The bridge lay in silence. Brilann was present on a display on a wall, and the captain sat on his chair on the little elevated platform in the centre of the room. One of the two seats of the helm was manned.
Fionnlagh was at his communications desk, on his hilariously oversized chair, which had obviously been made for human staff.
Brilann stood unassumingly behind the captain’s chair, his hands clasped behind his back.
Deirdre shifted from one foot to the other, then strode forward to the open space in front of the captain’s chair.
The captain, her navigator’s seat and the helm formed a triangle, in which she positioned herself.
Her little bag of paraphernalia hung from the belt of her uniform. She didn’t need it yet. Clad in military fatigues, she probably didn’t look like a druid at all.
“The ceremony begins,” she said, starting the consecration of time.
Her hands drew a circle on the ground, and she stepped inside.
This circle was now her grove. She could feel it breathe magic in and out on its own.
Deirdre turned around slowly, drawing additional circles into the air. Four of them, one in each corner. She didn’t feel like she had to invoke the guardians of the corners, but it wouldn’t hurt either. This was only symbolism, anyway. What came next was really important.
She closed her eyes.
“Where am I in this body?”
Her concentration turned inward, trying to focus on the seat of her essence. She found this sense of self between her eyes, a small dot occupying only a fraction of the body she inhabited. She returned the mantra.
“Where am I in this body?”
Her concentration strengthened, the point behind her forehead gained sharpness. The fringes of her self became clearer and more defined.
She now had a very exact idea of the location.
Time to move on.
She slowly kneeled down, touched the ground with her hands. Her fingertips felt the cold steel, smooth and hard. As a symbolic gesture, meant to connect with the Earth mother, this grounded her in reality and established the magical connection she needed to conjure the energies she would need.
Earth, of course, didn’t exist here, in space, on this vehicle made of steel, in a literal sense, but that wasn’t necessary. Earth was under her feet. The ship was literally made of Earth, of substances from her home planet.
Deirdre put down the runes, one by one, in the correct order from left to right: Coll, then Uilleand, finally Ailm.
She stood up again, straightened her back and raised her chin, her eyes still closed. Again, she turned her focus inwards. Her newly formed spiritual body grew roots from her feet into the ground. They burrowed into the “soil” and sucked magic energy in. Branches sprouted from her shoulders, her head, and grew bigger and stronger. Leaves formed, took shape in this reality, catching rays of “sunlight” and filled her with life. Sap was flowing through her veins, air caressing her leaves. None of this was real. It was a stylised version of reality, maintained through concentration and her natural affinity for magic.
Deirdre expanded, spread out and merged with the grove.
Something moved below her feet, but she was deeply rooted and didn’t care. The piece of pine tree in her hands vibrated softly, as if alive. And it was.
The energy she sucked in from the metal floor went up her trunk, through the branches that were her hands into the pine wood, and filled it.
She would evoke Gwyar now. The colour blue filled her mind. Not the azure of the sky, but the dark blue of the ocean.
Gwyar stood for change, for motion. Motion, she repeated in her mind as a mantra, again and again, while she gave up control of the energy and let it flow freely through the piece of wood in her branches. Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the gate to the Otherworld all around her, encompassing her and the entire ship, embracing them and sucking them in, the same way she had sucked in the power from the Earth.
The image in her mind changed. No longer was she focused on the ocean, and the blue faded away.
She recalled the sense of space and time, the feeling she had experienced when she was calling up the data of the destination on her navigation console. Again, she saw the camera moving through space, rushing into the system called Gliese 667. Two big suns at the centre, caught in a dance, and their smaller, reddish brother orbiting in a wide circle around them. Eight rocks orbiting this red dwarf. The memory of the picture the navigation system had shown her was flawless.
Deirdre backed off a little, gaining more distance to the sun, fine-tuning her image until she was satisfied.
Again the sensation of movement under her feet, the ground vibrating and the gate manifesting around her.
This time, they moved in the opposite direction, out of the Otherworld, back into their own plane of existence. But not at the same position in space any more. Deirdre led the ship over the border between the two worlds at the exact location she held in her mind. The two sibling suns danced in the distance, the younger brother filling her vision, his eight planets tumbling around him, each at a different speed and distance.
She felt the gate closing behind her.
Her leaves shivered in the wind, and her roots stretched out deep into the Earth. Then, nothing.
Silence. As if time stood still, or as if she had left the Einstein continuum. The opposite was the case; they had just returned there. Deirdre would hold her concentration just a little longer, even though the jump was completed.
An ugly sound broke through her focus and filled her entire existence. Metal on metal, screeching, screaming. An explosion in the distance, then another. Screams, then voices all around her.
She didn’t understand a word. Everything happened at once. Everything was way too fast for her to grasp, as long as she was a tree. She had to transform back. Or rather, end the ritual.
One more time, she focused as hard as she could and ended the tree meditation.
Leaves, branches, roots disappeared, sap turned back into blood. Deirdre opened her eyes and breathed in and in and in -– and out, slowly. The sound of her lungs exhaling pulled her back into reality.
She looked around. Red light filled the bridge, hectic people shouting status messages.
“Hull breach in section one.”
“Hull breach in the engineering section.”
“Reactor B, emergency shutdown.”
“Atmospheric loss, midsection of Deck One.”
What the hell had just happened?
The ship rumbled, rocked, and a sudden jerk threw her across the bridge like a doll. Only luck kept her from harm, when the Tuatha De Danann made a leap and she slammed into the empty captain’s seat. She clawed at it, pulled herself in and engaged the seatbelt immediately, just when the ship got thrown around again.
The screaming metal, popping plastic and moans of pain from her crew mates tormented her, while the smell of molten plastics drove tears into her eyes and triggered an explosive cough, resulting in a gag reflex that distracted her for a moment.
Something crashed into her seat.
She heard the dry pop of breaking bones and a scream.
Again a jerk, and whoever it had been was gone, thrown somewhere else.
The lights flickered, then the bridge went black. The subtle humming of the engines stopped and made her realise she had been hearing it since she had entered the ship, without ever noticing the sound. Its sudden absence was jarring.
The Tuatha De Danann must have rammed something in open space at the fringes of Gliese 667. The odds of that happening were lower than winning the lottery.
Whatever they had collided with seemed to be gone now, maybe behind the ship. The sounds of destruction stopped, leaving only the ongoing moans. The emergency systems had dealt with fires swiftly, and there were no more explosions. They were drifting through space now, with the drives off. The emergency reactors activated and restored the light. Rumbling in the distance, the ship changing direction – was that the sound of the thrusters? Not that it mattered right now, anyway.
She looked around the now brightly lit bridge. Several people lay on the ground, a few of them obviously hurt, but not all of them.
Brilann’s face had disappeared from the display on the wall. Whatever had happened to the ship had obviously affected him, too.
The captain came to his feet and shouted orders before he even stood.
Fionnlagh hadn’t been affected by this at all. He was still hanging in the air in silence, looking around, while speaking – probably to the ship’s communication system.
“…the injured stable! Check the atmospheric status!”
This was Thornhill’s voice, coming through to her, and with it, all the other voices, as if she had just pulled out earplugs. Deirdre looked down at her body. No injury. She had been damn lucky. How had this happened, though?