Neither Venus nor Zaren went to the party.

Dervinias’s little house had two bedrooms. He’d given the smaller one to Venus. The room was basic:  a window, closet, dresser, nightstand and a bed. The décor on the walls—not so basic. The top half had been painted a cotton candy pink. The bottom half had paper stuck to it, covered in (get this) little princesses. There were hundreds of vertical rows of blond, brown and black-haired girls wearing a long bright pink gown. Each had a tiara and scepter.  An off-white border cut the walls in half and a hot pink colored word, ‘Princess’ repeated itself over and over and over and over all the way around the room. 

At least the bed looked comfy. A white comforter covered it and tons of different sized pillows had been propped against the headboard. It’d reminded Venus of a fluffy cloud. The pillows were pretty. Some covered in lace, pearlized shells, ruffles and tiny roses. Over the bed hung a small chandelier and with the lights on, the room sparkled with hundreds of tiny diamonds. On the white nightstand sat a lamp, the shade a soft pink. And the curtains dressing the window were thick, fluffy white. 

When she’d first entered, she nearly died of humiliation. Dervinias swore he hadn’t done it. He said the previous owners had sold him the house furnished. Both Zaren and Dervinias had laughed. Yeah, hilarious.

The cute little room, clearly decorated for a little girl, brought concern and twisted her gut with worry. She couldn’t help wondering about the people who’d lived in the house before Dervinias. What’d happened to them? Why had they left everything? The girl? What sort of sadness or trouble had caused them to up and move? Humanity! Crappy new-fangled emotions for people she’d never met. They coursed through her body, an unfamiliar strain, the effects almost as poisonous as the air.

She’d asked Dervinias about the family, but he’d said he didn’t know. Somehow she didn’t believe him. Something felt off. He seemed too happy, too cheerful about . . . everything. Even when Venus had asked questions and he’d complained she was giving him ‘the third degree’, he’d continued with his too upbeat attitude. It was irksome. Irritating. The worst part was he seemed to enjoy bugging her.

“Look,” he’d finally said, “your fiancé’s father has a great desire to understand all things human—especially the younger generations. Teenagers to be specific. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that we kelvieri look sixteen and will forever. But I’m sure it’s more. Over the centuries, he’s witnessed the younger generation become smarter and smarter while they’ve grown lazier and lazier. It’s made him curious. So here I am—an experiment.”

Venus nodded. Her parents had talked about sending an expedition to Earth for the same sort of reasons. They had questions about why humans seemed to die at such a young age.

“So you’re here to study the humans? You’re a Discoverer?”

“Well, yes and no. My official title is Geneticist, but I’ve gone on several expeditions before this one and discovered many different worlds, so Discoverer fits, too.”

“What have you learned? Are humans bound to become extinct?” Her Earth Studies teacher had given humans another century at most before they destroyed each other and their beautiful planet.

“Probably, though I find their take on emotions fascinating.”

Venus shrugged and went to bed. She’d had more questions, but Dervinias seemed anxious to get to the high school party and Venus had been tired.

Still was.

But so far sleep eluded her. Two hours of tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable enough, relaxed enough, to close her eyes and drift. Without success. A faint mildew odor tickled her nose and the bed wasn’t as comfortable as it’d looked. Kind of lumpy. She’d changed into pajamas for sleep, a black tank and boy shorts. The material, though softer than the clothes she’d been wearing, scratched her skin. And human underwear—awful! Talk about riding into areas they didn’t belong. No wonder humans were grouchy. She missed her silky unisas and her lovely, comfortable bed that read her body’s every need, both internally and externally. She guessed that if clouds weren’t vapor, but as soft and squishy as they looked, they’d feel like her bed back home.

“Cret,” she swore and flipped onto her back. Forcing her breathing to slow, she closed her eyes. If only I didn’t have to breathe. If only there was a switch to turn off my mind.  

But it refused to shut down. Scenarios on how she’d ended up on Earth coursed through her. Who would’ve done it? She knew her family had enemies. That went along with being royalty. What they did about it was a different story. Their counselors, chancellors and especially her parents had always kept that part of ruling the kingdom away from her. They’d said she was too young to understand. Now she was on her own and she didn’t know where to start. It could’ve been anyone. How could she help them if she didn’t know where to begin?

And Sadraden? Her irrihunter’s baby? Both dead. Venus felt tears form in her eyes, a human thing to do—cry. She tried to blink them back, but one escaped and she wiped it away. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.” Another tear. Pain wrenched and twisted her heart. The tears flowed and she let them. 

For the first time ever, she cried herself to sleep.

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