Hope is the Thing With Feathers Chapter 2
Hope is the Thing With Feathers is a science fiction adventure that will be serialized here first with the first five chapters free. Don’t miss an episode, subscribe now
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It didn’t take me long to navigate the bridges between islands from my apartment to the Island of Dreams where the stately buildings devoted to higher learning crowded together. The knot in my gut tightened as I followed the same path my dad used to take me to the building he worked in.
Gritting my teeth, I stepped through the front door of the Science Building. Only a few people milled about in the atrium, their conversations a quiet hum. The arched dome above admitted the sunset hues from New Venus’ sun, casting oranges and yellows onto the white surfaces. There were no protests, no gathering, nothing to impede my way. The information kiosk stood off to the side, complete with holographic maps to everywhere in the building, but I already knew the way to lecture room 3A. I had no excuse to keep myself from heading straight there.
My heart raced the instant I approached the open doors. Dr. Fuller’s voice came from within, her tone commanding and sharp, not the voice of someone who granted favours. I panicked. How could I possibly ask anything of her? I waked right past the lecture hall without entering.
I kept moving, stopping only once I reached a side hallway leading to the bathrooms. Pressing my back against the faux-stone wall, I squeezed the marble in my pocket as I took three deep breaths.
“You can do this.”
With closed eyes, I tipped my head back until it touched the wall. My dad used to work here, at this university, in this building. I was supposed to be studying here, yet I’d not set foot on the Island of Dreams since returning.
“Get a grip, Stella,” I said, hoping no one was in earshot—the last thing I needed was a kooky reputation. I took one more deep breath and clenched my jaw.
Standing up tall, I marched myself into Dr. Fuller’s in-progress lecture. Abandoning my forced-erect posture as soon as I was inside, I hunched over and slipped into the back row, relieved no one paid me any attention. Brushing a lock of hair behind my left ear, I cautiously looked around.
Only a few attendees were scattered in a lecture hall designed to contain at least a hundred people. At the front, nearly hidden by a podium, stood Carole Fuller. Her diminutive form was shaped by the thickening middle of time. Even at a distance, the bright overhead lights highlighted the grey in her hair. She had a stern expression as she stared out into the sea of mostly empty chairs.
I stared down at my hands with the hope I’d avoid notice.
“New Venus’ layered atmosphere holds many mysteries, from the floating rocks in the layer early explorers unimaginatively named the Rocks, to the layer of sulphuric acid and raging storms in the Fog. And we all know the Shimmer right below us has provided easy riches for our community.”
Dr. Fuller projected an image of New Venus into the room, above the heads of the first rows of seats. I lifted my head to study the yellow orb of the planet I lived on.
With a swipe of her hand, Dr. Fuller removed a wedge from the image, exposing the layers of atmosphere as though it were a layer cake.
“We know at the very bottom there’s a rocky core.”
“Where Generation Ship 8 crashed,” an enthusiastic student in the front row blurted out.
Dr. Fuller pursed her lips as though she were sucking on a lemon. “Yes, the wreckage is there. But it is the layer just above that holds the most promise.” She pointed to the layer just up from the bottom. A label appeared on her hologram: ‘The Abyss’.
Even though I’d seen it before, the composition of New Venus remained fascinating. I rested my chin on my hands and stared at the image. Like the interrupting student, it was the generation ship that held my attention. That had been my father’s target, his goal.
A knot turned in my gut. Near it was the wreckage of the Daedalus.
“The Abyss has the perfect environment to be an incubator of life—and not just the moulds and algae we know regularly evolve. Here’s a video taken from one of our delving drones.”
The hologram of New Venus vanished, and a video began playing. The dark and grainy footage forced me to squint to make out any detail. Flecks of light peppered the view, likely data lost during its transmission back up—none of the delving drones ever made it back, and electrical interference in the Fog and Shimmer swallowed up most signals. What made it through tended to be corrupted—rarely usable.
“I’ve augmented the video to compensate for missing chunks,” Dr. Fuller said.
A dark shadow moved past the view. A blob? Or changing light? I couldn’t tell.
“We will see the most promising evidence of life in the Abyss in a moment.”
The image blurred, then refocused on a glowing object. I leaned forward to better see what it was. At the front, Dr. Fuller paused it on a single frame.
A glowing blob filled the view. The round ball on top could have been a head, but the resolution wasn’t good enough to be sure. The body below had rounded shoulders and tapered down to a point. At each side, translucent wings or fins reached out.
“I call this one my angel,” Dr. Fuller said, and a murmur went through the sparse crowd. “Here is a further augmented view of looped video.”
The image shifted slightly, and I gasped.
The animal didn’t have a human face, but it still reminded me of an angel. Nearly transparent skin gave a view of the organs within its head and body. Two gossamer wings flapped in slow motion. It couldn’t be real. The founders said New Venus didn’t have any native life forms. I swallowed.
“That’s fabricated,” accused someone in the front row.
Dr. Fuller frowned. “Of course it isn’t. This footage came from delving drone 16-T4. I have full providence.”
“Bullshit,” another attendee chimed in. “You just said you augmented the video. This is a waste of my time.” The man rose and stormed out of the room. After an awkward pause, the rest of the audience left too.
Her face unreadable, Dr. Fuller shut down her video feed and turned her attention to her equipment on the podium.
“I guess it’s now or never,” I muttered to myself as I stood. Plunging my hands deep into my jacket pockets, I approached the podium.
“Um, excuse me.” My voice seemed so tiny, so unimportant.
Dr. Fuller looked up at me and squinted. “Aren’t you Damien’s little girl?”
I nearly bolted from the room.
Using every once of my self-control, I stayed put and lamely nodded. “Yeah, he’s my dad.”
“Hmph. I didn’t expect you here today.” Dr. Fuller returned her attention to the podium.
“I…” I licked my lips. “I wanted to ask you something.”
Dr. Fuller raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to explain why your mother keeps calling me? She seems to be under the impression that you’re one of my students.”
I froze, and my mouth went dry. How could Mom do that? Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at her actions. Mom worried about me constantly since Dad died. I swallowed.
“I checked the records, and you didn’t even apply to this university.”
“I…I…took a cleaning job on the Island of Silver.” I licked my lips a second time. This wasn’t the conversation I’d hoped for.
“Damien’s girl, a cleaner. Huh.” Dr. Fuller started cramming her stuff into a bag.
I closed my eyes. Fred would advise me to push on and ask for what I wanted. I flicked open my eyes and told myself to get a grip. “I need to make a request.”
“You need to apply through the proper channels to be a student here.”
“No, not that. I wanted to ask about the Minke expedition.”
Dr. Fuller crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, if those jackasses hadn’t cut short my presentation, I would’ve talked about it.”
“I want to join.”
Dr. Fuller said nothing. Her face seemed a mask cut from stone.
“I want to go down to the Bottom.” My hands were trembling now, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
“You want to find the wreckage of the Daedalus?”
She pursed her lips together. “I hate to break this to you, kid, it’s been five years. There’s no hope your dad is alive down there.”
“I know…I know. But we might be able to salvage records of the mission. I make immersive videos for fun, so I have experience piecing together footage. With the Daedalus’ records, I can recreate what happened.”
“You want to recreate how your father died?” Dr. Fuller shook her head. “That doesn’t sound healthy.”
“But he promised me he would send me a message from the Bottom. I’m sure he did, but you know how the atmosphere absorbs signals. It just didn’t make it back up. I’m sure it’s there, buried in that ship’s memory banks.”
“Look, I’m sorry you lost your dad. And if you apply, I’ll consider taking you on as a student. But there’s no room on the Minke. The ship isn’t big, and all the bunks are spoken for.”
“But I know how to make my dad’s model run. His model is still the best option for getting through the Rocks.” I wrapped my fingers around the marble in my pocket. Dad had left his model to me, it was up to me how to use it. I bit my lip.
Dr. Fuller cocked her head. “He left the model to you?”
I nodded. Dad had been very specific in his will.
“Huh, I had wondered what had happened to it. The model is excellent—a stoke of genus really.”
“Yes…and I’ll run it for you.”
Dr. Fuller frowned. “Look, we already have alternate model output. I’m sorry, kid, you can’t come.”
“But…but….” I tried to come up with more reasons she needed me. Nothing came to mind.
Dr. Fuller grabbed her bag and walked away, leaving me alone at the front of the lecture hall. I watched her go, taking my hopes with her. For a moment, I considered chasing after her and begging, but I knew nothing I did would change her mind.
Heat flushed through my cheeks as I stared down at my feet. Dad sent me a message. All I needed to do was get close enough to retrieve it.
to be continued…