The six-year-old Skylar jumped excitedly from one foot to the other. Her brown braid whirled through the air.
“Where are you?” she shouted to her two older siblings.
The fifteen-year-old Damon shook his head in amusement. A smile lay on his lips. Twelve-year-old Emma drank her last sip of cocoa before she looked at her little sister in disgust.
“You should know by now that not everyone has to jump immediately if you want something,” she rebuked the youngest of the family. Emma did not want to watch for the little devil. Especially not on Christmas Eve.
Their parents had suddenly driven to the company in the middle of the night. To the headquarters of the Weyland Corporation in England. Emma and Damon secretly called the bosses slave drivers because they did not care about the families of their employees. Only the research was important. That was reason enough for the twelve-year-old to hate the company.
Because of them they had moved from sunny California to wet and cold England. Near London, to be exact. For several months they had been living in a Victorian villa on the edge of the forest, without any neighbors. Making new friends was difficult. They lived too far away from school and thus from their classmates. Emma’s goal war to move back to the States after her eighteenth birthday at the latest. To their old home, sunny California. The main thing was to get away from this place and its rainy weather.
“Stop dreaming, Emma. We promised Sky we would take her outside to decorate the tree.” Damon dragged his unwilling sister behind him to the wardrobe.
Grumbling she put on her winter boots and the thick jacket. The parka was olive green, lined and repulsive in Emma’s eyes. With it, she could easily go for a walk in the forest without attracting attention. Why did her parents prefer practical clothing that was this unsightly?
But branded clothing was not available for the children. Both the father and the mother had a high salary to fulfill the wishes of their offspring. Only it did not seem to be in their interest. Any hobbies that were not important for a successful career were also forbidden. In return, they prepared the two older kids for their later life. For a job at Weyland. The siblings were not asked if they were interested in this at all.
Instead, Damon and Emma received lessons in self-defense and weapon usage three times a week. The teacher was a British veteran who had worked for Weyland since his release from active duty. He enjoyed telling the children stories from his time in the army. Like their grandfather, he had participated in dangerous missions in distant countries.
The children had never met their granddad. He disappeared together with all the other expedition members while exploring a pyramid in the jungle of Peru. No one had heard from them since. The parents sounded disturbed when they told this story.
The fourth generation was currently working for the company, with Damon and Emma next in line. For years they had been learning biochemistry and technology at home. In mathematics they were light years ahead of their classmates. The same applied to computer science. It was a mystery to the siblings why their parents sent them to school even though they were so much further along than their peers.
Only the youngest of the three children enjoyed her freedom. Something that Emma envied. Why did Sky, unlike them, grow up so sheltered? Grumbling, the twelve-year-old followed the pampered rat outside, who was already jumping and whirling up the powder snow. Fifteen centimeters of fresh snow had fallen overnight. Above the twenty from the day before. By English standards this was a lot. The snow crunched under the boots. The air was fresh and clear.
Damon soon joined the girls. He placed a box of Christmas decorations in the snow and looked at the fir tree. The three meters high tree stood in the middle of the circular driveway. Centrally in front of the big brick house with the narrow windows. Sandstone decorated the corners of the villa and the arches above the glass windows. The semi-circular bay window next to the porch for the entrance gave the whole thing a playful appearance. Without it, the house was rather one giant brick, despite the decorations. From the second floor, one looked out over the dark forest. Sky was forbidden to enter it alone. It was too dangerous. A predator might be lurking there. The children had laughed at the stories. Pumas and panthers in England? Hard to imagine. But eyewitnesses reported regularly about predatory cats in remote regions.
“Are your feet frozen solid, Damon? Or can we get started? I want to get back inside as soon as possible,” nagged Emma at her brother. She threw her blond curls back over her shoulders. Her ears were already reddening from the cold because she refused to wear a cap again.
With a shrug, the boy fetched the big ladder and placed it close to the tree. He climbed up and put the candles on the branches. Soon the first quarter was done. The stepladder was moved further, and the second part of the fir tree got lights. The other parts followed. The six-year-old decorated the lower branches with Christmas ornaments. Emma took over the middle section and Damon did everything that could only be done with usage of the ladder.
“This was the last ornament. We are done.” The boy took the stepladder back to the tool shed. Emma ran straight into the house without looking back at her sister or the decorated tree. The little girl did not notice. She stared frowningly at the forest.
“What is wrong, Sky?” The big boy lifted her up effortlessly. Suspiciously, he studied her facial expression.
“There is something hiding in the forest.” She pointed to the front row of trees. “Don’t you feel something watching us?”
“Did Mom tell you fairy tales about predators in this forest again?” Her brother laughed softly. “According to Dad, there aren’t any here.”
“Then why can’t I go for a walk by myself?” Big brown eyes looked at the deciduous trees. Old oaks and beeches that belonged to the property. But there was more. A pair of eyes lay upon it and revealed the presence of an unidentified creature.
“You are not allowed to, because we don’t want you to get lost in the forest.” Damon carried Sky into the house. She kept looking over his shoulder at a thick, gnarled branch five meters up. Something was lurking there, watching the children.
“What took you so long?”, Emma scolded. Her voice came from the living room. “We have some more work to get done.”
Smiling, Damon helped the little one to take off her soaked pants. Dressed in a sweater and thick pantyhose only she ran to join her big sister.
“I am here. We can start,” she yelled with delight. Emma moaned annoyed. Nevertheless, she handed Sky the first bauble for the second Christmas tree.
“Let me put the lights on first.” Damon slid in between his two sisters.
“You don’t need to. These candles are wireless. Even our dwarf can do it.”
“I am not a dwarf!” Skylar stamped her foot, the corners of her mouth pulled down.
“Yes, you are.” Emma held the box with the Christmas lights over her sister’s head, so that she could not reach them. Smiling mockingly, she watched as the little one struggled.
“Don’t be so mean to her.” Damon took the box from the twelve-year-old and handed it to Sky. “Don’t let our drama queen get to you,” he advised her. “Decorate what you can, Emma and I will do the rest later.”
Beaming with joy the six-year-old started to decorate the tree. The other two ran into the kitchen to prepare the meal. Meatloaf with mushed peas and fried potatoes. For dessert they planned ice cream. There was plenty of ice cream in the freezer.
Damon hoped that their parents would return in time. Their sudden departure had aroused his curiosity. Something serious had happened, otherwise they would not have been called back to the company on their day off. Especially not both together.
All children were absorbed in their work. No one noticed the almost transparent figure at the window. It shimmered like the air above the asphalt on a hot summer’s day. Only those who took a closer look might notice it.
The creature outside wondered about the behavior of the children. Why did the pups hang small colorful objects in fir trees? This custom was strange to him. He had been observing oomans for decades. He suspected that it was only typical for this region, about which he had hardly learned anything so far.
Mostly he hunted in tropical areas far away from the places where this species lived. But this time he had received an order from the elders. They had located missing objects of his kind on Earth. It was his duty to retrieve them.
For several decades, humans colonized and explored foreign planets. That way the found a few Yautja weapons. They were obsolete to the hunters, but for oomans they brought progress. This meant power and therefore danger. These weak beings learned too fast for his taste. Unless it concerned the kiande amedha. The pyode amedha always felt prey to these dangerous creatures.
For several days he had been watching the family now. This way he had noticed that the parents of these pups were white coats. He had followed them home from their work continuously. The night before they had left their pups alone and had driven back to work. Because he had carelessly disclosed his presence. Like a fresh young blood, he had not been able to resist and had killed a guard who had attacked him. With the trophy he had returned to his spaceship afterwards. But the absence of the head and spine of the dead body had shown the oomans who was responsible for killing him.
Thoughtfully he watched the smallest pup again. It was a female if he was not mistaken. She pulled a chair up to the tree. Quickly she climbed on it and decorated further. H-ulij-bpe lou. Crazy kid. The little one had noticed his presence in the forest and had stared directly at him despite his disguise. Now her eyes were piercing him again. Big, brown, and innocent. With her head cocked, she looked at him. Then she jumped off the chair and ran out of the room. He turned around with a sigh and made his way back to the city.