Hope is the Thing With Feathers Chapter 5
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I stood before my wall of keys and bit my lip. Theo65 was probably already waiting for me, but my disappointment at not finding a way onto the Minke left me wanting to crawl into my bed—or better yet, go into the memory vid with my dad. No one would ask anything of me there.
“Chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka,” the wren scolded me.
“Of course.” My gaze fixed on the little bird bound to the key. “It’s not too late. There’s still a way on the Minke. Theo65 might be able to help.”
I let out a sigh and forced my eyes to shift to the key attached to the tiny palm tree, its fronds waving from an unseen breeze. I grabbed it before I lost my nerve.
In a flash, I was standing on sand. Softly blowing warm air brought scents of seaweed and BBQ. Palm trees lined the beach, their fronds rustling in the breeze, just like the tiny one on the key.
I headed towards the water. With each step, my boots sunk into the sand, leaving deep marks of my passage. Gentle waves lapped along the beach. Beyond them, the impossibly turquoise water extended to the horizon. Just offshore, a group of sea birds flew by, their white bodies glinting in the sun.
“I wasn’t sure you were going to make it,” a familiar voice said.
I spun around and smiled. Theo65’s avatar stood before me. For reasons they had never explained, they chose to appear as a little green alien with enormous eyes—the kind of alien the people of Old Earth peppered their entertainment with—genderless and child-like.
“Sorry I’m late. It’s been quite the day.”
“Let’s head to the bar, and you can tell me all about it.” Theo65 smiled.
I followed them up to a thatched hut just off the sand. On the bar, two cut coconuts filled with our usual piña coladas waited. A purple umbrella for me and an orange one for Theo65. After taking my drink, I sunk down onto one of the lounge chairs facing the calm sea.
“I love these.” Theo65 held up their drink for a moment before taking a long sip through their straw. “Adding them was an act of brilliance on your part. It’s the best part of this vid. So real, so unexpected.”
“Thanks.” I sipped my drink, allowing the cool liquid to settle my nerves. I was especially proud of the flavour—just the right hints of coconut and pineapple.
“So what’s got you so frazzled?” Theo65 looked at me, their eyes blinking at a slow rate. Their alien avatar seemed so real yet comical at the same time.
“It’s….” I let my words trail off as I took another long sip of my drink. I’d known Theo65 for about a year—but we’d never met in person. From what they’d told me, they ran a thrift shop over on Indigo Station, an odd day job for someone of their skills. After working together on several immersive vids, we had become friends—but I’d never told them about what had happened to my dad or my current plan. “It’s complicated.”
“I’m good with complicated things.” They smiled again.
I nodded and told them everything—including what had happened to my father, his lost message, and the ship that was about to head down. When I finished, I took a long sip of my drink and stared out at the horizon.
“Wow, I had no idea,” they said, blinking slowly.
“I thought Dr. Fuller would give me a bunk on the expedition. In hindsight, that was a foolish thought. And when I met Hector, we hit it off so well, and he was so positive about my dad.…” I pursed my lips and looked out to sea as a silence drew out between us.
A few moments later Theo65 spoke. “I might be able to help.”
I turned and stared into their huge, liquid eyes.
“That off-world scientist, Dr. Bletcher—”
“Beecher,” I said, cutting them off.
“Yes, Dr. Beecher. You said they hadn’t arrived yet. Let me do a quick search.” As Theo65 did their thing back in the real work, the alien avatar froze.
The flock of sea birds flew across my view. The beating of their wings wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked—something to tweak later.
Theo65’s avatar reanimated. “Yes, I can help. Dr. Beecher is scheduled to arrive at the spaceport in two hours. Their ship is delayed, so they’re already running late. The Minke has a non-negotiable departure time, yes?”
I nodded. “The model they’re using to predict where the bigger rocks will be in the Rocks layer is only accurate out a few days. That means if Hector has charted a path through, he’ll need to follow it or wait another couple of weeks for computing space on the university servers to calculate another path.”
“Right, so if Dr. Beecher isn’t there in time, Hector will leave.”
I nodded. “I got that impression, so yes.”
“The transport carrying Dr. Beecher is going to have an issue.” Theo65 took a long sip of their drink through the straw, their green face calm.
My mind churned. What was Theo65 suggesting? I swallowed. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to that ship.”
Theo65 met my gaze and frowned. “Oh, sorry, I guess that sounded ominous. The ship and everyone on it will be fine. I’ve just got a connection in public health who owes me a favour. A report of an exotic pathogen on board will simply put the ship into quarantine for a while.”
“Oh.” Relief swept over me.
“Dr. Beecher won’t arrive in time, but it’s up to you to get on board that ship,” Theo65 said.
“Stow away, you mean.” I bit my lip. “I can do that” My statement came out sounding like a question. Could I stow away? The Minke wasn’t huge—hiding spaces were in short supply. I swallowed. Did I have the nerve to try?
A seagull landed on the beach right in front of me. It met my gaze with one of its eyes and cocked its head. A silence drew out as I watched the bird. It seemed to challenge me.
Theo65 took another sip of their drink. “I have a proposal for you.”
I looked away from the bird towards my alien friend.
“Once you have closure with your father, I think Seven Soaring Swans is a dead end for you.”
I shifted in my seat. I hadn’t put any thought into what I’d do after I got my dad’s last message. Seven Soaring Swans had been my childhood home—but now that I was back, it didn’t feel the same. I closed my eyes and pictured the cinnamon bun bakery my dad and I used to go to, which I had avoided since returning.
“Your work on immersive videos is impressive, so creative and unexpected.” Theo65’s word pulled me back to the moment.
I opened my eyes. The seagull in front of us took flight, lightening its load as it took to the air. Its waste splattered down onto the beach.
“See.” Theo65 pointed to the bird. “You modelled that bird realistically. Visitors here risk getting crapped on—and that’s exciting.”
A half-smile pulled on my left cheek. “I wonder if that’s too much.”
“No, no, no—there’s an audience for what you’ve been creating. I want to work together on creating more of these sorts of experiences. Come to Indigo Station, where we can put our heads together and get creative.”
“Oh….” My words trailed off. Their offer might be the right thing for me—I could put all memories aside and do something I knew I was good at. Plus, I’d be able to enjoy a few drinks with Theo65 in person.
“But take your time to consider it. First, you need to figure out how to get on the Minke.
To be continued…
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