Story Excerpt


by Gregory Norman Bossert

Helena was high above Mo‘okini Heiau in the morning shadow of Kohala when the swarm found her. She swatted the microdrones out of the way and kept climbing.

“Dammit, Helena.” Izzy’s voice was a tiny buzzing chorus from the scattered swarm.

“I want to reach the ridge before it gets hot,” Helena said. “And Pololu before it rains. Which means walking, not talking.”

Izzy regrouped the swarm just out of reach, the drones connecting themselves into a sort of flying speaker. “Some of us manage to do both at the same time,” she said.

“Some of us are sitting on their ass in an office right now.”

“I’m working. You might vaguely remember the concept. The Republic of Hawaii doesn’t run itself, even on a normal day. It takes all sorts of unique personalities.”

It was beginning to sound like Izzy was working to a point, and that point might involve not making it to Pololu before the rain. Helena picked up the pace. Izzy sent the swarm after her and turned up the volume.

“The Sisters dropped in-system last night.”

“So I saw,” Helena said. The seven primary spheres of the composite ship had hung brilliant in the evening sky, haloed by their fractal cloud of companions.

“Wandering Willie D was on board.”

“Well, you pick a name like that for yourself, you better actually do some wandering or folks will talk.” Helena had spoken about the lone alien’s choice of names, back when the news feeds still sought her opinion as a xenoanthropologist, back before she’d become news herself.

“The Sisters, Helena.”

“I heard you the—”

“—Which means he had to write a petition strong enough to persuade the most cautious and . . .”


“. . . ethical of the five known starships to carry him here.”

“I do recall the Sisters’ rules, Isabella, thanks. I also recall explaining them to you in the first place. Look, he’s the last of his species; that’s a pretty persuasive argument. And he’s always had a thing for Earth.”

“Not ‘here’ Earth. ‘Here’ Hawaii.” The linked microdrones smacked the back of Helena’s head. “Will you turn around already?”

Helena spun, one hand raised to fling the swarm into the dirt. “Dammit, Izzy, I’m not . . . Oh . . . oh.”

Maui was eighty kilometers away. The cloud-covered bulk of Haleakala sprawled on the line between blue ocean and blue sky, and behind it was the twenty-kilometer- wide sphere of one of the Sisters’ primaries, floating motionless in defiance of physics and sanity.

“She’s sitting there over the ‘Au‘au channel just like she did in ’52.”

“When she picked me up,” Helena said, reluctantly, knowing she was hooked.

“It’s a convenient place to park if, say, you’re an island-sized interstellar starship dropping your passenger off in my office.”

Helena sighed. “Okay, okay, Counselor. What is Wandering Willie D, the last survivor of a dead alien race, doing in your damn office?”

Helena could hear the satisfied grin on Izzy’s face through the buzzing feed. “Why, Kulikuli, he’s asking for you.”

*   *   *

Izzy’s office was up the hill above the civic center, safe from the tourist crush of Lahaina’s shorefront. Most days there was little traffic beyond government staff catching a little sun. But Helena was still two blocks away on her walk from the skimmer port, and the street was packed. And it was not just tourists on the lookout for aliens or gawking at the curve of the Sisters’ ship overhead; the crowd was equal parts camera crews, remote presence robotics, and drones of every size, from microswarms up to heavy armored quads that must have flown in from the base the U.S. still rented on Oahu.

Helena turned right to skirt around the worst of the crush, considered turning around altogether. But Izzy was most likely already tracking her with a swarm, and anyway curiosity had always been her downfall.

“Well, Helena, that cat is already dead, so what do you have to lose?” she muttered, and cut through the hospital parking lot toward Izzy’s back door.

The answer, of course, was a peaceful solitude that had taken her a decade to achieve. Even though she pulled her frizzled bangs down and pushed her sunglasses up, there were cameras on her for the last ten meters to the door, and face recognition algorithms were not so easily fooled.

Izzy kept a small crew, now that she was counselor-at-large and less involved with the day-to-day functions of independent Hawaii. Her legal aide and general factotum, Kai, was at the front door, talking with a couple of police officers, and her research assistant was gesturing emphatically behind a pair of AR glasses. Kai saw Helena over the cops’ shoulders and waved her toward Izzy’s office.

The windows inside had been dimmed, and it took a moment for Helena’s eyes to adjust. Izzy, though small and dark, stood out thanks to her halo of white hair and her quivering energy. For all that Wandering Willie D was easily a hundred and fifty kilos and over two meters, Helena only blinked him into focus when he stood up and stretched huge hands wide in greeting, the iridescent pannae of the webbing under his arms glimmering in the low light.

“Helena Johnson! Such a pleasure to meet you! Though Counselor Dasha tells me I may call you Kulikuli.”

The Keetea had stayed close to their aquatic roots. Willie looked like an upright manatee, with the wicked grin of a porpoise and wide whale eyes set in deep folds. His smooth brown skin draped in folds and was covered almost everywhere by the pannae, feathery scales in rainbow hues ranging from thumbnail width to palm-sized tufts down his back and along the width of the flat tail that skirted the back of his legs.

Helena shot a glare at Izzy and tucked her thumbs into her rear pockets. “Helena will do.”

Izzy sat down in her desk chair and swiveled back and forth with a flash of death as bright as her hair. “It’s a well-earned name, Helena.”

“Which means ‘Shut up.’”

Willie hooted and sat back down on the couch. His voice was a basso growl over which a counter-tenor whistle soloed in loose synch from the nostrils on the back of his head. His English was slow and swooping but easy enough to follow. “I have been known to go on myself. ‘Long-winded’ is your delightful phrase, yes?”

Helena leaned against the edge of Izzy’s desk. “Mmm,” she said.

“It’s a useful trait for us swimmers. And you are an avid swimmer, or so the counselor informs me.”

“When life gets strange . . .” Izzy said, with a wave toward the monitors on the side wall, half of which featured coverage of the exterior of her office or the Sisters’ ship overhead.

“And when is it not?” Willie said.

“. . . You can count on Helena to do one of three things: swim, dance, or put on her walking shoes.”

“Ahhh, yes, the dancing. This is what has brought me here.”

Helena had turned to give Izzy another glare. She blinked in surprise and looked back at the alien on the couch.

“I have greatly enjoyed your writings on the ethnography of motion arts. My research, ah, so many cycles ago, was on xenobiology, so I was reading as a layman. But I felt we were reaching for the same truths with our—” He wiggled webbed fingers. “—differing grasps.”

Helena blinked again, tried to turn what felt like an expression of surprise into one of polite interest. “I, uh, see,” she said.

“But that is not why I petitioned the Sisters to bring me across the Galaxy to meet you,” Willie said.

“I see,” Helena said, with what now felt like a frown.

“No no no, I am here because of the hula.” His whistling overtone played a whole melody over that last drawn out word.

Helena gave up trying to figure out her own expression. Hell, she was out of practice talking to humans, let alone wandering alien lifeforms.

“I have heard, and your Counselor Dasha confirms, that after your, ah, retirement and return to Hawaii that you have become an ardent practitioner of the art of the hula.”

“I, uh, well, yes. Under Zach, that’s Kumu Ho‘omana‘o, my teacher at the H¯alau Kakahiaka here on Maui.”

Willie smiled his porpoise smile, revealing an irregular row of greenish teeth.

“But I’m an amateur. Not bad, maybe, for a kid from Oakland. But there are many others far more qualified, both through skill and heritage, here on the islands.”

“Ah, but few with your background and insight on the role of dance in cultural tradition, yes?”

“Well, true, but the kumu . . . will be the first to tell you that I am also not much on the tradition thing when it comes to hula.”

“This is also beneficial to my purpose.”

Helena looked back again at Izzy, who shrugged. “We didn’t get this far before you arrived,” she said.

“Before I continue, though, I trust you will allow me one question.” Wandering Willie D leaned forward, hands on knees, and tilted his head to look at her from first one eye, and then the other. The pannae along his shoulders flared in iridescent waves.

A sudden premonition, or perhaps simply ten years of precedent, told Helena what the alien’s next words would be.

“Why did you destroy the frescoes at Malae on Kepler-442b?”

Helena pushed herself up from Izzy’s desk. She sent what she hoped was a devastating side-eye at Izzy as she turned toward the door.

“You trust wrong,” she said, without looking back at the alien. Then she walked out and slammed the door behind her.

*   *   *

Helena floated on her back, half a mile off Olowalu, listening to the ‘uau call of passing petrels and watching the layers of the midnight sky.

Apart from the birds, the first ten meters above her were relatively empty, with just the occasional stray insect and, once, a school of flying fish that almost brushed her nose.

Beyond that was a realm of small drones, messengers shuttling to and from the neighboring islands. And higher yet, larger cargo drones and passenger skimmers and a flock of deep growling quadcopters that might have been the U.S. military drones she’d seen outside Izzy’s office on the long haul back to Oahu.

On most nights the next stretch of sky would have held commercial flights to the other islands and beyond, but that space was currently occupied by twenty kilometers of starship. The Sisters’ ship was a perfect sphere; its spotless matte-white surface picked up the lights from the shoreline, the blinking beacons of passing drones, and a rim of light from the waning Moon. Clusters of the smaller Sisters’ spheres revolved around the primary like moons of its own.

Between that ship and the Moon above were a thousand thousand man-made objects, from fleet schools of netsats to the leviathan space stations. Dwarfing even those, of course, were the other six primary spheres of the Sisters and their countless companions, made by neither man nor any other known species, hanging motionless a couple of thousand kilometers directly overhead.

“Keeping an eye on your sister here, and on Wandering Willie D-for-Dingbat, and not me, I hope,” Helena said.

She’d flown on the Sisters three times: once to Kino Beacon and back for a galactic conference and festival of motion arts, and once the one-way trip to the excavations at Malae on Kepler-442b. Travel via the Sisters required a petition every bit as tedious and exacting as an academic grant proposal, complete with essay, and only a fraction of those petitions were granted.

“Even if you’re this close to being burned at the stake by a mob of enraged archaeologists and an entire alien government, isn’t that right, you sanctimonious prigs?” Helena said to the ships overhead.

That refusal to bring her back to Earth after Malae was why the Sisters surely had no interest in her now.

Helena let out her breath and sank until just her face was above the water. The water was warm and still, the breeze gentle and filled with rich island scents and the occasional whiff of grilling fish from the shore. The stresses of the day, and of a decade of trouble that that day had recalled to mind, floated from her fingertips to drift down in the deep.

“I can stay out here for another hour,” Helena thought, “before I need to head back in.”

There was a flash that could have been lightning, if lightning was perfectly circular, deep purple, and bright enough to light up not just the vast curve of the Sisters’ ship overhead and the moon-sized spheres of the other six Sisters primaries above, but the dark limb of the Moon itself.

Something streaked from that flash, stopped a hand’s span from the cluster of Sister primaries two thousand miles above. The thing was much smaller than even one of the Sisters’ primary spheres, not much more than a brilliant dot. But its sudden appearance meant it had to be one of the other four known starships in the Universe, and its reckless approach and constantly shifting brightness and color were a dead giveaway as to which of those it was.

Without a sound or any sign of force, the Sisters’ ship just overhead started to rise toward space, her small companions swirling upward in her wake.

“Dammit,” Helena said to the Universe at large, and swam for shore.

*   *   *

“It’s the Construct,” Izzy said, thumping a monitor with her fingertip.

“Looks like it,” Helena said.

On the screen a nested series of rotating polyhedra, formed out of what seemed to be brightly colored shafts of light, drifted back and forth in a manner both unpredictable and somehow nauseating.

“That’s two of the five starships—”

“That we know of.”

Two of the five starships, Kulikuli, not just hanging over Earth but hanging over Hawaii.” Izzy continued thumping the monitor, even though the image had switched to a panel of commentators.

Helena thought of pointing out that the Sisters were technically many ships all on their own, but Izzy’s raised eyebrow suggested that sitting down and being quiet might be a better approach.

“One of them the most liked and admired of the ships,” Izzy continued, prodding a different screen that showed the Sisters, all seven primaries now reunited in space.

“Only because they condescend to speak with us.”

“With us,” Izzy said, with a gesture that apparently included herself and every other being in the galaxy except Helena. Which was fair enough, Helena thought.

“And the other,” once more poking the screen with the commentators and managing to hit the UN Special Envoy to the Galactic Community square in the nose, “is the least understood, least seen, and least trusted ship in the known Universe.”

“Can’t really blame them for avoiding us,” Helena said.

“Avoiding us,” Izzy replied, with that gesture again.

“Well, Wandering Willie D is the last of his kind. I am sure even the Construct has some interest in what he’s up to. Speaking of which, what is he up to, now that he’s given up on me?”

Helena hoped against hope that that last bit would provoke Izzy into giving up some details on the alien’s motives. But this after all was the woman who had overseen Hawaii’s fight for independence, not to mention brokering the lucrative deal with an extremely aggravated U.S. for their continued use of Pearl Harbor. Izzy collapsed into her desk chair instead and rubbed her thumping finger.

“Right, let’s count aliens,” Izzy said. She tapped the still-raised finger; it looked like she’d broken the nail. “One is Willie.” She raised the middle finger and looked between the two at Helena. “Two is the Sisters. And three is the Construct. And what do these aliens have in common, three, two, and one?” She lowered the fingers again as she counted down and shook her fist at Helena.

Helena drew a slow breath, but before she could say anything, Izzy answered her own question.

“Helena Johnson is what. And that, in case you haven’t been following along, is you. The only person to have been banned by the Sisters, the only human to have ever flown on the Construct, and the only person who the last surviving Keetan is going to confide in, apparently, since all of my gracious charm and lawyerly skill has gotten me absolutely nowhere with him despite hours of trying while you were off paddling about in the ocean. So what are you going to do about it?”

Izzy slumped back in her chair and examined her broken nail. “And Kulikuli, you are my dearest, most precious friend, and please please please don’t tell me you are going swimming again.”

“I am not,” Helena said, and stood up. “I’m going dancing.”

*   *   *

After more than a bit of grumbling, Izzy had lent Helena her little two-seater runabout. Its dimmable windows and swarm of anti-drone drones would provide her a bit of privacy. The two of them weren’t the only ones to make the connection between the two starships; Helena’s face was popping up on the news streams almost as frequently as Willie’s, and every time with some variation of the phrase, “the disgraced xenoanthropologist who destroyed the frescoes on Kepler-442b.”

The road down the South Maui coast to Makena was quiet now that the big corporate resorts had closed. Helena undimmed the windows and watched the rain fall from the Lono drones high above Kaho‘olawe.

When she saw the camera drones and remote bots hovering around H¯alau Kakahiaka, she figured they must be for her. She manually piloted the runabout as close to the door as she could and walked the few steps with one finger raised above her head. Three steps past the door, though, she heard the unmistakable boom and whistle of Wandering Willie D.

The alien was in the center of the floor, surrounded by her fellow students of the h¯alau, showing a dance step to Kumu Ho‘omana‘oinakupuna Zachary Pukui.

Helena had far too much respect for the kumu as a teacher, and Zach as a friend, to do anything but sit quietly and watch.

Willie repeated the move a few times, a step back and lean forward with a sweep of the arms that sent the webs under his arms flaring, the feathery pannae raised and shimmering, and then showed it in context of a longer section. In motion, the alien’s sagging bulk seemed to float and glide with the underwater grace of a seal.

After a few minutes, Willie stopped, hooted a laugh, and slumped to the ground.

“I would blame the unaccustomed gravity here, but in truth it is less than that of my home. The wear and tear of time passing is, however, the same. This sequence I had from my grand-aunt,” he inserted a series of whistles and clicks here that must have been her name, “who had it from <more whistles> and so on back into the tradition of their family. It is important for us . . .”

Willie trailed off for a second.

“It was important for my people to trace the teaching of these dances from family to family, and generation to generation.”

Kumu Ho‘omana‘o sat as well and nodded. Some of the students took this as a sign to speak quietly among themselves, something that was frowned upon during a lesson. “Observe with the eyes; listen with the ears; shut the mouth,” was a key principle of the halau.

“We say Nana i ke kumu, which means ‘look to your source,’” the kumu said in his quiet voice, that required one’s full attention and silence to hear.

Willie said, “And we have <a long flowing series of harmonized tones>, which is ‘know from where the current comes.’ I should add, though, that though my great-aunt was adopted, in a way, into this other family and its ancient traditions, she brought our own family’s techniques to their dance. And my family’s style is far from traditional. This was the cause of great tension between the families, I confess.”

“Here as well, the hula kahiko, the old traditions, versus the new hula ‘auana. ‘Auana means to wander or drift, and it has indeed drifted far and to strange waters. Helena here has helped me understand that.”

Helena had been glaring at drones trying to peek through the shutters of the h¯alau, a moment of exasperation that the kumu must have caught. She sat up straighter, met Willie’s gaze. There was a twinkle in those deep-set eyes all too like the one Izzy’s got when she was about to make a winning point.

“That conflict between the stationary and the drifting can lead to great passions,” Willie said.

“And so on Hawaii with the traditionalists, like those on Kaho‘olawe, who feel that hula ‘auana is a capitulation to the haole, the colonizers. And yet Kaho‘olawe flourishes because of the drones that bring the rain. I was a traditionalist as a young man, and my understanding of hula was the lesser for it. This is also something Helena helped me see, with knowledge she brought back from space.”

They all looked up toward the ceiling and the starships beyond.

“Tradition evolves, our understanding of tradition evolves. This gift of knowledge I thank Helena for. Even if she does insist on dancing the men’s forms.”

Willie hooted and climbed to his feet, as did the rest, Helena last of all.

The kumu looked up at the alien. He laughed, and said, “Hey, Joe Pahuhau, you might have met your match.”

Joe was the biggest of the dancers, with arms like Helena’s thighs and a torso like a tree trunk. And, like Willie, his weight seemed to disappear when he moved. He stepped over now, and proved to be almost exactly Willie’s height.

“Bruddahs, brah,” Joe said approvingly. “I gotta get some da kine, d’ough, ya?” he said, waving his fingers under his arms.

“The pannae,” Willie said. “We say <two sharp clicks>.” He spun to show the long feathers that ran down his back to the flap of his tail; the largest curled around the edges like peacock plumes, all of them in shimmering shifting colors that formed and unformed patterns as he moved.

“They’re symbionts. Living creatures. They cannot live long without a host, and we would not care to live long without them. They are part of our heritage, part of our family.”

Kumu Ho‘omana‘o said, “We say h¯anai, an adopted child.”

“Exactly,” Willie said. And to Helena, “They’re a reminder that the very different can nonetheless join in common purpose.”

The kumu looked back and forth between them. “The lesson is over,” he said. “It’s okay to ask questions. I’ll start. Do you know Helena’s nickname and how she got it?”

Willie grinned his porpoise grin at Helena. “Kulikuli, yes? I’m told it means something like ‘be quiet.’ I assume it’s a reference to her well-known tendency to speak her mind.”

Joe laughed and shook his head. “No, brah. She come back here from the way-up, face over all the streams, maybe de most famous person on the ground, maybe de most famous up there too, you know what she say the first six months she spend here in the Halau?”

Wille tilted his head at Joe, who just smiled.

In his quietest voice, Kumu Ho‘omana‘o said, “Not a word. She sat and listened.”

Helena shut her eyes and said, “Nana i ke kumu.” Then she opened them again and said, “Okay. Okay, let’s talk.”

A look that might have been joy spread over Wandering Willie D’s face. “Wonderful,” he hooted. “Wonderful. Perhaps, though, we should find a more private place.”

They all looked around. Several swarms of microdrones had made it though the shutters, and a hulking remote with the logo of one of the big streaming services had its cameras pressed to the glass of the door.

“Ah,” Willie said.

“No problem. I know a girl,” Helena replied.

*   *   *

“No problem” might have been an exaggeration. Izzy had built a safe room under her old offices in Ma‘alaea, back in the dangerous days of the fight for independence, and she’d kept an arrangement with the current occupants to get access when she needed it for her current government work. It was snug, particularly when one of the occupants was a hundred-and-fifty kilo Keetan, but it was cozy enough, despite the metal walls and plain plastic furniture.

“No place for bugs to hide,” Izzy explained.

That was less true, it turned out, for their own selves. The scanning equipment in the safe room’s antechamber turned up over a dozen microdrones or other devices secreted in their clothing, hair, or places even more personal. One was so deeply embedded within the sole of Helena’s shoe that she tossed both shoes into the trash of a nearby coffee joint and walked back barefoot, bonus coffee in hand. In that short return trip she managed to pick up two more drones for the scanners to find.

Once they themselves were cleared of uninvited guests, and the room and its airlock had been scoured by Izzy’s anti-drone drones, they sealed themselves inside, and Izzy prodded her tablet until she felt satisfied that they were free from eavesdroppers.

They sat in silence, then, for a while. Helena and Izzy exchanged thoughts via glances with forty years of friendship behind them, as Wandering Willie D collected his thoughts. He finally let loose a low whistle from his rear set of nostrils.

“It was rude of me to start by questioning you, when I have come all this way in search of your skill and knowledge.”

Helena shook her head. “It was rude of me to take it as an attack. When I’m asked that question here on Earth, the person asking always already has their own answer and has no real interest in my own. Just in watching me squirm.”

“I promise you I am, as you say, all ears.” The small pannae across his head and neck shook like leaves in the breeze. “But I must ask. Why did you destroy the frescoes at Malae on Kepler-442b?”

Helena could feel Izzy’s anxious gaze. She stared down into her coffee instead.

“I had been on Kepler-442b for a few months when the frescoes were discovered, working on the art and engravings at other sites, or rather, on the pictographs depicted within them. Those pictographs were based on storytelling poses, a type of dance, if you will, of those ancient peoples. Poses that still had echoes in the dance of their descendants on 442b and the surrounding systems.”

“The Axellos,” Willie said. “A lovely tradition of the arts, if somewhat zealously guarded. I think you would call them a ‘passionate’ people.”

“Passionate and heavily taloned,” Helena said, rubbing her thumb over the scars on either forearm. “The frescoes at Malae were discovered accidentally. They were entirely covered by several layers of plaster contemporary to their making, and that covering had been renewed every few decades for centuries by resident monks, until the last of their order died and the government sent in the scientists. There was a political point in play, a question over the historical ownership of that entire continent. A technician was taking a core of the layers in the antechamber for dating purposes when an entire slab of the covering plaster came loose.”

Helena took a sip of her long-since cooled coffee.

“I had a friend, an Axellan on the archaeological team, who got me in that night, while they sent for a scanner that could pick up the remaining frescoes through the overcoats. She worked to preserve the rest of the panel—the covering was just crumbling away at that point—while I deciphered what had been exposed. And . . .”

Helena blinked at the green enameled metal of the wall.

“And?” Izzy gently prompted, though she knew the story better than anyone else but Helena herself.

“And then I locked my friend out of the room, and took a laser excavator and burned every last inch of plaster from the walls of the entire chapel.”

She glared at, or more precisely, through Willie. The alien opened his mouth, then shut it again.

“But your question wasn’t what I did, which is public, very very public, record, but why. I’ve never discussed the reason publicly. I couldn’t, not without invalidating what I had already done. I’ve only told Izzy, and Zach, and now you.”

“I hope to be worthy of your trust.”

“Trust is what this is all about, isn’t it?” Helena said. “Here I am always feeling like it’s me against the entire Universe, when I have Izzy and the H¯alau and my own world under my feet. And you, you’re truly on your own in every way. It’s me who needs to be worthy of trust. So here it is.

“The frescoes in the chapel’s antechamber were a sort of prelude, a warning, an apology in the literary sense, for the much more extensive frescoes still hidden in the other rooms. Hidden deliberately, and guarded over the centuries by the order that had dwelt there for just that purpose. Those frescoes, the prelude explained, told the history of the founding of the continent. A history told through a pictographic dance so powerful and evocative that I wept as I read them. A history so full of rage and disgrace, the artist had said, that the only hope for redemption was to purge the story from her people, via the act of capturing them through motion, then freezing that motion for all time in still images, and burying those images, her masterwork, from sight forever. Burying herself as well; she was the founder of the order that kept those frescoes hidden, and never left the chapel again.

“My friend asked me why I was crying, and I said it was the plaster dust, and asked if she could get me some water. I locked the door behind her and then sat there thinking about the artist and her despair, and of the passion of her descendants, who had already fought four wars over the ‘rightful’ ownership of the continent. And then I got up and found the laser.”

Willie asked, “And was it not the right of the Axellos to make such a momentous decision regarding the work of their ancestors?”

“The Axellos, both the government and the opposition, don’t give a damn about their ancestors, except when they can be used to score points in some endless bloody game,” Helena said, her voice reverberating in the tiny room. “And I wasn’t making a call, I was following the clear, desperate desire of people for whom those frescoes were literally life and death.” Helena was on her feet now. “It was an ethical imperative, and I’d do it again tomorrow, damn the Axellosan government and the Sisters too while you’re at it.”

There was a silence in the safe room for a moment. Izzy reached over and patted Helena’s chair. Helena took a step back instead and put her hand on the doorknob.

Willie sat very still, though the pannae across his body quivered. The expression on his face was nothing Helena could interpret.

“Thank you,” Willie finally said, in a low whistling whisper. “Thank you for your trust now, and for your actions then. I have come across the Galaxy on the sheerest hope that you would answer as you have.”

And then in a voice closer to his usual boisterous growl, “I have three favors to ask of you, though they are each a burden I have no right to place upon you. I must trust your understanding, which is great, and your compassion, which as I suspected is beyond measure.”

He shook himself until the pannae settled, raised a hand and swung it in a graceful arc. “There is a dance my people do, a defining tradition of the culture, and yet unique to each dancer. A duet between an elder and another, usually of another lineage, who thus becomes part of the family. We say <three rising tones over a low rumble>. Your kumu had a word . . .”

“H¯anai,” Izzy said.

“Yes. The dance is private, deeply so, a passing of a life’s story from the one to the other. But the elements of the dance, the motions and their performance, are drawn from the legacies of both dancers. And so that story transcends the individual life, and makes something new of those traditions. I would like you to be my <three rising tones over a low rumble>, my h¯anai, and help me work out the story of this last dance of the Keetae, and dance the dance, the <long falling notes> with me when the time comes.”

“I . . .” Helena fumbled herself back into her chair. “I was thinking the chances were fifty-fifty that the Axellos had sent you to assassinate me, or worse, you were writing a book.”

“She means, ‘It would be an honor,’” Izzy interpreted.

Helena nodded vigorously. “But . . .” Helena added. “You said three favors. Unless there are three dances?”

“Just the one dance,” Willie said. “I hope you will trust me just a little while longer regarding the other two matters.”

“No sweat,” Helena said, still looking a bit stunned.

“No sweat at all,” Willie said, back to his jovial tone and with a hint of his toothy smile. “But I will require just a drop or two of blood.”

*   *   *

“—exclusive footage of remarkable collaboration between the last surviving Keetan and a hula dance troupe on the island of M—”


“—illie D explains that the theory, know as ‘panspermia,’ could explain the remarkable genetic similarities between humans, Keetans, and almost all of the other known alien—”


“—ohnson, the disgraced anthropologist who destroyed the frescoes on K—”


“—who goes by the unlikely name ‘Wandering Willie D’ is working with scientists at the University of Hawaii on Oahu in a study of DNA from species across the Galaxy, which might shed light on the amazing similarities betw—”


“—do not need to be the big W-W-D to pull off these amazing moves, and I’m going to show you just how to do it! Start with your arms rais—”


“—still hovering fifteen hundred miles above the island nation of Hawaii, and within a few hundred miles of each other, the closest we’ve ever seen two starships approach one and—”


“—the very same Helena Johnson who destroyed the frescoes on Kepler—”

Izzy waved the monitor into silent mode.

“It’s been three months,” Helena said. “Three full months of you, me, and Willie on our best behavior. Not a single suspicious move.”

“Exactly,” Izzy said, feeling around her feet for the bottle. “The suspense is killing them.”

Helena held her glass out. “Them who?”

“Everyone who isn’t you, me, or Willie D.”

“Or the H¯alau Kakahiaka.”

“To the H¯alau Kakahiaka,” Izzy cheered, and raised her glass.

They both took a long sip. If you were looking for proof of a single common basis of galactic life, Helena had said the other day, one need look no further than Willie’s excellent taste in whiskey. The alien had headed to Oahu for a few days of work on the mysterious second favor, which somehow involved panspermia and far more than a couple of drops of Helena’s blood. She and Izzy had promptly claimed the couch and the bottle, though the party had been somewhat moderated by Izzy’s need to check the news streams every few minutes.

You’re not even on the streams,” Helena grumbled.

“No, but Hawaii is. This is work, love.” She leaned forward to shout toward the door. “Hey, Kai, we stay working, ya?”

“Nah, it’s seven-thirty, Aunty,” Kai called back.

“Workin’ late,” Izzy said and sat back, satisfied. “Researching the global media presentation of the Republic of Hawaii in regards to oh crap.” She sat up, knocking over the bottle, and gestured at the monitor to rewind a few seconds.

“What is that?” she said.

Helena frowned at the screen, and then back at Izzy. “Umm, the parking lot of the h¯alau?”

“No, that.” Izzy got up and thumped the screen with a nail still a bit crooked from her screen-thumping three months before. In the trees on the far side, and half-hidden by the usual cloud of drones, was a tiny blur, barely visible against the sky behind it. Izzy zoomed in, but that just got them a larger blur.

“A cloud?” Helena said, squinting.

“No, too small, and too round. Hey, Kai.”

“Aunty?” Kai stuck his head around the edge of the door.

“That image processing AI we’re leasing for the astronomers, we’ve got access to the account, ya?”


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Copyright © 2021. HĀNAI by Gregory Norman Bossert