((13 - Theme From Voltaic))
"Are we there yet?" inquired Goat, anticipating the answer.
Jaz was busy setting levers and hitting buttons on the shining wall, reading up once in a while to pull a string, which generally caused a completely mechanical clunk somewhere else. "No, not nearly. It'll take at least sixteen hours to get to Sector Seven. I suggest you find a comfortable place to sit."
Owl shifted restlessly in her seat. "Are you sure the clunking sounds are okay?" she questioned.
"The clunking sounds are better than okay, they tell me Oliver's doing what I tell him."
Skunk glanced around suspiciously. "Where is Sector Seven? And who's Oliver?"
"Oliver? You're in him, now. He's my ship." The pilot patted the wall fondly, smiling around at the room.
Owl frowned a little. "You named a ship. ... you named a big clunky thing."
"I named a big clunky thing once," said Goat, almost wistfully.
"He's my only company out here, for months on end. 'Course I named him." She adjusted her goggles, pulling a strand of spiky blonde hair out of the strap. "And I'd be careful with your tone, wouldn't want to get him offended, now. Could decide not to BE so clunky, hm?"
The older woman held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "Okay, sorry. Sorry... Oliver." She looked around, half expecting the ship to accept her apology.
"Good old Elephant," Goat reminisced. "She was so... made of metal. And damn good at keeping things cold." The teen grinned, staring off into space.
"So where is Sector Seven?" Skunk asked, ignoring Goat's rambling.
The pilot turned back to her controls. "A long way. Listen, the way I see it, I owe you a story. You told me yours..." she paused slightly. "Well, as best you could. And I'm sure you're pretty confused, and I haven't exactly been illuminating so far, which I apologize for. You scared me. Don't like being scared by things I can't kill."
"What?" The policewoman frowned. "Say what you mean, no mind games."
Jaz looked at her. "Alright." She pointed to a row of symbols over the door. "Can you read that?"
Owl glanced over. "Some of them are familiar, but I can't read it..."
"No..." Skunk scowled. "Why?"
Jaz nodded, as if this explained a lot. "It says, 'We... found something. Somethin' big. It's...alive.' "
Owl shuddered. "Why does it... I mean, who..." Protectively, the rememorist crossed her arms over herself, and bit her lip.
"From the first sighting of a demon."
"Who wrote it?" Goat asked.
"Me. But I copied it from audio logs by a man named Derek Connelly..." She began to read again, from a different section of wall. " 'Thirty-nine years old, previously of the colony ship Templar, headed towards Vega.' "
"Why would you WANT that on your wall!?" Owl asked in bewilderment.
"My ancestors came from that ship." Jaz' voice was calm, showing no sign of anger.
"Oh..." Owl swallowed.
The pilot waved a hand about the room. "Most of the quotes around the ship are from him. They... well, the early ones are a warning that we still know so little. The later ones are the reasons we fight."
"How is this related?" Skunk glanced around the room, clearly dissatisfied. "Besides the demons, I mean. You still haven't told us what's actually going on."
Jaz shrugged. "It's... who I am." She gestured to another quote, a long section covering most of a wall, and began to read.
" 'We've decided to stay here. It's... not like we can go anywhere, and it's not like we're going to do anything with our lives. So we might as well stay here and try to make a difference. Study the demons. See if we can learn how their power works. Some of us say it's magic, etheric tenet, beyond understanding. Others say it's just physics we don't know yet. Either way, we don't really know what's going on. Also, find out who made this place, and how. Not sure how we're going to do that. And... fight the demons. Kill the fuckers before they kill us.'
She spun on her chair, slowly turning to face the three. "He's dead, now, eight hundred years dead. "
Owl opened her mouth to mention the inappropriate language, but shut it. Maybe demons were a just reason for such words. "Eight hundred? That's... people haven't been that long. It's impossible."
"Yours haven't, maybe," Jaz shot back, arching an eyebrow.
"We don't know that," Goat pointed out. "We don't bother counting the years, remember?"
Owl shrugged. "We would if they reached the hundreds. I'm sure of it. Hundreds of years is something to be proud of. Think of all the stories that would happen in eight hundred years."
"Yes. And that's what's confusing me." Jaz' brow furrowed. "Because there's only one place you could have come from."
"We told you," Owl said plainly. "Face."
"No, I mean, before that."
"Before?" Owl asked, a little shocked.
"Well then, enlighten us," Skunk responded sarcastically.
"My ancestors were scientists. I'm a scientist, we all are. Scientists and warriors." The pilot gestured to the three survivors of Face. "You're... well, you're not."
Owl laughed uneasily. "How'd you guess?"
She continued. "Connelly, in his logs, mentions being cast out, a mutiny. We crash-landed our ship here... but what happened to the main vessel? What happened to the people that threw us out?"
Goosebumps rose over Owl's tan skin.
Skunk looked skeptical. "You think they're our ancestors?"
Jaz nodded. "It makes sense that you wouldn't know... without the scientists, you wouldn't have kept records like we have..."
"But... but..." Owl looked very upset. "Our ancestors would have cast you out! That's horrible. I can't believe we come from people who would do such a thing."
"I can," Skunk said nonchalantly, ignoring the dirty look Owl cast her. "But why does that matter? I mean, so they cast you out. How did that lead to this? And if not, why are we even talking about it?"
Jaz sighed. "We're talking about it because that lack of records is extremely important. Without records, you have no history, and without history, you can't learn from your mistakes."
"Plus it kills time as we get to Sector Seven," Goat said.
"Mistakes?" Owl gasped. "We were exploded off our home by a disgusting... thing! That's no one's mistake, young lady."
"A disgusting thing that was safely locked in a crystal cell before you came along, with all respect," retorted Jaz.
"I'm start to regret attempting to ride it," admitted Goat.
"Think about it. What if there were other places like Face?" Jaz' voice burned with intensity. "What if there were other people like you, uninformed and thus foolish? And without memory, they'll just do it again and again."
"..." Owl opened her mouth to continue the argument and found nothing. "Are there?" she asked instead.
Jaz shook her head, rubbing her eyes in weariness. "I don't know."
"Hey, you're talking like this is all our fault." Skunk growled.
"And look at Goat. We DO learn from mistakes." Owl smiled at the boy.
He grinned back at her eagerly. "Next time, I'm gonna jump farther," he resolved.
Jaz looked up at Skunk. "Yeah, I suppose I am. Sorry, it's just... it's so hard for me to imagine not being surrounded by the grim knowledge of the demons and all they've done. It's hard for me to process that it really isn't your fault."
Owl frowned. "Why would the demons be our fault?"
Skunk arched an eyebrow. "So you're saying that the reasons demons have been showing up is 'cuz people like us free them from their cells or whatever?"
"No. Yes. Somewhat." Jaz clenched her teeth, clearly getting frustrated.
Skunk rolled her dark eyes. "Then what ARE you saying?"
"Listen, I know it's confusing, but we really don't KNOW anything, so trying to EXPLAIN anything is fucking HARD." Jaz exploded at the woman. "Your sarcasm REALLY doesn't help."
"Language!" slipped past Owl's lips that time.
Jaz bristled, then stood with a slight nod of apology. "This is what we know: There are demons. They are trying to kill us. They escape from their cells by themselves, sometimes, and it seems to be happening more and more frequently, though that could just be me.
"Me and my people, we hunt them down, and we kill them. There are also the crystals, the Shadows, which are... jailers, I suppose. We don't really know much about them.
"And sometimes, apparently, once in a while, people like you, THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN, make my job harder by letting more demons free." Speech finished, the pilot looked around the room at each of the three in turn.
Owl looked down at her feet. "Um... why aren't people acting as jailers?" she asked. "If you can find the demons, you should... stop people freeing them. Explanation works better than killer crystals." She looked back up to Jaz.
"I don't know whether you understand just how many demons there are out, there, how many free and how many still locked up."
"Of course we don't," Skunk said sharply.
"Is it a lot?" Goat wondered.
"Too many to guard?" Owl frowned.
"There are thirty-seven Sectors of my people, each with a few hundred people. Each Sector covers a few hundred THOUSAND kilometers. It's all we can do to stay alive and cling to what rock isn't really just more jail cells in disguise." Jaz' voice was level, tinged with a note of bitter resignation. "We help each other out and if we can, we take a few demons out on the way. There are infinitely more demons than us that are already free."
Owl gulped. "That's not good news."
Jaz smiled grimly at her. "There isn't much good news."
"Yeah." Skunk fidgeted, crossing her arms. "Well, fuck."
"Language, Skunk, I swear!"
Jaz sighed in exasperation. "Lady--Owl, is it?--I think you're just going to have to get used to it. The kind of life you'll most likely lead now... it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
The older woman let out a frustrated breath, tucking a strand of her wildly curly hair behind her ear. "I understand... but it could get worse without profanity."
"Better I curse than I punch someone in the face."
"... good point."
Jaz thought for a moment. "Unless that someone is a demon."
At this, a corner of Skunk's mouth quirked up, the closest to a smile she'd shown the entire trip.
"Center," Goat whispered, almost unconsciously.
Owl turned to the young man. "What?"
"Center, apparently." He blinked at her.
"Why did you say it?"
"I... don't know." The boy didn't seem terribly bothered by the fact.
Skunk leaned against the wall, looking disdainfully at the two of them. "Cuz we're all lunatics here, apparently." She paused. "Uh. Is there a bathroom anywhere around here?" She asked, almost sheepishly.
Jaz pointed. "It's through the door and to the left."
Skunk nodded once and hurried out without another word.
Jaz watched her go, then pulled a string. It opened a small drawer, and she pulled out a thin grey cylinder, and pulled a cap off of the end. Finding a spare bit of wall, she drew an eye, followed by a line of symbols underneath, all in red ink.
"What are you doing?" Owl wondered aloud.
"I'm making notes, for later."
"Are you... drawing words?" The rememorist watched Jaz work, leaning in to see better.
Jaz looked surprised. "Yes."
"But... not pictures of what they mean." Owl slowly tried to piece together the alien concepts. "You're just drawing them. The words themselves."
Jaz turned to face the older woman, looking up from her writing. "Yes. It's... how we keep records, other than audio logs. It's faster, easier. Look, words are--"
"I know words," Owl interrupted. "I remember them for everyone. But how do you put a word on a wall? Or on anything else?"
Jaz made sort of shaping-gestures in the air. "Yes, but... it's the way we put them down, on things, with letters."
"...Letters?" Owl repeated, feeling the strange word out.
She pointed to a single symbol, the first in the disjointed line she'd drawn. "This is a letter, the letter 'R.' And this an 'E,' and an 'M,' and another 'E,' see, and another 'M,' and this is a 'B,' and... well, another 'E' and 'R.'"
Owl watched Jaz' finger move along the symbols. "What do they do? The letters. Why do you have to repeat them?"
"Making them is called writing, and then looking at them to figure them out is called reading. The letters make sounds, in our brains, based on what we've been taught they sound like." She was still sort of gesticulating, as if she could squish the knowledge of the written language into a ball and give it to Owl all in a chunk.
Owl blinked, trying to take it all in. She fingered the stone on her necklace. "Writing is drawing letters. Reading is seeing letters. Letters are sounds because we say they are," she summarized. "What sound is 'R?'"
Jaz nodded. "Right. 'R' is... well, it's like the beginning of Right, actually, and the end of the letter name. Rrrrrrr."
"R is rrr... what are the others? "Oh, and how does a word end?" she added. "I mean... how do you put letters together?"
"When you stop saying it," muttered Skunk, who had skulked quietly back in without their notice.
Owl glared at her. "When you're WRITING," she clarified.
"Well, the 'E' is confusing, because in this particular word it has two different sounds. The first 'E' just sounds like its names, eeeee, and the second... look, it's really complex." Jaz rubbed her face.
Owl turned back to her new teacher. "Why aren't there two letters for 'E?' One for each sound."
"I need to sleep," Jaz muttered. "We should all get some rest," she added, louder. "I'll teach you in the morning, okay, Owl? It's not like we don't have time."
"Okay!" Owl answered happily.
Goat suddenly jumped up, hitting his head on the ceiling. He landed with his arms on the ground, and got up, eyes lit.
Owl looked at Goat somewhat worriedly. "Are you okay?"
"Writing!" the teen exclaimed. "It's like sandwich-making, but with... letters!"
Skunk made a 'pffft' sound, looking distastefully at the boy.
He carried on regardless. "I can't wait to master this new form of sandwich-making." The boy paused, thinking. "Actually, I can, now that my head hurts. Yeah, let's sleep."
Owl smiled at the young leaper. "Maybe you'll feel better in the morning."
The pilot looked around at the cramped space, and shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry it's not more comfortable, but Oliver's really a personal vessel. I can give you some blankets and you can bunk down in here, or you can go back to the kitchen area if you want, it doesn't matter to me."
"I don't care," Owl said. "As long as we have blankets and non-crystal ground."
"Alright." Jaz pulled a string by the doorway, and a trapdoor in the ceiling dumped a pile of blankets and a single, moth-eaten pillow into the middle of the room. She skirted the pile and tapped a few keys on the control-wall, then returned to the doorway.
"I'll sleep in the kitchen area," Goat said, heading that way.
"I'll stay here," Owl shrugged, grabbing a sheet.
Skunk said nothing, just picked up her pack from the ground and pulled out some dried mushrooms and a blanket.
Watching her, Owl's stomach rumbled. "Actually... what's in the kitchen?"
Goat stood proudly, puffing out his chest. "Looks like I've been called to duty! Goat, sandwich-maker extraordinaire!"
Letting out a small laugh, Jaz turned to head to her bunk. "Have fun with that. I'll see you all in the morning."