“Whenever you’re ready, Gallia.”
Gallia looked at the faces of Captain Keldan Green and Fedar Cygnus, his security officer. She thought they looked neither old nor young—but then, it is always difficult to guess the age of an alien. The Captain crossed his hands on the table in front of him and waited, gazing steadily at her. His mouth was set in a frown, but not (Gallia thought) because he was angry or unhappy, but simply because it was a serious mouth. He was dressed in a dark blue uniform jacket, fastened from waist to throat with brass clasps. His body was athletic and strong, if a little wide around the middle. His black hair was shaved close to the skin. Everything about Keldan gave her the impression of steady, reliable authority. Only his eyes seemed to betray something uncontrolled under the surface—a streak of boyish irreverence or rebellion, or arrogance—two dark lines, sparkling and teasing, black as Fal coin and graced with a pair of curved, expressive eyebrows.
Fedar was wiry and muscular, blonde and freckled, with a pale face and a closed expression. Something in her rigid posture reminded Gallia of a Drashivan jungle deer, both shy and deadly.
“I am the eldest daughter of Chieftan Marsoko Dayona,” Gallia began. “On Drashiva, I was an artist. Since childhood, I have been fascinated with faces and flowers, with the way the light dances along the river bank, with the smooth interlocking skin of the river snake, and with the appearances of beauty in all things. I was eager to paint whatever I saw, and my father encouraged my desires and gifts.”
“What is a Chieftan’s position, on Drashiva?” Fedar asked. “Is he a ruler?”
“He is a guide, especially in spiritual or personal matters. He settles disputes and arguments. He is the peacemaker, and judge. It is his job to bring impartial wisdom to every situation.”
Keldan shifted in his seat, and seemed about to say something. Then, he seemed to change his mind.
“Captain?” Gallia inquired.
“I had a question, but I don’t want to lead the discussion. Perhaps I will ask you at a later time. Please continue.”
“On the day we met, on that evening when my brothers brought me to you. . .”
The computer was recording everything Gallia said, so Keldan allowed his thoughts to drift. Lately it seemed he could not stop thinking about gods. Drashivan gods. Kollimarian gods. Gods from stories he heard as a boy. The Vingosi pantheon was a part of life for every person on Vingos, and though it had been many years since he lived there, the legends and histories and stories were ingrained. The rituals and religious feasts of Gulo were as much a part of his childhood as playing stick ball with his brothers on the shale mountains, or the smell of his mother’s perfume. The big dusty book on his father’s nightstand held tales of the first colony, of their journey from Earth. It told of the spirit guides—six animal spirits which had led the Vingosi from their previous home, and saved them from being destroyed along with the rest of their race. It was the usual story: a troubled planet on the brink of destruction, the population starved and oppressed by the misdeeds of a powerful consortium, an uprising. . . but Keldan had never paid much attention to the details. He did remember that first group of travelers were scientists. They’d succeeded in opening a portal, and the six animal spirits had led them through.
But did that mean those spirits were gods? What did that word even mean? Why did he care? Keldan had never worshipped Gulo, his father’s god. Nothing about his father had been worth emulating. But after his recent experience on Drashiva, he was having trouble denying the existence of spirits powerful enough to be called gods. Kayon was certainly real enough, and Gallia had called out to her god, Ordru—“save me”—and hadn’t Ordru answered her prayer? Here she was, against all odds, radiantly healthy and safe. Then again, wasn’t it him and his crew and his ship that had saved Gallia? He glanced at the beautiful woman sitting across from him, and opened the door just a crack to admit his attraction to her before slamming it shut again.
“. . . so, my father was forced to turn me out of the tribe,” Gallia was saying. “My paintings, which depicted the visions in my mind, showed clearly my allegiance to Ordru. I could not hide it.”
“You chose to follow your own path,” Fedar said.
“Yes, I suppose you could say that. But I also had no choice. I was compelled to follow Ordru, to follow his path. But I would not want you to think that I resisted. It was exactly the path I would have followed even if another had been presented to me.”
“I don’t understand,” Fedar said. “Did you or did you not have a choice?”
As she said this, Fedar’s face changed imperceptibly, and her voice gained a slight edge. She was trying to hide her distrust, but Gallia was a practiced observer. She thinks I’m deceiving her, Gallia thought.
“I am not sure whether I can answer you more clearly. I used to watch my brothers and sisters, my father and mother, as they did the things Kayon required. To follow Kayon was their obligation and duty. But for me to follow Ordru is like love. We are not given a choice, in love. But we are happy to follow the path of it, because it delights us. Do you see?”
Fedar nodded in a way that told Gallia she didn’t see at all but wanted to end the discussion.
As the two women talked, Keldan had been quietly watching them. Gallia’s arms were slender and feminine; she used her two upper hands to help express her thoughts, while the other two were folded demurely in her lap. Bangles of wood and rose-colored metal danced around her wrists as she spoke. She was, Keldan thought, exactly what she appeared to be. A sweet, honest girl from a family of breeding; perhaps a bit naive. Fedar, despite all his experience with her over the last few years, was still something of a mystery to him. Not that he cared. Her martial skills and reliable, loyal service to the ship were more than enough to gain his trust. All he knew was that Fedar was from the wealthy, opulent tribe of Cygnus, with its towering temple. The white pillars of Cygnus could be seen from a distance, but no person from the region of Gulo would be allowed within her borders. It occurred to him then that Fedar was perhaps as much a misfit as he was. Tribe-traitors, they were called. That was fine with him. Anything was better than living out his life satisfied by the meagre portion of Gulo, marching each day to the Fal mines, watching the slow breaking of bodies and darkening of faces.
Gallia was another tribe-traitor. But not by choice.
“How can it delight you to be exiled from your people?” Keldan asked.
“It saddens me terribly to be separated from them. I wanted to stay, and to show them that they have nothing to fear from Ordru. But they could not bear to hear his name.”
A slight pause. Keldan cleared his throat. “There’s something that doesn’t make sense to me. Your people sent you away from them, but Kayon came after you. Why?”
“Kayon is a jealous being. He was not pleased with my love for his enemy. I believe he did not want me to live to carry that love elsewhere.”
Gallia thought the Captain looked uncomfortable. He glanced over at Fedar, and some kind of silent communication passed between them.
“Gallia. . . one more question, if you don’t mind.”
“Will he. . . do you believe that Kayon. . . will continue to give chase?”
“I don’t know,” Gallia said. “I hope not. But if he does, Ordru will protect me, and he will also protect those with me.”
Fedar looked dubious. “Are you sure about that?”
“I am sure. It is his nature. He is a protector.” She flashed them a dazzling and confident smile.
“Thank you, Gallia,” Fedar said. “I think that’s all for now.”
Gallia stood, thanked them both, and exited the security office. Fedar folded her arms, elbows on the table, and then pushed her long blonde braid aside to rub a sore spot on her neck. Keldan watched her, his most trusted confidante apart from San, and wondered if it was time to bring her in on the secret.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I think I don’t know how to keep the ship safe from a god with a vendetta.”
“That’s a concern of mine, too. But she really seems to think this Ordru being will protect us.”
“What she believes or thinks is immaterial, Captain. The hard fact is that we have seen no real evidence of Ordru’s existence. Kayon, yes. But Ordru?”
It was true. Kayon had shaken the ship, possessed Naleth, and tried to kill them all. And in the end it was not Ordru who had saved Gallia, it was her—the spirit of The Fallingstar, the navigator in Keldan’s mind, the fifth and secret pilot. But she wasn’t a goddess, or an energy being, or anything like that. She was very different from the Vingosi or the Drashivans, but she was mortal. Fallible. Just another person. She had her weaknesses, her needs. She was just Stargirl.
“It’s just a gut feeling, Fedar. But I think we’ll be alright.”
“You may be right, Captain. But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep thinking of ways to increase security.”
“It can’t hurt. Talk to Mennosha about it, he has an imaginative mind and may think of things we wouldn’t.”
Keldan left the security office, and headed for the navigation room, which was situated in a small room on the fifth-level viewing deck, which was one level above the empty escape hatches. He entered the viewing deck and saw Gallia standing by the window, gazing out at the stars streaming by. As he approached, she turned and their eyes met but he looked quickly away. They had nothing further to discuss.
Gallia watched the Captain ascend the stairs. It was a double staircase, standing parallel to the viewing windows, leading to a sort of loft or landing where stood a mysterious round door. As it opened to admit him, a faint blue glow fell onto the landing. Keldan hesitated for a moment and then looked down at her, and for just a moment Gallia felt a chill, as if someone else was looking at her through his eyes. Then he went inside and the door shut, but the light seemed to linger a moment, like a mist, before it faded.