Day 30! It’s almost over!

storyaday-4

I didn’t follow today’s prompt. I liked the prompt, but I didn’t have any ideas. Or rather, I started writing and ended up with this! Which may be a mess, but I’m okay with that. I had to try something different-ish.

So, thanks for reading. We’re almost to the end!

Many dark holidays and creatures took hold of the world after the Days of Blight and Ruin. The naysayers shook their heads, of course, but most survivors agreed the time had come for strange deeds.

In what used to be called the Kingdom of the World was a pit. The pit went deep into the earth and could have held a mountain if the citizens had the wherewithal to fill it in. Only the most debased lived near the pit. Toxins curled ceaselessly upward and a sickly orange glow light up its mouth at night.

But the pit, which had formed in the early devastating days, demanded care. That’s what many survivors said and even those who didn’t believe didn’t have the heart to risk pretending the pit and its occupant didn’t exist. For there was, all knew, a terrible beast thrashing and pawing in the dirt and waste, and no one wanted it to escape.

The people marked the Day of Appetite. Days of giving and romance and independence had faded into history, and people who remembered them were avoided or mocked. Nothing mattered as much as doing one’s part for the Day of Appetite.

Citizens who could make the pilgrimage traveled to the pit. Those who couldn’t sent their offerings. And most people couldn’t travel. Injury, illness, and poverty kept most everyone near whatever ground they’d managed to hold onto. Even those with healthy bodies and actual bank accounts were reluctant to leave their plots and fortified houses. They sent emissaries they could trust but wouldn’t miss if they failed to return.

The powers that be made sure everyone contributed to the day. It was the only way to prove one’s loyalty to the security of the Kingdom. What would happen if the beast freed itself? No one wanted the answer to that question. they couldn’t survive the beast again and they knew it.

The holiday proved so successful in keeping the beast sated, the people agreed to celebrating not every year, but every month, and then every week. It didn’t take long before the day went on and on without end, people always coming to feed the appetite of the beast.

They brought gold, of course. The beast loved its false light and warmth. They brought mirrors for the beast was easily distracted by itself. They brought what had been deemed luxuries in the old world that the beast still believed in. But most of all, they brought applause and cheers.

Nothing soothed the beast like the sounds of its own name called again and again in the dark wasteland outside the pit. The beast slowed its frantic gnawing and grasping at the sound of cheers and claps. The crowds that came were music to its savage ears. They loudly proclaimed their devotion and it didn’t even matter if their hearts were in it. The beast couldn’t tell the difference no more than it could tell the difference between the bones of its victims.

Yet even as the holiday came to be every moment of every day, it was’t enough. The beast grew, and so did its pit. The pit expanded, filled with offering and the engorged beast. The pit grew and fields and landfills and cities crumbled and slid within. The people, the worshippers, sincere and false, fell, crushed under the garbage and gold in equal measure.

The day finally dawned when there were no people left to clap and cheer. The beast desperately clawed at the sides of its prison. It clawed and clawed, desperate for sound. All was silent and dark except for the cries of the beast.

And they say, dear children, that world has shriveled and disappeared from view. All that remains is the ever hungry cry for adoration you can hear on a dark, lonely night.

But where did the beast come from, mummy? asked Neeshell the oldest with three great big eyes and green silk hair. The other children wanted to know too.

Their mother stared off into space, considering her answer.

Little Tomay burrowed close to his mother. How could a beast like that even be born? he asked.

Their mother scratched Tomay behind his left horn. They aren’t born, sweethearts, she explained. They are made.

Can we make one? Neeshell asked, putting her arm around her sister, Clee, whose eyes drooped with sleepiness.

Good heavens, their mother said. No. Definitely not.

Why not? asked Tomay. He stretched out his back legs.

Because you’re loved, she replied. Then she insisted they all go to bed. She tucked them in and kissed each one goodnight. Turning off the light, she stood in the darkness, listening.

Day 27! Almost to the end!

storyaday27-2.jpg

Today’s Story-a-Day prompt was to write a non-traditional love story. This probably doesn’t qualify, but it is what I wrote.

For Time Travelers, Witches, and Saints: A Compendium of Lesser Known Time Travelers and Other Terrors.

Agatha Omerez wants company to travel with through time. A time traveler, She has access to all the technology ever created and she takes the best from various points in history. Building another life takes patience, but after several failures, her robot says hello and looks into Agatha’s eyes.

“Hello, Lou,” Agatha replies, proud of her work. Lou doesn’t look perfectly human and isn’t meant to. Anyone would recognize Lou for a machine. But Lou is definitely human-like, able to tilt its head to show it is listening and to run for its life to show it cares.

The robot blinks. Of all the things Lou can do, one thing it can not is talk. So, it nods at Agatha and blinks again.

“Welcome to the world,” Agatha says. “I hope you find it suitable for your needs.” It isn’t that she wasn’t able to give the robot a voice. She understands the technology. She wasn’t able to decide what she wanted. Lou has no gender. Maybe from a certain angle, some people might conclude Lou a female robot, but that requires a certain way of seeing.

A voice needs tone and rhythm. What should Lou sound like? What voice does Agatha want following her on adventures? A voice would make Lou too human. Agatha reaches over and tightens a screw in the robot’s shoulder. Lou looks down and watches. “When I find the right voice, I’ll give it to you,” Agatha says.

Lou’s shiny eyes blinked.

“Now,” Agatha begins, knowing she doesn’t need to tell Lou what she is about to say but feeling compelled to explain herself to those big shining eyes. “You and I are going to travel together through time, even to times before most of your body parts existed. But I’ve planned for that, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Lou nods and looks down at itself.

“Your job is to help me whenever I need help.”

Lou nods again, and light on Lou’s chest flickers.

“It gets lonely out here,” Agatha says, “and I need someone to talk to. I’m just not sure yet if I need someone who will talk back.”

The lights come on again in the sequence Agatha programed. It means yes, I understand. More lights. What’s next, Lou asks through the light display. I’m hungry, the lights signal.

“Hungry?” Agatha ask. That makes no sense. One reason for a robot companion is to not worry about food supplies. One of them going hungry somewhere in time is problem enough.

I’m hungry. To see. The stars. Lou seems to consider. More life. Lou taps the panel of lights. Hungry for more.

This time it is Agatha who blinks. What had she programmed into the machine? “Okay,” she replies, promising herself to check Lou’s programming. This is her first robot, after all. There are bound to be mistakes.

Hungry.

But more immediately, this seems like a problem that can be fixed. Or at least tested. With a click, the doors to the room open and outside is a city park. Not that far away, children scream playing tag while parents watch and other park visitors stroll by. No one takes any note of the open doors. Agatha excels at invisibility design.

Lou peers out into the world. The flickering lights speed up. Lou’s wide shiny eyes look in every direction, pausing on the children and then on a dog running off leash into a flock of pigeons.

Agatha waits until the flickering lights slow down and shut off save one. “How are you now?” she asks.

Almost full, Lou’s lights answer.

Agatha takes Lou’s mechanical hand in hers, and Lou continues to watch until the sky darkens and the people begin heading home.

*

Thanks for reading!

Day 25 is for poetry.

storyaday25

I wrote a bad poem earlier this month when a story I was working on just wouldn’t come together. This time I wrote a poem because I decided to go along with today’s Story-a-Day prompt, which was to write a sonnet.

Some people love prompts and other people hate them. Sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. My first novel started as a prompt (the prompt was marbles, and if you’ve read the novel, you’ll know where that prompt took me). So, obviously I find value in giving prompts a try.

Last year for Story-a-Day, I didn’t use any of the prompts. I also didn’t finish the monthlong challenge. In any event, I had to fit today’s writing in around a project for work and a bunch of distractions. But here it is. Thanks for reading!

When the Time Traveler Comes to Call

The time traveler risks life and stars
whether or not they are her property.
She leaps from centuries to moons to Mars.
Control is her prosperity.

She waltzes to your room, your day, your plan,
and scoops up the lines of your life.
She tells you, run! She knew before you began,
your portion of joy, your well of strife.

You can’t keep up with her in time.
She is the speed of planets and of hearts.
You may one day hear the death bell chime.
Perhaps by then, you understand what she imparts.

The time traveler comes and offers you her hand.
Do you take her invitation to the fear and the grand?

Day 22!

storyadayshadow

Today’s Story-a-Day prompt asked us to explore settings and to use all the senses. Well, I’ve given it a shot.

For Astrophilia

The governor canceled school to celebrate the cleanest air in a decade. The mechanics and engineers had discovered new parts for the massive air towers, and the result was a near blue sky.

Not everyone rushed outside. A few souls didn’t want to be reminded of what they’d lost and would be lost again. A few others eyed the gray-blue sky and suspected a plot to depopulate the district. It had happened before. But some, especially the children, set their air masks on their hooks and rushed into the streets and nearby fields.

Miracle June broke away from her friends to walk across the burned out plain. She didn’t how far she was allowed to go, but she’d go until someone called her back. The yellow grass came up to her knees. She’d dared more than most, going out in a skirt and indoor shoes, wanting to feel as much as she could. The blades swiped her knees, not quite sharp enough to draw blood but leaving thin shallow scratching her skin.

Several yards into the wide open space, she knelt and broke the yellow blades of grass in her hand. The smell of burnt toast drifted upward and she inhaled. The air hurt a little, unfiltered, hinting at cold and chlorine. But she was outside and breathing without a mask.

The torn blades of grass in her hand were already black and she wiped the remains on her skirt. The blackened grass left streaks on the brown, pleated wool, but she didn’t care about her school uniform today. Miracle June stretched out on the ground, the yellow grass breaking under her.

The hard grass jabbed her shoulder blades, back, and calves. She smelled the sick soil, her red hair looping and snagging on the yellow stalks. One strand of hair caught in her mouth. She tasted her cheap shampoo along with the almost taste of clean air. Breathing in as deeply as she could, her shoulder blades pressed harder into the ground. The thick clouds moved like oil slicks. What would it have been like to see a bird? Miracle June made herself imagined a bird like she’d seen in films soar across the sky.

Staring upward she then tried to imagine the stars. Who had been the last person to see stars in the night sky? She raised an arm as if reaching for something above. Her arm now perpendicular to her frame, she worked her fingers as if she could pinch a far off star.

The sirens began. Reluctantly, Miracle June sat up. Dirt and grass stuck in her hair. The smell of the grass would follow her for days. Looking back at where the street ended and the city buildings began, she understood why her mother didn’t want to take part in this day. Her mother remembered a handful of constellations that Miracle June could only day dream about.

Her classmates and everyone who’d ventured outside without their masks now trudged back to the shelter of their buildings. The wind shifted and picked up trash on the ground, tumbling paper scraps and old cans further into the city. A headache bloomed behind her eyes and she coughed. Even on these official mask-free afternoons, the body paid.

Her mother greeted her at the apartment door. “What did you do out there?” her mother asked, her anxiety revealed in her fingers tapping on the metal door frame.

Miracle June breathed in deeply again, in the apartment’s controlled environment. “I imagined birds in the sky,” she said. “And above them stars.”

“Oh good heavens, Mira. Why would you do that?”

“Don’t worry, mom. I don’t think I’ll do it again.”

Thanks for reading!

Day 21. Whew.

storyaday5

Today’s prompt asked for world building. Like yesterday, this could have been much longer, but here is something for my novel’s backstory, specifically the religion in the novel’s universe. Kind of weird to start a religion! Ha!

In any event, thanks for reading!

Octavia Day was the seventh astronaut on the seventh mission and the first to return to Earth. She never talked about what happened to the others. “The recordings speak for themselves,” she said in interviews.

“How did you live?” they asked.

“I prayed.” Octavia also thought and reacted faster than the others. She’d contemplated every potential disaster, having studied the previous tragedies and judged their failures. But she didn’t want anyone to think she was showing off. The deaths had been hard enough to witness, and saying anything about them felt like gossiping. Her fellow astronauts were her friends. One was her sister.

She wouldn’t gossip, but she would remember.

The first day Octavia opened her eyes after being rescued, she discovered a crowd under her hospital window. The doctors, the nurses, and the security detail refused entry to anyone for those early days, which gave her plenty of time to think between sedative induced dreams.

“Why are they at my window?” Octavia watched the nurse check her pulse and take a vial of blood. Her blood had been deeper in space than anyone living. She’d walked on another planet. They were determined to learn from her.

The nurse took her notes. “You’ve traveled faster and farther than anyone. You’ve seen things no one else has seen, sweetie.”

Octavia played with the hem of her sheet. “I’d like to meet one of them.”

“Against orders,” the nurse reminded her, dropping her pin into her white pocket.

“But I don’t have anyone,” Octavia replied. “Everyone’s dead. For me it’s been only a few years, but for you it’s been a generation. Were you even born when I left?”

The nurse patted Ocatvia on the arm. “Oh, my mam wasn’t even born. But you’ll do all right. You’ll get out of here and make new friends. Don’t you fret.”

Octavia nodded. “Maybe one of the people out there in the parking lot. They’ve been there all day and night for weeks. I just want to make a friend.” This was true and yet it wasn’t. Octavia didn’t know what she wanted. “The stars are beautiful,” she added. “I wish I could see them from here.”

“Nobody sees the stars from here.” The nurse looked at the window and then at the clock. “The sky hasn’t been clear since I was a schoolgirl. Tell you what, sweetie. I’ll see if I can’t get you a friend, okay?”

It took three days for the nurse to appear with a woman from the waiting crowd. “I did some sweet talking and got permission to bring you some company.”

The young woman stared wide eyed at Octavia. Once the nurse was gone, the girl finally unclenched her hands which she’d had tight to her chest. “I’m so honored, ma’am. So honored.”

Octavia straightened up in her bed. “No, don’t do that. I’m just me.” Octavia didn’t believe she was ordinary. She remembered how hard she worked to be selected for the mission and how hard she’d worked to survive. She wasn’t ordinary at all. But the adoring gaze unsettled and confused her. Didn’t people have more to believe in than a woman who’d navigated a starship and came back with a dead crew.

The young woman moved quickly to the side of Octavia’s bed. “We’ve read all your communications. Did you know they released them? There are forums and groups deciphering them. We know what you’ve seen and we want to listen.”

“My communications?” She couldn’t remember most of them now.

The woman sat on the edge of the bed. “You’ve been gone. You don’t know what it’s like. We need something to believe in and they told us you were dead. But then those communications kept coming and they had to admit you were alive. Only you. And you were coming back. Your trip is going to change everything, and we’re here for you.”

Octavia looked into the young woman’s eyes. Her astronaut training fought with her loneliness. Someone wanted to listen to her, not test her like an experiment.

The young woman smiled broadly. “What was it like?” she asked Octavia. “What was it like to see the stars, the Pleiades?”

For the first time since waking back on Earth, Octavia relaxed. She relaxed in a way the sedatives hadn’t allowed. “Like seeing angels,” she replied.

“You tell me and I’ll tell the others. We’ll spread the word. And everyone will believe.”

Day 20! More backstory, please.

storyaday19

Okay, maybe you don’t want more backstory! But these prompts are really helping me discover more about my novel-in-progress and the alternate universe I’ve created. The prompt encourages us to think about our world building. World building can apply to any type of story. Even a story set in modern day London needs its world built. But obviously I need to work on world-building because sci-fi and fantasy need a lot of that.

But I don’t want to spend pages and pages describing things. And because my characters are going to be moving about a universe, I could easily spend too much on backstory. So, I started trying to write the story of the historical figure mentioned in today’s scene, but that sort of spiraled out of control. Instead, I decided to pretend I had an entry in a history book. Of course, this is a work-in-progress and who knows how it will be in the end.

As always, thanks for reading.

For Astrophilia

*

Back in school, Miracle June loved history class. The teacher, Kindred Sands, seemed to know everything and surprised the students every day.

Sometimes, Kin, as the teacher asked to be called, came to class as a man and sometimes as a woman. That was nothing extraordinary. Great sections of the population never settled one way or another. Miracle June read about how generations before, citizens were forced into declare a side. But things had changed, even in the Pleiades district.

But what did surprise the current crop of teenagers in Pre-Sovereignty Earth History Segment Two were the costumes and disguises Kin wore. Kin arrived every day as a famous person from the past, and no time period seemed beyond Kin’s closet.

The day the Sovereignty announced its plans to build the largest starliner ever attempted, Kin walked into the classroom dressed as Lana Hypatia, one of the Sovereignty founders, the woman who made the air systems of Earth a reality.

“We studied her already,” said Bright Simmons, who rarely ever seemed interested in anything. She certainly wasn’t going to be interested in anything twice.

“But,” Kin replied, standing tall in front of the class, “if you recall, class was interrupted that day and we didn’t have time to finish the lesson.”

Everyone remembered. That was day Hopeful Jones died. But while Kin had been as shocked and undone by Hopeful’s death as anyone, sentiment had little space in history class. “In light of the Sovereignty’s announcement that will undoubtedly lead to more history being made, we’ll make time for the woman who made it possible.”

“What did we leave out, professor?” Miracle June asked. She was scanning her screen for the entry on Lana Hypatia and remembered covering all the key events of the revolutionary’s life.

“Footnotes, Miss Delphine.” Kin tapped on the wide screen in front of the class and a new page opened. “Never overlook them.”

Several students gasped. In fat black letters across the top of the screen ran the headline, Celebrated Leader’s Death Unresolved. And underneath the headline was a photograph of a bloodied corpse. “Yes, it’s true school leadership prefers we not discuss this fact in class. They encourage us to focus on the shining moments of glory, and I can’t say they’re wrong to do so.” Kin, in a wig of honey brown hair just like the hair fanned about the head of the dead individual in the photograph, tapped on the screen again, enlarging the disturbing image. “But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that our past was not all glory and medals.”

Sanity Clarke cleared his throat. “I understand, professor. But could we stop looking at the picture now?”

Kin looked disappointedly at Sanity and the other nodding students, but tapped on the screen to move on to the text. “We already know Lana Hypatia came from a remote Saturn region and got her start fighting for the rights of Earth refugees. The history books gloss over Lana’s death.”

Miracle June was as glad as the others the photograph was gone, but this was the reason she loved Kindred Sands’s class. Kin adhered to the class syllabus almost like a religion, but these dark tangents were still often fit in.

“Her body was found at the site of one of her great air towers. You’ve seen it, of course, at the edge of our district to the north. In the burned out plains. Some of you live that way, yes?”

Miracle June and a few others nodded. She could see the tower from her bedroom window.

“It’s old technology now, but at the time it was revolutionary, the complex and huge system removing toxin form the air and saving lives. We wouldn’t be here without the towers,” Kin reminded them unnecessarily. The towers every inhabited district on Earth. “Authorities never declared a cause of death. Some say it was an accident. The gears and electricity used were and are dangerous. And in those early days, many workers on the towers were killed. But some believed more nefarious forces at work. Many of the early leaders met untimely ends in strange accidents.”

On her own device, Miracle June stared at the image of Lana Hypatia, young and alive, sitting with a group of her fellow revolutionaries. What, Miracle June asked the woman in the photograph, would you make of your universe now?

“All right, class,” Kin was saying. “I’m giving you twenty minutes to do your own searches on the death of Lana Hypatia and her compatriots. Then you’ll share what you’ve learned.”

Bright Simmons raised her hand. “Professor?”

“Yes, Simmons?”

“Does it mater if we know how they died?” She shrugged. “It’s not like it changes anything.”

Kin adjusted the old-style belt of the old earth dress like what would have been the style in Lana’s time. “The Sovereignty’s announced its plans to build the largest starliner in history and to christen it the Hypatian. It never hurts to know all one can about one’s namesake. Names have DNA of their own.”

Bright looked skeptical. “But they aren’t even building it in our solar system. We’ll probably never even see it.”

“That doesn’t mean it won’t change your life.”

Miracle June was already reading through the many conspiracy theories surrounding Lana Hypatia’s death. Like Bright, Miracle June didn’t believe knowing would change her life, but the stories fascinated her anyway. How amazing it must have been to change the course of the universe.

Day 19! Are we done yet?

storyaday6

Today’s Story-a-Day prompt asked us to write about a secondary meeting. Basically, write the scene where the main character meets a secondary character. Well, I’d already written scenes with the main character meeting most everyone in her crew (fellowship, posse, gang, clique, whatever you want to call it). But I’m close to having two main characters. I’m not even sure if I’ve decided who is the main character really.

Here’s the thing, my original idea was to take inspiration from Doctor Who. I wanted my Doctor-esque character and my companion character. But I had to make them different, obviously, so they would be time travelers or travel in a box. Or perhaps a sort of Sherlock and Watson but in space!

And then I didn’t want to write a straight up science fiction story because I’m too fairy tale for that. But I wanted it in space. Some people won’t want to come along because I created an impossible universe. Maybe somewhat inspired by Ray Bradbury as well, but with a lot of Hayao Miyazaki thrown in.

Anyway, I decided to write about the character who was going to be my Sherlock Time Lord but who ended up being someone completely different and the day she meets a colleague who will always have her back.

Thanks for reading!

*

Tasanko didn’t sit down to wait. She’d meet the Archivist who walked into the room on her feet. The chill in the room helped her focus, and the crisp, snugness of her new uniform reminded her to stand up straight. A glance at the viewing screen on the far wall told her the ship had left the port. On time, of course. Sovereignty ships were never late.

She patted her pet beast on the head. Bow, a monstrosity of a hybrid creature gone wrong, grabbed attention wherever he went. He was parts Earth buffalo, Jupiter wolf, and mystery. Pets were forbidden on starliners, but she’d talked her way into an exception, promising to study its life cycle and investigate its origins. She didn’t really care where Bow came from, however. She liked his company.

“Who,” she asked her beast, “will come through that door?” Protocol was clear. Any crew member who was free could greet her and check her into the system. But Tas had read about the ship’s captain and how she ran things. Odds were another Archivist would be assigned the job.

Tas had narrowed it down to the three Archivists already assigned to the ship, and she’d studied the files on each of them, which was why she’d ruled out the Head Archivist, Gela Vye. Gela, Tas guessed, wouldn’t want to appear as if she had time to meet the new recruits. Tas checked her communicator, tempted to message Marcel and see if they’d greeted him yet. But she resisted the impulse as a good Archivist was supposed to do.

Bow, whose head came up to her waist, sat down with a thud. “Patience,” Tas said to him, “is the mark of a true Archivist.”

He swung his massive head to look at her.

“Well, you’re mine. And that makes you an Archivists by default.” She nudged him with the toe of her boot, but he took no note of it. Back at the Academy, she could take him into the fields for long runs. Sometimes he’d even go on a hunt, coming back to her with blood on his jaws. But now he’d have to live confined on a ship. There’d be no running through the corridors like he’d done in the dorm.

Tas looked back at the door. If Gela Vye didn’t come to welcome her on board, that left Eunyoung Kimberly Moon, the second in command, or Shalanda Kennington, who, according to her file, was the Sovereignty’s highest ranking historian as well as the ship mortician. Just how busy was a mortician on a ship this size? A click came from the other side of the door, and Tas bet herself the mortician would be the one to open it.

“You look pleased with yourself already,” Shalanda said, striding into the room and paying no attention to the 500 pounds of monster keeping Tas company. “I’m sure you haven’t done a damn thing yet.”

“Over two-thousand crew members on this ship, ma’am, and I knew you’d the one to walk through that door,” Tas replied. “I’m just pleased I was right.”

Shalanda’s mouth turned up at one corner. “Of course you did. The Sovereignty doesn’t assign idiots to its best ship.” She paused. “And if idiots actually ever do find themselves assigned here, the universe takes care of them pretty quick. Idiots are always the first to morgue.”

Tas didn’t flinch when Shalanda gave her the once over. “This is the only Sovereignty ship with an Archivist who also works with the dead,” Tas said. Of all the files she’d read, Shalanda Kennington’s file had the most gaps even though the Sovereignty never liked empty spaces in its files.

“And what do you think that means?” Shalanda

“That I want you on my side,” Tas replied.

Shalanda let slip bit of laughter, and then pointed at the massive animal. “That’s bigger than I expected.”

“His name’s Bow,” Tas replied, letting a hint her feelings for the beast into her voice. “I’m studying him for the Archive. He’s an illegal hybrid and we still don’t know who created him.”

“A well-funded one by the looks of that thing.”

“Sure.” Tas nudged Bow with her foot again, and this time he limbered to his feet. “And well-hidden.”

Shalanda stepped closer to Bow and knelt in front of him. She stared into the creature’s eyes. “Usually when i come across hybrids, they’re dead. This aren’t known to live long. And most of the time, they have an obsession with wings, trying to make all kinds of things fly. Cats. Snakes. Giraffes.”

“Gir-what?”

“Giraffes. It’s an old Earth mammal with a long neck. Although on Earth, they’re now extinct, like most everything else. But supposedly there’s a small herd of them on the remote Saturn savannah.” She patted Bow on the side of his wide face and stood up. “Hybriders like to see what they can make fly. But your guy here seems like his creator took his science seriously. No wings. No extra eyes. No horn in the middle of his head.”

Tas suddenly felt proud of her beast as if she’d been responsible for his creation. “He’s smart too.”

Shalanda stopped admiring the animal. “C’mon, rookie. I’m going to give you the tour and the introductions.” The doors slid open for them and they walked side by side into the corridor. “You must’ve been something else back at the Academy to be assigned the Hypatian,” she continued, walking briskly. “You’ve never proven yourself out in the field like the rest of us.”

Tas had expected this. She and Marcel were both fresh from the Academy and by rights should’ve been on a small outpost somewhere labeling files and boxes. “I don’t second guess orders,” she said. “I just follow them.” Bow, for all his size, easily kept up, coming along behind her.

Now Shalanda let out a full laugh. “I’ve read your file. I think I know how you feel about following orders.”

They walked by a few other crew members, who cleared the way and stared at Bow, his fur shining brown and thick in the corridor lights. Tas chose not to say anything to Shalanda’s last comment. She wasn’t going to explain herself.

“Welcome aboard the Hypatian Starliner, Tasanko Fray. I think you’re going to do just fine.”