Grace holds her head and pitifully begs, “Please stop killing my mind!”

    Elf offers her some of his food.  “Will this heal you?”

    Exploding in joy and greedily swiping the item, she giddily answers, “Yes!”

    Noin starts to ask about Duplica’s recipe when she finds herself saying something else to someone else.  “Hello, dear, I’m Noin.  I don’t believe we’ve met.”

    The one being spoken to is the woman in the picture at the start of this chapter.  It’s Faye’s mom, Ally J.  She introduces herself, sparking a small reference to XI System Guard Ally Horn, and then sits down by her daughter, stroking her hair.  “Baby, have you been a good girl for the teachers?”

    “Of course!”  Faye is in heaven, as far as she’s concerned right now.  “I met a gorgeous pirate girl that looked just like you, Mommy.  You should go back with me so we can both meet her sometime.”

    “Captain Jackie, right?”  Ally looks at her girl with a raised eyebrow.  “Cat may not be aware of it, but I’ve been around the storyboards enough to have met quite a few historical figures.

    “Really?!” Paul asks.

    “Mm-hm!  In fact, what do you say to me taking over for a while, girls?  I’m sure one teacher is enough to handle these wonderful angels, at least for one adventure.”

    “Thanks for the offer,” Cat answers, “but I have a strict itinerary that I don’t want to mess up.  I know you’d do a good job with them, but do you really want to risk trying to read my hideous handwriting for where to go, whom to meet?”

    “Hahaha!” Ally hugs Faye while laughing.  “You really have that little faith in my sense of direction?”

    “No, J.,” Cat reassures, “I just have my rhythm.  You can take them on a trip when we finish, okie dokie?”

    Thoroughly pleased with this thought, Ally rises up and leaves the table.  “Then I’ll have to think of the perfect trip for when you all return, right, baby?”

    Her daughter faithfully nods in eager agreement.  “I know Elf and Grace will just love wherever you take us!”

    Ally then wanders around the cafeteria, getting this from the vending machine and that from the mini-fridge, all the while unwittingly keeping the attention of everyone with her captivating aura of personality that emits with every idiosyncrasy she involuntarily displays.  As an attractive single mom, she’s the dream of every available male and the respected rival of every unmarried female.

    Vahnna, being Vahnna, targets the mystery by asking Duplica, “So, what’s her story?”

    Faye’s eyes widen at the brazen inquiry.

    Duplica begins to answer Vahnna’s question, saying, “She’s a funny one, that Ally J.  When she came to us, she was badly injured, but refused to be seen.  As soon as my back was turned, she had sneaked out in heated fury.  By the time I found her, I learned what the problem was.  A vicious beast had killed her husband, and almost took her as well.  She couldn’t rest, however, as long as she felt their daughter was still in danger.  That was when I knew we had a courageous fighter who was more than just a pretty face.  Even now, she tries to be all sweet and spicy, but the reality is she’s a strong woman who inspires me every day we pass each other.”

    Blushing, Faye smiles at her unfinished plate of cheese squash.  Elf overhears her whispering to herself, “Then the least I can do is finish my vegetables.  *Sigh* For you, Mommy.”  With a deep breath, the race begins to endure the culinary agony.

    Elf can’t resist a little laughter at this.  “Good job, Faye.”

    Vahnna sits back and takes in this information.  “It never changes, does it?  Thousands of years into the future and humanity is still the same, enduring heartache and still pushing on.  Makes you wonder if we’d be this strong if we were in the System Director’s world.”

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