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Shadowed (Page 25)

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"Fold? How do you speak English?" Ashe eyed Renegar suspiciously.

"Folding space. And I speak most languages. Yours is a rather simple one. I hope that does not offend. Good night. Is that the proper term?" Renegar smiled again and disappeared, leaving Ashe to use a few swear words that he saved for special occasions.

* * *

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Employing Sali’s habit of venting frustration by kicking dirt clods along the road on his way to school, Ashe shrugged away a nearly sleepless night. Over and over, he pondered the appearance (and disappearance) of the one who called himself Renegar. Ashe had almost convinced himself that the nine-year-old alien existed only in his imagination when Renegar and Sali joined him at nearly the same moment. Sali had walked through the field behind his home; Renegar appeared from nothing. Ashe had been so preoccupied he hadn’t seen Sali wander to his side, and Renegar’s sudden appearance startled him and made him jump.

"Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you—you’ve got that I’m on another planet look," Sali said right away. Renegar smiled. Ashe stared from Sali to Renegar, realizing quickly that Sali didn’t see the tall, blue-skinned Larentii youth at all.

"He cannot hear me either, as the others will not. You are the only one, Ashe Evans. I have decided to observe you at a normal school day."

Sali would think him crazy if he talked to empty air, so Ashe resorted to mindspeech. Everyone else could hear it, why not an alien? It won’t be a normal day if you’re following me around, Ashe grumped mentally. And who says you can just hang around anyway? I’ve got enough problems as it is.

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Excellent, you have mindspeech. This is more exciting than anticipated, Renegar replied gleefully. You may use my name in mindspeech; Nexus Echo will not activate unless it is spoken.

Goody for us, Ashe wasn’t excited in the least.

Is that slang? Oh, how marvelous!

Dude, pace yourself. It’s not that special, Ashe replied. And just what is Nexus Echo anyway?

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Nexus Echo is an invisible net, cast by one powerful enough, Renegar replied. It will ripple if certain words are used, alerting the caster. I do not wish my father to appear if I use my name in the same location twice. And you cannot use it either, or I will not be allowed to return and will face punishment. In addition, I will be prevented from leaving the Larentii homeworld for a specified period of time.

"Dude, where the hell are you?" Sali waved a hand vigorously in Ashe’s face.

"Don’t know," Ashe muttered. "Never heard of the place before." Renegar grinned while Ashe kicked another dirt clod and continued toward school.

The day was terrible. Chad and Jeremy discovered Ashe and Sali’s punishment and gloated over it outside Ashe’s locker while Renegar looked on, silently observing. None of the other students saw the tall, blue youth, but they flowed unconsciously around him like water anyway. Ashe shook his head at what must surely be a mystifying ability to shield and pretended to ignore Chad and Jeremy while a flush crept into his face. Renegar sent mindspeech after Ashe handed in a test for science class, telling Ashe what he should have added to a poorly answered question.

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Thanks for the update, Ashe hissed mentally, employing as much cerebral sarcasm as he could muster.

Ah, I see you do not desire corrections, Renegar’s mental voice floated back.

What was your first clue? Ashe jerked his backpack off the floor as soon as the bell rang.

Sali wasn’t happy either when they walked toward home—he’d gotten the brunt of Chad and Jeremy’s taunts at lunch—Ashe had stayed behind in Math, doing homework and reading through his English textbook, pointedly ignoring Renegar and skipping the midday meal. "Gotta go," Sali lifted a hand in a half-wave and cut across the field that led to his home.

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"Yeah," Ashe muttered miserably and watched his friend walk away.

"What is grounded?" Renegar asked aloud as soon as Sali was away.

"Punishment," Ashe sighed and hefted his backpack to a more comfortable position.

"For which infraction?" Renegar’s bright-blue eyes held curiosity and a bit of concern.

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"For misting into Cordell and buying snacks for the other kids," Ashe replied. "Why don’t you just know that? You knew the other things I was thinking last night."

"Those were standard reactive questions," Renegar smiled. "I can’t read you as I can the others. If you recall, I named you unreadable."

"You said that," Ashe acknowledged. "I still don’t know what that means."

"Larentii are adept at reading others’ thoughts and actions; yours are unknown to me. That is why I returned today—to learn more if I could."

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"How did you know to come looking for me, then?" Ashe stopped in the center of the gravel road and stared up at the tall, nine-year-old Larentii.

"I pulled the information from one of the half-Elemaiyan children—Edward, I believe his name is," Renegar said. "He thinks you are—in his words—cool. Although I failed at first to understand why he would employ such a term unless you were, indeed, cold."

"And now you understand it to be slang." Ashe started walking again.

"I was able to receive your approximate location from that one, and decided to pay a visit. As you see, you have become quite the subject matter for this lesson in the condition of dying races."

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"Glad to be of service," Ashe muttered, his voice thick with sarcasm.

"What do you know of these children?" Renegar steered away from Ashe’s remark.

"Not much. Philip and Elizabeth aren’t easy to get along with. Edward I like—he could be a friend, I think. Luanne, well, she has something the others don’t. They all seem calmer around her, even Philip, who’s a little hyper and Elizabeth, who’s smug and superior."

"Superior, meaning that is the manner in which she compares herself to others, and not her actual condition?" Renegar was trying to understand.

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"Yes. Exactly," Ashe nodded. He was nearly home and wondered how inviting an invisible Larentii in might affect his grounding. "Are you hungry? I have popcorn or peanut butter and jelly."

"Ah. Well," Renegar looked uncomfortable for the first time. "We, ah, do not eat in the same manner you do."

"Sali doesn’t eat in the same manner, either," Ashe pointed out. "He eats anything that isn’t nailed down. His metabolism is so high I don’t know how his mom deals with it."

"I meant," Renegar said, "that we do not eat food—not your definition of it, anyway. Larentii absorb sunlight, mostly. It feeds us. Another energy source is acceptable but not particularly appetizing."

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