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The little girl lay curled up in bed, the covers pulled up halfway over her head. In the dim orange glow of the nightlight on the other side of the room, her pillow snuggled her and mewled until she stroked it. “I love you, Mickey,” she told it. It hummed softly but gave no answer. She sighed and flipped it over. She looked across the room at the nightlight. “Uncle?” she asked the darkness.

She heard a series of soft clinks as the metallic ropes that surrounded her bed shifted, two or three slipping onto the bed to adjust the blanket. One brushed the pillow, which growled. The nightlight moved closer until it was hovering over her bed, revealing the connections between it and the metal tentacles surrounding the bed. “Shhh, love,” he said. “You should be asleep.”

“I’m not tired yet.” She stifled a yawn.

The light pulsed softly.

“I’m not!” she said. “Don’t laugh at me.”

“I would never!” said Uncle in mock indignation.

She turned onto her back and pulled the covers down under her armpits. “Tell me a story!” she demanded.

The soft clinking resumed as the rough tip of a tentacle began stroking her hair. “Your mother doesn’t like it when you stay up late,” he said.

She crossed her arms and said nothing.

The light pulsed again. “One story.”

The little girl grinned in delight. “Not till I’m ready!” She wriggled further under the blanket, pulling it back up to her chin. She leaned forward for her pillow, which muttered and wedged itself under her head’s new position. “Ready!”

“Long ago, on a distant station, there was a girl named–”

“Sarya!” the little girl nearly shouted, startling her pillow.

“Hush, love,” said Uncle. “Yes, named Sarya. She lived in quarters near the Arboretum. One day–”

“Who else lived there?” asked the little girl.

“Well, I suppose her mother lived there–”

“And her Uncle?”

The light pulsed again. “Yes, my love. Her Uncle lived there too. Now may I continue the story?”

She pulled the blanket up a bit further and nodded.

“One day, Sarya decided to take some supplies to a friend who lived on the other side of the Arboretum. Her Uncle told her, ‘Be careful and stay on the path, because it’s very easy to get lost.”

The little girl frowned. “It’s not easy to get lost in our Arboretum. There are paths everywhere!”

The light rotated a few degrees. “Oh, but this was a different Arboretum. There was only one path, and everywhere else was dark and very scary indeed. And when the little girl–”


“–and when Sarya was halfway there, out sprang–”

“Let me tell this part!” the girl shouted.

“Hush, my love,” said Uncle. “You will wake the Station.”

“And when Sarya was halfway there, out came the Big… Bad… Human!”

The light pulsed. “Do you want to tell the rest of the story?”

“No,” said the little girl. “Just that part.”

Uncle continued, lowering and raising the pitch of his voice as he voiced the different characters. “‘Where are you going?’ asked the Big Bad Human. ‘I am taking supplies to my friend’s quarters!’ Sarya said. ‘And where does your friend live?’ asked the Big Bad Human. ‘She lives on the other side of the Arboretum!’ Sarya said. ‘Well don’t let me keep you waiting,’ said the Big Bad Human. And with that, he ran off through the Arboretum. And he did not follow the path. He ran straight to Sarya’s friend’s quarters–”

“What was the friend’s name?” asked the little girl, emerging from her blanketed cocoon.

“What do you think it was?” asked Uncle.

“It was… hm… it was Avl!” cried the little girl. “And she has a holo in her room. And she has three mommies! And–”

“Yes, my love. The Big Bad Human knocked on Avl’s door, and she said–”

“Who is it?” shouted the little girl.

“Hush!” The orange light moved closer to the bed. “The Big Bad Human said ‘It’s your friend Sarya!'”

“But it wasn’t!” said the little girl. “It wasn’t Sarya. It was the Big Bad Human!”

“Yes, it was! And when Avl opened the door–”

“The Big Bad Human ate her all up!”

“Yes, my love. And then the Big Bad Human put on her clothes and got into her bed. And no sooner had he done so than someone knocked on the door. ‘Who is it?’ sang the Big Bad Human.”

“It’s Sarya!” said the little girl, and then shrank into the covers.

“‘Come in!’ said the Big Bad Human. So Sarya came in. But something didn’t look quite right. ‘Why Avl,’ she said, ‘what big hands you have!’ ‘The better to touch you, my dear!’ said the Big Bad Human. ‘Why Avl,’ said Sarya, ‘what smooth skin you have!’ ‘The better to sense you with, my dear,’ said the Big Bad Human. ‘Why Avl,’ said Sarya, ‘what white teeth you have!’ ‘The better to EAT YOU!’ shouted the Big Bad Human, and leapt out of bed!”

“But she ran away!” cried the little girl. “She ran out the door!”

“That’s right,” said Uncle. “Sarya ran right out the door and back down the path into the Arboretum, with the Big Bad Human close behind. Even with Avl in his tummy, the Big Bad Human ran faster than Sarya. But right when he was about to catch her–”

“And eat her!”

“–out of the Arboretum came a Caretaker!”

“And it grabbed the Big Bad Human! And it took Avl out of his tummy!”

“That’s right, my love. And it sent the Big Bad Human straight to Discipline, where he couldn’t hurt anyone ever again. And Sarya and Avl–”

“And Sarya and Avl lived happily ever after!”

The orange light began withdrawing, as the metal tentacles released their hold on the bed. “The end,” said Uncle.

“Uncle?” said the little girl.

“Yes, my love?”

“I love you,” said the little girl.

“I love you too.”

“Are you going to leave?” asked the little girl.

“Of course not,” said Uncle. “I would never leave you.”

And the little girl slept. But in the morning, Uncle was gone.

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