When Brilann’s call reached her, over one hour had already passed.
She wasn’t in a hurry. It would still take a while until the ship could depart from the station, so there was ample time to prepare.
The call had come over the ship’s internal communications network, through a small console on the desk at the wall. Her personal system seemed to be useless on board, and she was tempted to take her necklace with the interface chip off and put it away. Then again, it might come in handy later. Better to be prepared for anything. The call had come just when she had finished unpacking her suitcase. Perfect timing.
Her room turned out to be in the same corridor as Brilann’s, which was very convenient. She could take her time, finish stowing away some of her personal things, and prepare herself mentally.
The old druid opened the door when she came close. There had been no need to knock. He had known she was coming, somehow. There was still a lot she didn’t understand. She might have been the most talented druid among her peers, but she still lacked knowledge. So many things they had not taught at the druid’s circle. She didn’t even know yet what she didn’t know.
“Please don’t make an old man wait.”
His voice was deep and friendly.
Had she actually done that? Maybe a little.
This was the truth. She hadn’t meant to be this late. Time management had never been her strong suit.
“This is going to be our very first work-related talk on board of the ship, and your introduction to your duties as a druid,” he said, already moving on.
Her eyes wandered to the mysterious, flickering wall, all on their own. The tree was not visible right now. The flickering, however, was still going on and caught her attention.
“What is the tree about?”
“Don’t you want to come in first?”
This had been the verbal equivalent of stumbling over her own feet. She hurried inside, closed the door behind her, and turned her back to the wall, as to not get distracted again.
“I can imagine you have a lot of questions, about your job and about me. Please allow me to give you an introduction first. We can talk about everything else later.”
She would try to dial her curiosity back a notch.
“You’ve been taught the ritual for the jump procedure, and I’ve been told you perform it very well. I’ve also been told that you have a short attention span and tend not to listen until the end. This won’t do. This is active duty. You can’t afford to miss out on anything. Listening only to ninety percent of what I say, or to all of it, can make the difference between life and death. Do you understand?”
What on Earth had they told him?
She had been the best in her class by a huge margin. No other druid had performed even remotely as well. Not once had she failed to perform the ritual. Her mastery of the energy was second to none.
Yes, it was true; she got bored from time to time, but she had never failed.
She wouldn’t start an argument with Brilann, no chance in hell she could win it, the only thing that would do, it would cause problems and worsen their relationship. Brilann and she would spend months on board of this ship, maybe even years. The last thing she wanted was to piss off everyone around her, especially not her mentor.
“I understand,” she said.
The old man frowned for a moment, but seemed satisfied.
The Cat Sidhe sat next to the bed, at the same spot she had inhabited when Deirdre had been here the first time.
Again, Deirdre’s eyes wandered to the wall. The flickering was still there. The longer she stared, the stronger it got. It sucked her in, so she averted her gaze.
“As for the jump procedure, be very careful to perform the ritual precisely, but also, make sure you got the correct data for the jump destination. While you did the whole procedure back on Earth multiple times, you never actually moved a ship through space. The further away the destination point, the more difficult it gets. A bad aim can carry you to a completely different location. An imperfect ritual circle can leak energy and lead to terrible consequences. Choosing the wrong runes can devastate, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”
Why did she have to listen to all this stuff? This was just a continuation of that boring speech on the station earlier. Worse, it was like an introductory speech for new druid apprentices of the circle. That was why she had come here?
“When we perform the jump over long distances, we look at the data carefully, and it doesn’t matter how long the ritual takes, because speed doesn’t matter, but safety does. Pulling us through the gate and catapulting us out on the other side requires focus. How well can you concentrate?”
Well enough. She had never been tested, because there had never been a problem, but handling the magic came naturally to her. What she lacked was a practical experience.
“I will do my best,” she answered.
“Since this is a scout mission, we are the very first humans to ever enter our target system, Gliese 667 C. Even though there has been observation from afar, we have very little idea what we may encounter. Anything is possible. The system is over twenty light-years from home, which means even the newest data we have is already over twenty years old.”
How much could happen in twenty years, in the emptiness of space? If there were a cosmic catastrophe to happen, they would see it coming. What else could he mean?
“We will perform the first jump today, and your job is one of the most difficult on board. Be mindful, but be confident. You were chosen because you can handle it.”
Deirdre nodded again, her attention drifting towards the flickering wall without her even noticing.
“I will assist you with anything, especially before and during the jump, but not limited to this part of your job. There might be more problem solving ahead, depending on what we find when we arrive.”
The flickering intensified, then suddenly the wall disappeared, just like last time. She stared at the tree. It seemed to glow from inside, but it didn’t radiate light or heat. It radiated magical energy, which she couldn’t see, but feel.
The tree was doing something. She was not sure what it was, but it performed a function.
“You should be well versed in building spells, according to the performance reports I received. Learning and practising over the last twenty years should have given you the skills you need to succeed in whatever situation we might land in. However, you are inexperienced, which is why I’m here.”
The bark was dark brown, but if she looked at it carefully, the lines seemed to move ever so slightly. They all did. Every single wrinkle glided up the gnarly trunk, all at the same speed, as if the tree was transporting something. Like a magical assembly line. Fascinating.
“Chances are slim, but we might have to perform a second jump, in case of emergency. Because the possibility exists, you cannot break concentration before you are sure that the first jump succeeded and the ship is safe.”
Her magical senses touched the tree. It was warm, in an abstract sense. The old oak was a magical organism. Was it really a tree, though? It didn’t quite feel like a plant, more like a creature. Questions, questions.
“Yes,” she answered again.
“There has been talk about flying cows on board of the ship. Please be careful to make sure you don’t get hit.”
She tried to get through the bark with her magical senses, but couldn’t quite penetrate it. It pulsed, almost like a heartbeat. She touched it again, and it throbbed vigorously.
“Yes,” she said.
She pushed and pushed, trying to get through the bark, to connect with the energy flow inside directly, but it repelled her. Something about it—
“Are you even listening, Deirdre MacBreen?”
Brilann’s voice thundered, and although there was no echo in the small room, it resounded inside her skull. She flinched and jumped.
“What did I tell you about listening until I am finished? Silly girl, I shouldn’t have saved you back on the station!”
Her heart skipped a beat, and blood shot into her face. Her ears felt like glowing coals.
She looked up into his face. His always so serene features were volcanoes and thunderstorms. His eyes narrowed, the edges of his mouth turned down, his brow furrowed.
Her mind was blank for a moment, but there was never a question about what she had done wrong.
“I’m sorry. I—”
“There is no excuse for such behaviour.”
“Remember this: you have many years to study the things you want, but mind the priorities. We are here on a scout mission for the Space Exploration Agency. This is not a training flight. Getting the priorities right is part of what it means to be an adult. You may be a woman physically, but you still behave like a girl. You can do better than this. That’s why I brought you on board the Tuatha De Danann.”
“I am really sorry. I know I—”
“We are not finished yet. I’m not telling you to listen to me because I’m self-important or egocentric. I don’t need someone to chat with. I don’t feel lonely. What I want you to do is grow up, and fast. Earth is in terrible shape. Everyone is trusting you to find us a new place to call home. With so many options, we can go through several systems on our list, but to do so means you will have to repeat the same ritual again and again, and you cannot afford to skip the basics. I hope that’s clear.”
Deirdre nodded, and she meant it.
“I believe you need time to reflect. Leave now.”
She turned her head once more, looked at the tree longingly, then back at Brilann and sighed.
He wanted to be alone now. No, he just didn’t want to have her around.
This day had been a catastrophe so far, and she would have to reset herself and try for a new start.
“I will prepare for the first jump, if that’s okay.”
“Yes, yes. Go now.”
He made a waving gesture towards the door. There was no need to say any more.
Pendulum Ch. 7: Brilann
When Brilann’s call reached her, over one hour had already passed.