Child of the Stars

Characters: Miina Awenata


Miina checked the power relays, and re-checked the shielding on the adjoining couplings. If she was asked to give a sudden burst of energy, the Phoenix was ready. She stopped for a moment, and watched, almost detached from her own movements as her nimble fingers ran over the maze of circuitry. How often did everyone take their own movements, their own abilities, for granted? Beings of light and water, every cell with its own intricacies was its own miracle.

She stopped, and looked over her hands again, as she had done countless number of times in the past few hours. Perfect. No sign of burn marks. No scarring. No pain. Above all else, no pain. Pain she had learned to live with. Perhaps even welcome, as some sort of self-imposed punishment for her past–at least the part of her past when she seemed to cease to be herself and become merely a conduit for Earthforce bureaucracy. Following orders. That was one thing Lt. Commander Gina Winters was good at. And that had gotten her approval from her superior officers, a much-needed approval, and a sense of belonging. Until the day when she could follow orders no longer.

As her fingers once again swept over the bulkhead, in between the power relays she had been checking, she felt herself being drawn in again, only–unlike the first time–it was a feeling that something, no…someone…. was probing her. And contrary to her practiced skill of keeping those unwanted scans away, or more correctly, her practiced skill of allowing intruders to think they were scanning her, she dropped her guard. Again, more correctly, her inborn ability was momentarily lifted from her, taken away as one relieves another of a heavy burden, and far from being frightened, she gave herself up willingly.


 

She had been sitting in her quarters the first time, her mind swirling with demons of doubt, worry, guilt, and inadequacy. But her thoughts had been interrupted by the door chimes. She remembered wondering who in Valen’s name would come to see her. She spoke for a second time, to whoever it was on the other side of her door. “Yes? Come in,” and when she received no response, she rose and went to the door. It opened to reveal no one standing even nearby. She stepped out into the hall, only to see the hallway empty in both directions. The door behind her closed, and made her jump. She frowned at herself. The door always closed behind her.

She turned to her right, no, it was to the left that she needed to go. She walked along the corridor looking for…something, someone. Someone was searching for her. For a moment, she wondered to herself if she was dreaming. Sometimes one got a peculiar feeling of the need to do something in a dream. If this was a dream, she mused, it was the most wide-awake dream she had ever had. She came to the turbolift, and went inside. The doors closed and the lift began moving before she had even decided where she was going. The lift stopped, the doors opened, and she recognized the familiar entrance to engineering. She made her way to one of the places that had been affected by the power surge that had killed Maenier. She passed by several others busy at different tasks, but none of them saw her–not even as she put her bandaged hands against the exposed inner wall. She did not know why she was doing what she was doing, but she touched her hands gently against the opened bulkhead, the way one would comfort a friend, and offered herself as consolation.

And then for the first time, it touched her. Sadness. Intense sadness, like the pain of losing a best friend, a soul-mate, washed over her entire being, penetrating the depths of her soul. And at the same time, the feeling of helplessness. If her presence was, in any way, a balm to this grieving soul, then she would give of herself gladly. And so she had stood, riveted in place, touching the inner wall, laying her hands on that which was described as a feat of organic technology, and then she watched as her hands slowly disappeared into the depths of the of the inner wall while it shifted and changed color.

Then the sadness had been drawn from her, as if it had somehow invaded her, and had not been meant to happen. She felt it physically being drawn from her body, and flowing out through her hands. And she breathed. Like someone starved for oxygen. As deep and as full as she had ever breathed. And for a moment, she was back deep in the forest with Abeytu and Nidawi and the wise woman that they called simply, “the Grandmother.” All night she had been made to breathe incense and sacred smoke, and then for what seemed like hours she had to endure the stifling heat and steam as water was poured again and again onto to the glowing rocks.

But finally she had emerged. Like the butterfly shedding its cocoon, she was freed from the confining wrappings and stepped out into the night to fill her lungs with the cool, clean air. It was good to be alive. And she stood with arms outstretched, her eyes raised to the night sky, as Abeytu and Nidawi invoked her patron spirit, Migina Wakan-the waxing moon, and chanted prayers and songs of blessing while the Grandmother dressed her in new clothes and crowned her with a wreath of sweet-smelling flowers.

“Welcome, My Daughter,” the Grandmother told her, as she brushed her cheeks with pollen, “You have put childish ways aside, and now wear the mantle of womanhood.” Miina had smiled as the ritual continued, but the smile was for someone else, and as she gazed into the starry canopy, surrounded by a ring of tall trees in the clearing where she stood, she was certain that the singing that filled her ears was not just the women alone.

“No matter how much you are grown,” Grandfather had told her, “you will always be a child.” She had been watching nervously for Tadewi, her older cousin, whose arrival would signal the beginning of the ceremony that would see Miina into womanhood. Tadewi was to come and deliver her to the three women waiting deep in the forest. And that was all that Miina knew. The rest was hidden under the veil of secrecy–and behind the smiling eyes of all the rest of the women. Miina had to agree with Grandfather as she looked up at him with wondering eyes and a quivering lip. He gestured to the heavens. “Yes, you will always be a child, but you are more than this place alone, this time, this night. You are a child of the heavens, of the stars. Do not forget.”

She had managed a smile, and then in the most grown-up voice she could offer, answered him. “Thank you, Grandfather. I will not forget.” Then impulsively, she added. “I love the stars, Grandfather. Sometimes they sing to me.” Then she lowered her head, her cheeks burning. That did not sound like a very grown-up thing to say.

But Grandfather only cupped her chin in his leathered hand, and made her look at him. “The stars sing to everyone, my granddaughter, but most do not listen.”

“I will listen, Grandfather,” she said solemnly. “I will always listen.”


 

She found herself in the stillness of her darkened quarters, when only moments before, she had been in engineering. She called for lights and then looked down at her hands, still in their bandages. She wondered if it had all been a dream, but under the gauze wrapping her hands felt different. She began to unwrap them, but stopped upon hearing the Captain’s voice. “Your attention, please. White Star 24 has been found…”

Her heart sank. “It’s dead, isn’t it?” she asked aloud, remembering the wave of sadness, of grief that she had felt. Captain Hale had ended, “Everyone else, to your posts. Until I say otherwise, we are on full alert.”

Full Alert. That meant everybody. At least every able bodied crew member. But that did include her, and she knew it. By the time she had unwrapped both her hands, she was back in the turbolift, and headed for engineering. On the short ride to engineering, she turned her hands palms up and back down again and flexed her fingers, and marvelled at what she saw. But there was no time to sit and ponder the circumstances. She had to make sure everything was in running order and quickly.


 

And that memory quickly brought her back to the present where she had been chiding herself for her lack of character, for her days in Earthforce, and again she had…connected…with the presence. Now, the memories of her time in Earthforce were set aside temporarily, as if she was being freed from her own thoughts, and, like a child caught with her mind wandering away from her lessons, she was gently prodded to give her full attention to the task at hand. “I understand,” she half-whispered, again concentrating on the power grid in front of her, her mind clear and unclouded by thoughts or memories, and she noticed one small connection that needed her immediate attention. There had been no words nor thoughts exchanged as her mind was redirected, but she did feel some sort of…’presence’ was the only word she could think of to describe it. Words were so limiting. And it was certainly more than merely the ‘artificial intelligence’ she had been led to believe.

“But…” she hesitated, trying to hold on to the moment, knowing this time it most certainly was not a dream, and wondered how to phrase her words, “you are not…finished…with me, are you?” She received no reply. Then again, that was reply enough. For it only seemed to imply that communication was was not a trivial thing. Then she heard a small voice echo in her mind.

“You will call me when I am done grinding the corn, Grandfather?” an eager, and youthful Miina asked hopefully, as she was being led off to her chores. In answer to her memory, an image of Grandfather came into clarity in her mind–the wise, tanned, and heavily lined face, framed by thick, grey braids, allowing a slight nod of the head to his beloved granddaughter–he would reserve further communication until the next lesson.


Copyright (c) 1998 Judy Caswell. All rights reserved.