Day 25 is for poetry.

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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 24 and a Hidden Message

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Today’s Story-a-Day prompt asked for a hidden message. So, here’s something of a random story using a character introduced earlier in the month. Maybe you can figure out the message hidden within. First off, I didn’t expect it the story tone as long as it is, but that’s the only way I could get my formula, so to speak, to work. Second off, the story did have to take odd turns in order to get the message to fit. I guess I should have chosen a shorter message. Oh well!

Their First Words

“Look,” Minerva said, pointing to the wrought iron gate. “Up there.”

Minerva’s classmate, Ollie Rose, didn’t look. Instead she pulled a box out of her bag. “Here.”

Minerva forgot about the strange bird perched at the park’s entrance. Taking the box, she raised an eyebrow.

“I’m giving this to you,” Ollie said. “In the morning before I came to school, this box was delivered to us, but your name was on it.” She tapped the label.

Minerva didn’t know what to think about this. Gingerly, she lifted the box’s lid. “Heaven of my heart,” she said.

“I’ve no idea who left them,” Ollie said in a rush. “Got no details or nothing.”

A pair of red velvet shoes rested in emerald green paper. Ollie shook her head and stamped her feet. Neither girl said anything, until thrust out her arm and yanked up the edge of her long fitted sleeve. “Scars,” she blurted. Indeed, three scars marked her forearm. “That is the trouble I get sometimes for dawdling in the streets with the wrong sorts. Can’t just stand here gawking at shoes, you know? Be a heap of trouble. Seen what happens to everyone who hangs around you much.” She pulled her sleeve back down.

Minerva’s thoughts raced. She didn’t understand the shoes, who could’ve sent them or why they were sent through Ollie Rose. The scars she understood. She had her own. But Ollie’s unexpected sharing confused Minerva more than the shoes. “I’ve done my best to stay out of trouble,” she mumbled.

“Got trouble anyways though, don’t you, Minerva Baines? Drama follows you like flies follow horses down Main Avenue.” Ollie sucked in her cheeks, waited a moment, and then let out an exasperated sigh. “Can’t you tell me about the shoes? Be honest.” She leaned over the box. “Stolen, ya think?”

“Everybody thinks I’m trouble,” Minerva replied, keeping her voice low and realizing how long they’d been standing together on the corner.

“Knows your trouble,” Ollie said. “Me too though, right?”

Minerva finally stopped staring at the shoes. “Now what are you talking about?” What had made her even agree to this walk with Ollie Rose? They never spoke to each other in school, and here they were like conspirators passing cryptic messages. Minerva pushed the shoebox lid closed, her thoughts wandering.

“Look,” Ollie said.

Minerva said nothing, but frowned. She wanted to focus on the shoes, and Ollie was a distraction.

“Up!” Ollie pointed to the top of the street sign they stood next to. “Here!” The bird that had earlier caught Minerva’s attention sat on the sign for Lazarus Boulevard. “Man, that’s a very weird bird, isn’t it? I’m betting you ain’t never seen a bird like that before.”

“In my dreams,” Minerva said without considering the reaction her reply might receive.

But Ollie didn’t seem to think this answer peculiar. “Danger, my dad says about remembering dreams. I’ve got to forget my dreams every morning. Got to clear my head of dreams and things that ain’t real. Nothing gets my daddy worked up like dreams. Left to your own devices, Ollie Rose, he shouts, you’d be mad and dancing in the streets.” She took a breath. “To be honest though, sometimes I keep a dream and hide it away where I won’t lose it.”

“Lose a dream?” Minerva asked, her eyes fixed on the bird. The bird’s eyes were fixed on her too.

“I’m talking way more than I oughtta, aren’t I? So where you gonna put them shoes since I know you can’t wear them?”

“High up on a shelf where they won’t be seen.” Her neck twinged from looking upward for so long. “It is a strange bird. Makes me wonder where it’s from.”

“My guess is the circus, but what should we do with it?”

Minerva tilted her head to the left and to the right to ease the kink in her neck. What could she say to make Ollie Rose go about her business. The girl had already said she wasn’t supposed waste time talking, and what kind of question was that? What should they do with the bird? It wasn’t theirs to do anything with. Perhaps if she said something outrageous, Ollie would finally run home. “Brain it,” she said. “Whirl it through the air and send it to Mars where dogs are made of diamonds and babies live underground.” She was breathless and warm in her heavy dress. Everyone said she was mad. She should embrace it. “Dropped from a black star, it follows girls through the labyrinth of the city streets and waits until they say the right words.” She felt giddy, unleashing every wild thought at poor Ollie Rose.

Ollie stared. “My goodness, you’re crazier than I thought.”

The bird remained on the street sign, watching, and Minerva used one arm to balance the shoe box against her hip. The other hand she held out, open, palm up. “Cellphone,” she said.

If Ollie Rose thought this an outrageous request, she didn’t show it. She shrugged. “Down there.” She pointed to the drain in the curb. “Below us somewhere ‘cause my dad threw it in the sewer last night when I showed up at the bar to take him home.” She looked off down the boulevard, her eyes unfocused. “Ain’t surprised, of course. That was exactly what I deserved for not thinking things through. Just because my dad’s drunk, don’t mean he ain’t quick. Like a snake he is, all coiled up and ready to bite! Me though? By the time I could get loose, that phone was long gone.”

“The sewers?” Minerva asked. She thought she had the worst father in the city, but now she wondered.

“Time for me to get home,” Ollie said. “I don’t have time for your madness, Minerva Baines. Got to get home before dad thinks he needs me to do something.”

“To do what?” Minerva asked, surprised to find herself interested.

Ollie sighed. “New York only knows.”

“I don’t know who sent the shoes, Ollie, or why.” Minerva hoped she sounded conciliatory.

“Was thinking you didn’t cause if you did, they’d have sent them straight to you all proper like.”

Minerva almost wished she and Ollie Rose were friends, but she couldn’t explain why she’d feel that way. She couldn’t have close friends in her life. “Living where I do it’s hard to get packages,” she said. “Like someone would steal it or my father wouldn’t even let me have it. A good girl isn’t supposed to get packages, he says.”

“King of his castle like my dad, sounds like.” Ollie gave the bird another look. It continued to watch over them.

“Then he’d open it and that wouldn’t do us any good.”

Ollie whistled. “I’d say to hell with dads that can’t be good to us, but there’s not much help in that.”

“Used to think I couldn’t want another dad,” Minerva whispered. She’d never admitted such a thought to anyone before. “Up late at night though, I plot escapes to Paris or London or any streets anywhere really.”

“All madness!” Ollie exclaimed. “My dad would hunt me down. Money don’t matter to him when he just wants me to listen and do what I’m told.”

“I am going to find a way out,” Minerva said, shocking herself. “Was even thinking about talking to Ms. Fellinghast at the fair.”

“Looking for an even faster death, are you? For nothing should you ever trust that woman! Your life means nothing to the likes of her and her circus of freaks and charlatans and you know what else?” Ollie’s cheek turned red.

Minerva shook her head, worried if she said the wrong thing, Ollie would stop talking about Ms. Fellinghast.

“Ass!”

Both girls gasped at Ollie’s daring. Ollie jutted out her chin and sniffed, much like her mother would’ve done had she’d been alive. “This is the truth. Way long ago I heard my mother talking about the fair to our neighbor, Mrs. Rosalyn, and that’s exactly what she said.” She sniffed again. “Or my name ain’t Ollie Rose!”

“No worry, Ollie, because I’m sure you’re right. Way long ago and again just the other day I heard the same thing.”

“You’ll be okay, won’t you?” Ollie asked. “Know what I mean?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Be safe, and you know what else? Free. Just free. Like a bluebird.” The bird above them flapped its wings as if it understood.
“A bluebird?’ Minerva asked.

“Bluebird,” Ollie replied. “Now.” A man walking by bumped into her and she stumbled forward. Minerva caught her arm and helped her steady herself. “Ain’t that always the way? That man bumped into me like he knew I was going to say something I really meant. Just can’t stand this world sometimes, what about you, Minerva? Like when you know what you finally mean to say, does the world come and knock you sideways?”

“Me?” Minerva didn’t know how to answer.

Tears rimmed Ollie’s eyes. Without explanation, she darted forward and kissed Minerva’s cheek. Then she spun about and ran down the sidewalk, pushing through crowds of pedestrians, her skirt getting caught on handbags and canes before she was out of sight.

Day 23 with a cat.

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Today’s Story-a-Day prompt is for a list. Julie shares her inspiration here. I decided not to overthink this. (I can’t overthink everything!) This list isn’t for my work-in-progress Astrophilia. It’s for another story all together.

Things to Remember for the Weekend

-three tickets (two roundtrip/one one way)
-reservations (make sure room has fridge)
-call dog sitter—confirm dates
-pack:
one or two (?) suits
stockings
dress shoes
hiking boots
jeans
urn or box of ziplocks
-Ask J— Will there be enough room in suitcase?
-valium
thank you notes?
-take a book to read?
-RECONSIDER. CALL DAVID!

Day 22!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.”