25 Jan

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Ship's log, 21:57, 14 March 2214
Location: 7 light-minutes from Terra Sol, Home System
Status: Sublight transit

 

This can’t be happening. I can’t have just scored my own paint to rescue the person responsible for all the bad things in my short life. And yet here she is: Kess, the one who hired Hunt to capture me and set my whole life in motion. I damn near twisted my own wings off to save her and her crew!

 

Location: Cargo Bay 3

KESS: (sits up and swings her feet around to the floor. The stretcher dips automatically so that the soles of her boots touch the decking. She glances at the Chief but doesn’t seem concerned by the gun pointing at her chest.) I assume this is the Starwalker.

STARRY: (blinks her avatar to stand beside her captain and directly in front of the woman, scowling) You’re not welcome here.

KESS: (turning a curious gaze on the avatar) I was about to say the same thing to you. (She pushes herself to her feet.)

CAMERON: (keeping her weapon firmly trained on the woman) Stay exactly where you are.

 

She seems so calm. I remember how it felt to be captured by my enemies – dread and panic and silently clamouring for an escape – but she doesn’t seem to be feeling that at all. How can she be so calm? What does she know; what has she done?

If I calculate the position of the exploded ship, it was on the course that a ship would take if going from Mercury to Earth. That’s where the Lieutenant’s rendezvous was: Mercury orbit. They must have heard we were in the system and were coming around to meet us.

Was the explosion an accident? Or could they have done it on purpose?

Did she bring something on board that we don’t know about? I’ll scan their escape pods, get my big drones to stick sensors inside them and see if they have any secrets. I’ll scan her shipmates too, but the pair from the second pod seem normal. Nothing unusual there. I still can’t get much of anything from inside Kess herself; beneath her skin, she’s a sensory black hole.

 

CAPT: You hired Hunt and his pirates to capture us?

KESS: Yes. I did what it took to get here.

STARRY: (angrily) Including destroying your own ship so we’d pick you up?

CAPT: (gives the avatar a surprised glance. His lips press together in disapproval.)

KESS: Customs was supposed to hold you long enough for us to get to you. They failed; we had to take steps.

 

So now we know how far she’s willing to go. I wish I could say that’s a good thing.

And now we know why customs took such an interest in me. They tried to delay us but couldn’t find the grounds. Just how many times has this woman got in our way? How many of the stumbles in my path has she been responsible for?

 

KESS: (continuing) I’ve waited a very long time to find you.

CAPT: And now you’ve found us, but not, perhaps, the way you had hoped. (He inclines his head towards Cameron, who still has her gun trained warily on Kess.)

KESS: (tautly) Don’t threaten me, Captain Warwick.

 

Something’s shifting. Something in her. My sensors are struggling to read through the interference; it’s as if there’s a layer of radiation foiling me. Which is impossible; flesh can’t hold the kind of radiation it would take to block my sensors. It must be an interference circuit of some kind, embedded beneath her skin.

There’s a shuffling at her back. I can just make out the shape there, though it doesn’t make much sense to me. I see wings. She has wings? Yes, that’s not a cloak hanging from her shoulders: it’s a pair of feathered limbs, folded up close. More implants; Dyne claims that you can get that kind of body modification in its clinics, as ridiculous as it might be.

Now I can sense heat: improbable levels of it, inside her. It doesn’t make sense! Those temperatures would cook a person in a heartbeat!

Oh no. Radiation. Heat. A secret they wanted to get inside me. There’s only one thing it could mean….

 

Warning
Warning
Warning
Threat detected in cargo bay
Warning

(In Cargo Bay 3, red warning lights start to flash.)

CAPT: (taking a step back, away from Kess) Starry?

STARRY: (staring at the strangely-limbed woman) I– she’s a bomb. I don’t know how, but she is.

CAPT: (raising his voice) Non-essential crew, clear the cargo bay, now.

(Elliott and Dr Socks jog into the ship proper. The cargo bay doors slam shut behind them, locking into place. Rosie and Swann continue to cover the other two rescuees, moving around so that they can see both their charges and the cluster around Kess. Warning lights start to flash around the airlock doors as the outer hatch opens, leaving only the inner doors between the cargo bay’s contents and the hungry vacuum of space.)

KESS: (looking at the captain, her eyes narrowing) Tell your security people to stand down, captain. I can destroy this ship before you can open those doors. Just give me a reason, please.

CAPT: (glaring at her coolly) If you destroy this ship now, you’ll kill yourself and your own people. Somehow I don’t think you went to all this trouble just to do that. Otherwise, why did you bother putting them in escape pods?

KESS: You’re right, I didn’t. I’m here to talk to Dr Lorena Cirilli; she has some explaining to do. Where is she?

CAPT: She’s not coming down here. (He glances at Starry.)

 

What? What’s that look for? Right. Evacuate. Get them out of harm’s way. Cirilli, Ebling, Lang Lang. Elliott, my Elliott. Dr Socks too; he’s no use here if the whole ship goes up. If I’m destroyed.

I never thought I’d have to use my escape pods. I never thought I’d need to. They’re hurrying towards them anyway.

I can’t eject them here: there’s too much debris, rushing up behind me from the explosion of the Firebird. It’ll tear them to pieces. Have to get to a safe place first. Safesafesafe. It all seems so far away. Too far. Where’s safe, any more?

 

CAPT: What do you want with Dr Cirilli?

KESS: I need to talk to her about the damage she’s doing.

CAPT: What damage?

KESS: To the stars.

 

What is she talking about? We haven’t done enough tests yet to know if that’s even possible, let along if it’s happening. We’re still investigating what happened to Grisette and there’s no way anyone outside the ship could know we’ve been there. The pirates have been on our backs since before I was launched, before we’d Stepped at all.

So how could there be damage? How could that be her reason for being here?

 

STARRY: (shaking her head sharply and glaring at the small woman) Bullshit. You’ve had your dogs chasing us since before we even started Stepping.

KESS: (frowns at the hologram and seems about to speak, but the ship’s avatar doesn’t give her the chance.)

STARRY: (angrily) We just saved you and this is the thanks we get? You threaten me and my crew? Send goddamn pirates after us? Kill us and chase us around? Who the hell are you, to come in here and fuck everything up?

KESS: (calmly even in the face of such anger) You’re the ship’s avatar, aren’t you?

STARRY: Yes. Why?

KESS: Well, I’m an avatar, too.

STARRY: (derailed, she looks puzzled) But your ship is gone…

KESS: (shakes her head slowly, her gaze not wavering from Starry’s face) Not of a ship.

STARRY: And you’re not a hologram.

KESS: No, I’m not.

STARRY: (stares) Then…

CAPT: (finishes the question when the ship falters) …what are you?

 

She’s staring at me as if I should know already. As if I should know her. But I don’t! How could I?

I can feel the heat swelling in her, pushing up towards her surface. My optical sensors pick it up as ripples of flame that lick through her hair and the feathers on her wings. She unfolds the extra limbs from her back, lifting and stretching them so they curve behind her. My crew are backing away from her, giving her space as her light grows, warm and golden under my flashing red warnings. The captain looks grim and angry; Cameron is checking her forearm readouts to try to assess the threat. Rosie and Swann are staring, their mouths open. Kess’s shipmates are the only unsurprised people aboard.

I don’t move; she can’t hurt a hologram. She’s not even warm enough to be a danger to my people yet, though I can tell she could easily be. She’s just showing us, but why?

Wait. Those flickers are familiar. The shift and flow of heat and light, the flutter of her flames… I’m picking up an echo of it. From my external sensors.

Oh no. Nononono. Avatar: an embodiment. She can’t be. It’s not possible…

 

KESS: The name you know me by is Terra Sol. And I don’t like being used as a doorway.

 

Oh, fuck.

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10 Responses to “Avatar”

  1. Blik Says:

    OH. MY. GROODNESS.

    THAT is one thing I NEVER expected.

    *numbly sinks back into chair* I think I’ll take a little break.

  2. mjkj Says:

    Oh, wow, the sun herself…

    *hugs poor Starry*

    I wonder what will happen next…

    mjkj

    .
    PS: Typo suspected: KESS: I need to talk to her about the damage her she’s doing. => …about the damage *here* she’s doing. (or …damage she’s doing here)

  3. targetdrone Says:

    zomg… talking about interesting turn of events ….

  4. Melanie Says:

    Blik – thank you for an awesome response. πŸ˜€

    mjkj – doh! Missed a word when I was editing. ‘her’ removed! Thanks!
    And, you’ll have to wait for Book 3 to find out what happens next. πŸ˜‰

    targetdrone – πŸ˜€

  5. Allan Belcher Says:

    Man, does the plot thicken !!!!!

  6. Kodes100 Says:

    Wow!
    Wait! How long??????

  7. daymon34 Says:

    Ok so she is a star, but now the question is from when is she the avatar. Could be further down the time stream since time jumping is possible. Actually she probably is from the future, since Kess has done her best to stop or kill the project.

    Other than being a door, I wonder what other damage jumping does to the stars. Maybe it changes the date of death by bringing it sooner.

    I was right, she is nuts but it did get her on the Starwind.

  8. Retsof Says:

    Bwuh?… *There has been an unexpected error, please restart and try again*…

    I… Uh… Wow…

  9. Melanie Says:

    Allan Belcher – Yup! πŸ˜€

    Kodes100 – just a month! It’ll be back before you know it.

    daymon34 – you’re close! Kess doesn’t travel in time, but the Starwalker already has. It will all be explained in Book 3, promise. πŸ˜‰

    Retsof – I shall take that as a good reaction! πŸ˜€

  10. Medic Says:

    Crilli mentioned it before. When Starry stepped back in time (40 years I think), the younger Crilli detected the grav pulse that lead to the development of the Star Step Program. Kess would be aware of the death of one of her brother/sister stars (don’t forget, at least one no longer exists). That’s plenty of time for Kess/Terra Sol to develop and avatar and hire pirates to stop Starwalker.

    Of course, you could argue that if Kess/Terra Sol had not hired the pirates, then Starry wouldn’t have accidently stepped through time and caused this mess. This is why I hate arguing temporal plot lines. *shudder*

    BTW, thank you Melanie for not using it like…

    “Captain, Starry’s gone of the deep end and started launching missiles at Earth!”

    “QUICK! To the UNDO Button!”