the thought that she might be
found, and stayed as quiet as she could.

Sister Josey arrived, and Grace, still pretending to be passed out, allowed
the Sister to carry her to the car, and drive her to the hospital. The EEG
they attached Grace to showed an abnormally high heart rate for a sleeping
person, and Grace dutifully "woke up", before they could give her any drugs.

She complained about being hungry and how she hadn't eaten breakfast or
lunch because her stomach was upset. The doctors decided that she had the
stomach flu or something (being unable to find anything wrong with her), and
prescribed a mild antacid, and told her not to be skipping any more meals.
She was underweight for her height.

Two weeks later, a man showed up at St. Marietta's claiming to be Grace's
uncle. He told a wild story about a schizophrenic sister, Lynn/Grace's mom,
who had escaped from a mental hospital several months back, across the
country. His sister had kidnapped her daughter from her husband, and
apparently dragged the girl across the country. His sister's body had been
discovered floating in a nearby river, and thus why they hadn't extended
their search for poor Lynn/Grace this far. The father hadn't come because
he couldn't take off from work. The uncle had all sorts of paperwork for a
girl named Lynn Taylor, age 7, even a "Missing Child" flyer with Grace's
picture on it.

Sister Josey wanted to know why the father hadn't filed with the Missing
Children's national database. Lynn/Grace's uncle firmly claimed he did and
that somehow the match obviously was overlooked. He was very anxious to
take his dear Lynn/Grace back to be reunited with her Daddy.

Grace was called into the office.

"Hey, Kiddo!" her "uncle" said, he rush to her, and gave her a big hug.
"We've been looking everywhere for you!"

The man didn't look familiar to Grace at all, and she wondered if he were
one of the bad guys or the good guys. It was her nose that convinced her to
play along with the charade. As intimately as she knew her nightmare, she
knew the story about her mother, father, and uncle was a lie. The man
posing as her uncle smelled faintly familiar though, so she went along with
it, hugging the man back and sobbing.

Sister Josey had Lynn/Grace's uncle fill out appropriate paperwork, and
copied all of the paperwork he had brought, as well as her uncle's
credentials. Thus, Grace found herself in the care of yet another almost
complete stranger.

Outside, in his car, he dropped the pretense completely. "How are you
doing, Kiddo? Bet you have a lot of questions."

Grace nodded quietly, suddenly imagining a plot by Dr. Shaw to get her to
reveal her intelligence.

"We wiped your memory, Kiddo, and filled you up with stuff from some human.
Don't worry though. We'll have you all restored as soon as it's safe to
remove the block." He drove smoothly, with sharp, fast reflexes.

"Why?" Grace projected mentally. That was the fastest way she could think
to weed out any of Dr. Shaw's agents.

"No mental talk, Kiddo. It's not safe. I'm sort of surprised you remember

Almost immediately, the foreign voices started up again. "Why what?" and
"See, I told you they were still here."

Now she needed to check if he was with the good guys or the bad guys. Maybe
he wasn't talking back mentally because he knew she'd recognize him as a

"Why did you do this to me?" she asked. "When I told you not to. I begged
you not to do this. Why?"

He didn't even pause. "Nice test. Glad to see that being human for a while
hasn't muddled your noggin. You asked to be wiped. Said you were brave and
that you trusted us."

Now, what about her nightmare hadn't she told the psychiatrist that could
have been read in some report? She couldn't think of anything, but then had
another thought. "You dumped all this information into my head?"

He nodded. "I'm very sorry. We didn't want to."

"What line comes after, 'I'm heading north to Alaska.'?" That was from one
of the ham radio conversations.

The man thought for a minute, as if searching his memory. Grace kept her
mind blank. "'What's your license plate number, Al? I got me some friends
up there.' The man remembered it because the language was so bad. By the
way, sorry for dumping you with memories from a male human. There wasn't
time to be choosy and he was the oldest human around. We wanted to make
sure you had all the knowledge you'd need to survive here. We didn't
realize the mistake until it was too late to stop."

"Oh. So who am I?"

"Princess Atlaish of the Ekl empire, currently second heir to the Resistance
Movement." The name meant nothing to Grace. It must have showed on her
face, because the man continued, "We wiped that too, kiddo. I'm sorry. It
was for your protection. There were six blood hunters closing on us. I
regret you've lost your chance at a normal childhood. I promised your
mother I'd protect you from the universe, and now I've gone and thrust you
into it with no protection at all."

"Who are you?"

"Ki, your personal body guard, blood sworn to you by your mother, on your
birthday. My life is to protect yours."

They arrived at a country house. Ki drove the car around back. He opened
the door for her and lead her to the barn. Inside the barn was a glowing
blue door that seemed vaguely familiar to Atlaish. Ki walked through it
without hesitation, pulling Atlaish with him.

Atlaish's brother was familiar when she saw him. She instantly recognized
him and associated him with the first voice that had been looking for her.
It wasn't until they removed the mental block, though, that she really
understood what she had lost, what she had let them do to her. Not only had
they dumped a lifetime of human experiences into her memory brutally killing
all her innocence, they had used their combined mental powers to shift her
from her natural body into a permanent human body. This cut her life span
in half easily, but saved her from a more immediate death by the blood
hunters that had tracked them to the remote planet of Earth. The blood
hunters, scented to her original blood, had lost their prey.

Atlaish would be a long time deciding if it was worth the trade.

- The End -