She sauntered down the corridor. Just where did she have to go? Of the thirty minutes until boarding, the first ten were already gone. Hopefully, Maya and she would end up on the same ship. The chances were three to one. On which ship would she be on? Not the Mag Mell, that much was already clear. The Mag Mell was Ward’s ship, and she had been assigned to it before. Looking at it this way, she had dodged a bullet there. Her mentor was Brilann now.
So where was Maya? She couldn’t use most of her system’s functions on board of the space station without endangering its operations – or so they said. If that was true was not the point. The outcome mattered, and the outcome was her wandering about on this structure that rivalled a decently sized town on the planet in size. Like the ship she would be on, the Ad Astra comprised a core element and a rotating ring which provided artificial gravity. The usable space was gigantic. She didn’t have any data, but she could walk for an hour without rounding the ring and being back where she started.
A group of people in fleet uniforms stood clustered like a bunch of grapes at the entrance to one room. As she came closer, she saw that these were not the same people she had met during the speech. They were station personnel, or other members of the agency, possibly the next generation of recruits to be trained. Apparently, parts of the training were now conducted in space on this relatively new installation.
She stopped and turned around. Where was she, anyway? She’d been walking without paying much attention to her surroundings, in thought, and now she stood here without the help of the navigation function of her system. Getting lost on a space station, how unbecoming for a navigator. She chuckled. There had been no information yet on where to meet, who to talk to, or anything she could use to orient herself. She shrugged and closed in on the group of people.
“Any idea how I get to a lobby or something?” she asked.
One member of the group, a Fir Bolg who was almost as broad as he was tall, turned around and frowned, but at least he didn’t turn back.
“You’re in section B, inner corridor, outer ring,” he answered.
Good to know. It didn’t tell her anything, though.
He narrowed his eyes for a second as he eyeballed her from head to toes.
“You’re one of the crew members, aren’t you?”
This was not a question, it was him talking to himself. She nodded anyway.
“Then you’re completely wrong here. Your people are on the inner ring somewhere. Much closer to the star port in section E.”
He grinned, as if she were with a special kind of idiot.
“Why don’t you ask the station?”
The guy irritated her. Not only didn’t she like his grin, now his tone also angered her. Or maybe she was just still pissed about earlier and shouldn’t let it out on this man who just tried to help her.
“What? I mean, how would I do that?”
“Station! Show me the way to the star port.”
He gestured at empty space.
“The station now sent me a guide signal. I can follow it until I reach the port, or… Station! Stop guidance.”
He cocked his head and his grin turned into a milder smile. She returned it and showed him a nod.
“Thanks, you just saved me.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am,” he said with a sloppy salute and turned back to whatever it was he had stared at before. Deirdre couldn’t see it. Everyone was taller than her, but she didn’t have time to satisfy her curiosity now, anyway. According to her clock, her remaining time had shrunken by some more precious minutes, and she still had to find Maya, to either rejoice with her, or to say goodbye.
“Station! Show me the way to the star port, please.”
A synthetic, but not unnatural sounding voice startled her.
“Ad Astra guidance function activated. Destination set to Star Port, section E.”
A trail of green light headed down the corridor, tracing the path. How convenient. Why had nobody told her about it?
If she was honest, though, someone probably had. There had just been so much going on, and… she started into a moderate trot, fast enough to carry her to the port in time, without exhausting her and ruining her uniform by making her sweat.
Deirdre was no athlete, but she was in good enough shape.
With the guidance system’s help, finding the space port was no problem. She arrived without getting out of breath. Now that she was here, though, where was Maya?
The star port’s lobby was spacious, but unexpectedly bare. A few benches and a separate section with seats and a table, a few plants in the corners. What caught the eye immediately was the transparent wall that let her look out of the station, into open space. Two of the three scout ships were visible from here, not in their entirety, but still – majestic. The blue ball of planet Earth hung over her head, causing vertigo for a heartbeat or two, then she caught herself and took a deep breath.
She opened her system’s main menu and checked the time. The clock display changed to five minutes left on the countdown she had set earlier, and a notification icon popped up and flashed at the edge of her field of vision. She focused on it. It wandered to the centre of her attention, then opened up on her command.
“Lt. Deirdre MacBreen, you are assigned to the Tuatha De Danann. Please go to landing gate C and meet Captain Thornhill. You have five minutes. If you need any help, please use the station’s guidance system.”
She closed it and scoffed. Thanks for the info, whoever sent that unexpectedly quick message — a pleasant change of pace after those long talks and speeches earlier.
She had already deleted it before checking the name of the sender. Whatever.
“Station! Show me the way to landing gate C.”
The trail led her out of the lobby. The transparent map overlay told her that the gate wasn’t that far away. Just a corridor and two corners away.
She still had no idea where Maya was, and her time was ticking away. Not enough left to go on a search, so her only option was to move now and hope for the best.
If Maya was on a different team, it couldn’t be helped for now. She couldn’t be too late now. This was her day.
With renewed conviction, she strode down the corridor, but didn’t run.
She was an officer on the way to her ship. Adventure Day One.
A large group stood in front of gate C. The overwhelming majority were humans, but some Aes Sidhe were mixed in as well, albeit only a few in comparison. Less than a handful were from Tech Duinn, the Otherworld.
Deirdre straightened her shoulders and stood on her toes, but her eyes couldn’t penetrate the wall of bodies blocking out her gaze. Maya wasn’t among those she could see. Was she inside the crowd, though?
She noticed that all the crew members here were of low rank, with no officers among them. Maya was a lieutenant, she would be with the others from the bridge, if she was even here, so the key was to find out where all the officers gathered.
She stepped closer and cleared her throat, but nobody reacted to her. Many voices were audible, and they all were louder than hers. This was nothing new for her. She was a head shorter than even the smallest of the human crew, but that didn’t surprise her either. She was still a giant compared to most fae on board, which was good enough.
She cleared her throat again, in a wildly exaggerated manner, and this time, two people turned around. A built guy with the insignia of an ensign of ship security on his chest, and a female marine who wouldn’t lose to him in stature at all. They both looked at her as if she had told an awkward joke, which was probably what she had done, after all.
“Where do I find the captain?” she asked.
Both of them showed her a proper salute.
“The captain is this way,” said the marine and gestured for her to follow.
The big, athletic woman cut through the crowd like an icebreaker through a shelf of pack ice, leaving a broad channel of open space behind her that was enough for Deirdre to follow without a hurry, before the crowd closed slowly behind her.
Deirdre didn’t bother looking for Maya in this crowd. She was an engineer, probably the chief of the engineering crew on whatever ship she belonged to. She’d be busy from the start, not able to mingle with her peers much. Systems had to be checked, engines had to be started. Especially since the engineering team had to have all their ducks in a row before they could weigh anchor, or rather decouple the moorings, to start on their journey. Her best chance was to find the captain and ask for a roster.
“Here we are,” the marine said and smiled.
She saluted again and disappeared in the crowd before Deirdre could thank her for her help.
She looked around. The captain stood right in front of the closed airlock, with two faeries framing him. One of them looked at her out of icy blue eyes, while the other seemed busy with something she held in her hands – a clipboard, maybe? A tablet? From this distance, Deirdre couldn’t make it out. Only a few steps, but the small, winged woman wasn’t much taller than her hand was long.
“Lieutenant Deirdre MacBreen, reporting for duty,” she said, saluting the captain.
He nodded, waved her closer, and looked at the male faerie.
“Please lead her to the mentor’s quarters, Fionnlagh.”
The faerie saluted and turned around without so much as a word. He went straight for the control panel next to the airlock door.
“I’m Captain Thornhill. If you need help with anything that Brilann can’t assist you with, let me know. You have access to my address on the ship’s communication system anytime.”
He smiled, but couldn’t hide how busy he was. His eyes flickered impatiently, fitting the tension in his posture. Should she ask anyway?
“Is there a way to see a roster somewhere?”
He looked at her for a second as if he hadn’t quite comprehended her question, then nodded.
“Ask Brilann. He will help you with info on where to find what on board. If you’d excuse me now…”
She saluted again, then followed the little winged creature, who had already moved into the airlock and was regarding her with an annoyed expression.
“Took your sweet time there.”
She looked at his insignia. A fellow lieutenant.
He didn’t seem offended at all, but relieved to not have to continue the conversation. His frown loosened up. He turned around again—he almost performed a pirouette in the air—and rushed into the corridor the moment the inner airlock door was open just enough to let his slender frame pass. Surely he didn’t expect her to squeeze through just yet.
It took at least two more seconds for the door to open far enough to allow her to pass, and when she did, she could see his little figure disappear around the corner, leaving a trail of glittering faerie dust.
What an arrogant little asshole.
She chased him with long steps, striding through the corridor as if someone was after her. When she reached a corner, he turned around the next. When she reached that corner, she was again just in time to see his little feet in their tiny shoes disappear behind another one. He was keeping her too occupied to memorise this labyrinth, but she’d worry about that later.
“Are you trying to escape from me? I don’t eat faeries, no worry.”
He stopped where he was, midair, turned around and looked at her with squinted eyes. His little mouth opened, then shut, his face turning dark red. Then he swirled around again and sped onward, again without regard to whether or not she’d be behind him, even faster than before.
Deirdre would not lose against this angry little man, winged or not. She had longer legs than that arrogant prick. Too bad he didn’t use his legs to escape from her.
The chase went on for only two more corners, the latter of which she had guessed, because he had indeed outrun her. There he was, hanging in the air, his face displaying boredom, as if she had made him wait for hours. He didn’t even look at her. He fixated his eyes on his fingernails. When she stopped less than a hand’s breadth from him, her face directly in front of his, his eyes jerked up.
She put as much enthusiasm into her voice as she could muster — which was quite a lot after converting her frustration.
“Thank you very much, Lieutenant Fionnlagh!”
He staggered, wobbling in the air, then nodded and rushed away.
She grinned. Then she looked around.
Deirdre sent one more look down the hallway, turned to the door and knocked.
At first, nothing happened. She waited. Something inside stirred, but she couldn’t make out what it was. Was Brilann coming to open the door, or not? Some more seconds passed, and she was about to run out of patience when the door opened and a face appeared in the crack.
Deep wrinkles, a long, white beard, and of course those famous white eyes, which could see nothing in the actual world, but apparently penetrated magical structures around him.
“What can I help you with, child?”
She gulped. It was her first time addressing Brilann alone and directly. What should she say? Maybe not thinking at all was a good start.
No, she had to restart.
“It’s me, Deirdre MacBreen. I’d like to ask for your help with something.”
The old man raised his eyebrows.
She collected her thoughts and recovered, kind of.
“I’ve been trying to locate my friend, and I’m not able to, because I can’t find the roster anywhere, and I can’t use my personal system on the station, so I can’t get in touch with her either.”
This had come out like a stream of consciousness, rapidly and chaotically. Should she try again?
“Well, first, I assume the friend you’re talking about is the one that got you into trouble the first time, right?”
“To be fair, I think it was my fault.”
He nodded, staring into the distance. What was he seeing out there? Probably nothing. She shoved her hands in her pockets.
“I’m glad you said that. So you want to see the roster. Please come in.”
He pulled the door open completely and stepped aside so she could look inside.
Not at all how she had envisioned the quarters of the legendary druid. This looked all too normal. The small, clean bed, a nightstand, a little desk and chair. Completely unremarkable.
“Thank you,” she said.
He gestured for her to come inside, and when she did, he closed the door behind her. Now, standing in the middle of the room, she noticed the door on the other side of Brilann’s quarters. Actually, looking at it again, was it really a door? The longer she looked at it, the more its shape changed, the edges to blur and move. It flickered a little, like something in the distance on the road on a hot summer day, when the heat rose from the street.
There was something else in the room that got her attention. A huge, black cat with a white spot on its chest stared at her out of brilliant green eyes. Intelligent eyes.
“This is Sabia, my Cat Sidhe. She acts as my eyes, enabling me to see. You might have heard of her.”
Indeed, she had, now that he was mentioning it. She knew little about Sabia, but she had heard the name once or twice.
Deirdre’s eyes returned to the flickering wall, which slowly disappeared. What became visible instead was so unusual. She rubbed her eyes and looked again.
The tree she thought she had spotted was still there, not a mirage.
A dark, massive oak, its trunk disappeared in the ceiling, as if either was just an illusion. She had heard people call Brilann an oak seer, which was just one of the many names for “druid”. She hadn’t expected the meaning to be so literal. What was this all about? She was a druid, too, but she’d never seen a spell like this.
The tree looked absolutely solid, and it was very detailed with its gnarled bark, almost as if it actually existed. She wouldn’t know for sure until she had touched it.
“So, the roster interests you. Let me show you.”
She turned around, back to him, still baffled. Right, the roster. That’s what she had come here for, information about Maya.
“Ship, show me the roster. Thank you. Put it on the wall.”
Though he hadn’t specified the wall, it appeared on the one he was facing. She turned her head to look when the space over the bed turned black. A long list of names appeared on the wall, white letters on the dark background. There was the captain’s name, Brilann herself, three other officers, and the names of scientists whose specialties she couldn’t even pronounce. None of them were familiar. Interestingly, her Cu Sidhe, Cailean, appeared right next to that of the Cat Sidhe. The longer it went on, the lower the ranks of the people on it. Only the first few names interested her right now, and Maya was not among them.
Disappointment welled up in her. She checked again, and one last time, to no avail. Her friend was not on the roster of the Tuatha De Danann. She would have to go on this mission on her own, and she couldn’t even get in touch with her to say goodbye. She lowered her head and took in a deep breath. Her eyes wandered to the cat who was still staring at her. Probably had the entire time. What now? Was there anything she could do about it?
The cat closed her eyes.
“So, from your reaction, I assume she isn’t part of our crew. There are two other vessels…”
Deirdre nodded. She knew. Asking for a transfer wouldn’t even have been possible before the event at the space station. It was out of the question now. Neither she nor Maya could change ships. To make matters even worse, her personal AI was still disabled, only the ship’s seemed to work, so she couldn’t even send her a message, and this problem would probably persist until they departed.
“Was that all you needed?”
“I… Yes, that was all for now. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
“I would recommend you go to your quarters now. The luggage should have arrived already. I will call you when the ritual is due.”
“Yes, of course.”
The old druid nodded and opened the door again. She hesitated for a second, stared at the oak tree one more time, and stepped forward, into the corridor.
She had an idea. There might still be a way to get in touch.
She stood in the hallway and took a deep breath first.
“Ship, show me the way to the bridge.”
“Function is not available,” the synthetic voice answered.
“Where am I?”
A transparent map overlay of the ship opened up in her field of view, with an arrow showing her current position. Turned out the bridge was on the upper deck, and she had to get to an elevator first.
The way was marked on the map. She just had to find out which direction to turn first, and she was not the best at navigating in the first place, which was a hilarious confession to make as the ship’s navigator.
After trying a few steps in various directions, checking the updated map, she found out which direction was the correct one.
She walked to the elevator, meeting no crew members on the way. When she reached it, it was already waiting for her. The doors stood open.
She stepped inside, pushed the button for the second deck, waited until the doors closed and leaned on the wall, shutting her eyes and rubbing her temples. A moment alone, if only for a few seconds.
Her experience had been very exhausting so far. It differed greatly from what she had expected it would be to go on board a new ship on her first day.
Before she had time to finish the thought, the elevator car stopped. The doors opened again, and she stepped out.
She called up the map again. Her directional arrow pointed down the corridor.
She was already facing the bridge. All she had to do was to walk straight ahead.
Even now, she didn’t see any crew members, but there were muffled voices coming from here and there, through the doors she was passing by.
The bridge itself was quite impressive.
The spacious room was buzzing with busy people walking up and down, pursuing activities she did not know about. The commander’s seat was slightly elevated in the middle, and the helm was on the left side, two seats with navigation panels and displays.
While Deirdre had seen the roster, she hadn’t memorised it. No idea who to look for exactly to realise her plan.
All she knew was, she needed to talk with the communications officer, and the first person she could stop to ask for help was a young Sylvan woman, almost two heads taller than herself. The giantess stopped, saluted, and cocked her head. Her bark reminded Deirdre of the tree she had seen earlier in Brilann’s quarters.
“Who’s in charge of the communications?” Deirdre asked.
The Sylvan gestured towards a position deeper inside, past the helm, in front of an enormous display and next to a hologram showing the mooring and the space station.
“The comm console is over there.”
Deirdre nodded and smiled, then moved on.
She strode confidently, but when she realised who was standing there on top of the console, she stopped breathing.
Well, well, wasn’t a ship a small village? And wasn’t the figure standing there the midget who had made her chase him through the corridors just a short while ago?
Indeed, he was. His icy blue wings gave him away, and the cold that surrounded him. She could feel it even here, two steps away. Deirdre didn’t feel at all like dealing with the arrogant fae again, but if she wanted to see her plan through, what was she gonna do?
So there were two possibilities.
Number one, give up, search for her quarters and wait there for Brilann to call her. Or number two, try to ask the faerie. And what did she have to lose, anyway?
She stepped forward, but the faerie didn’t notice her right away. He was staring at the tablet he was holding in his hands. She couldn’t make out what he was reading. He hid most of the display behind his back. Standing on the console, his wings fluttered slowly, and glittering faerie dust tumbled towards the ground like snowflakes in winter, but never reaching it. It just disappeared.
“Are you the communications officer?” She asked.
He turned around slowly and lifted off the console. He stared at her and his eyes widened, then he nodded.
“I am the communications officer, and who are you?”
“I am the navigator, Deirdre MacBreen. I came to ask you for a favour.”
The icy little man gained some altitude, closed in on her, and waited in mid-air, right in front of her face. She couldn’t read his expression.
“So what would you want from the communications officer, jump drive Deirdre MacBreen?” He sneered.
“Actually, I was hoping to be on board the same ship with my friend Maya, but it didn’t work out. We couldn’t meet after the speech, because the commander called me, and…” She left the sentence hanging in the air.
He furrowed his brows in thought, then his expression lightened up, and he grinned from ear to ear.
“Oh, you’re the girl who caused the commotion earlier. Why didn’t you tell me? That changes everything!”
Now it was Deirdre’s turn to be surprised.
“So, what’s the name of your friend?”
“Maya Howell,” she said.
He turned around, fluttered back to the console, opened a menu, and a long list of names scrolled by at an extremely high speed. It was impossible for her to read them, even just follow them with her eyes, but the faerie didn’t seem to have any such problems. The list cut off, and he pointed at a name.
“Yes, that’s her!” Her heart jumped.
“Okay, so what exactly do you want from me?”
“I would like to send her a message. We couldn’t say goodbye before we went on board. I was kind of busy, you know.”
He nodded knowingly and grinned.
“This will cost you a favour in return,” he said.
Deirdre didn’t seem to have a choice, but she also didn’t really mind. The little guy wasn’t such a bad person, after all.
“That’s alright with me.”
“Okay,” he said. “So, what would you like me to write?”