((29 - The Wheels of Wonder))
April 19th, 802 AT
Rows and rows of shelves stretched off, curving at the edge of her vision. Labyrinthine corridors, lined with book after book after book. The journals and writings of forty generations of scientists, archived and collected. Some were catalogues of demons, their types, and their magics--others were technical manuals, explaining interesting ideas. Others were simple personal journals, telling of the day-to-day existence of the inhabitants of the Void. Eight hundred years of Sector Seven history.
Owl wandered the long rows, eyes sweeping across what must have been millions of books. It was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen, and that feeling didn't fade, no matter how many times she came in here. Always, always, the idea that she could learn anything she wanted while in this room astounded and delighted her.
The short woman shuffled from shelf to shelf, finally selecting a history text. These stories were her favorites. They reminded her of home so very slightly. Just like on Face, people out here told the stories of things past... but instead of using spoken words, they wrote. Someday she wanted to learn all the stories, and spread them. Owl sank down next to the bookcase and started to read. She had gotten her powers under control, now, and while her skin still swam with text, and her shadow was still made of layers and layers of black writing, she no longer subconsciously rewrote everything around her.
Jaz ran a hand along the spines of the books as she passed them. Walls of words, it made her wistful for the now half-deconstructed Oliver, but she smiled to think of him as a part of something larger. Herself, too, part of something larger than the daily, weary battle of stay alive, fight for your life. But she wasn't here to linger over a book. She had some thinking to do, and as pleasant as this was, it was not her goal.
She nearly tripped over Owl before noticing her. "Oh!" She smiled down at the woman, still a bit... unnerved. They hadn't really spoken since that night of change. "I suppose you definitely don't need those reading lessons, anymore."
Some of the sound of Jaz's voice filtered into Owl's book haze, but not any distinct words. "What?" she asked, jerking a bit as she looked up, eyes wide.
Jaz laughed softly. "Hello."
"Oh, hello Captain," Owl replied, clearly mistaking 'Captain' for being Jaz' first name. "What, um, what are you doing here?"
Jaz raised an eyebrow. "It is a public section, you know."
"Oh, I know that!" Owl answered immediately, trying not to appear rude. "I just meant... were you here to read?"
"I'm just teasing, Owl, and it's just Jaz. Captain's a title. It means I fly a ship, I'm in charge of my own ship." She figured that rather than just a correction, Owl would want an explanation as to why. "And... no, I'm not, not today. I'm on way to the Map Room. I can show you, if you like."
"Ah... I see," the older woman said. "Thank you for explaining." Owl bit her lip, weighing the Map Room against the Archives. Well, she could always read later, and she hadn't seen the maps yet... "Sure, I'd love to." She stood to her full, rather unimpressive height, and put the history book back.
Jaz continued down the corridor of books. "I thought you might. Besides, it'd be good for someone else to understand this fucked-up geography of ours, other than Kasby and I. You know, just in case. And you're the one who can read..."
Owl nodded, then paused to think for a moment. "Hey, Jaz. Are there other titles? For instance, is there a title I should have for riding on the ship?"
"Hm? Oh, well. You're crew, then, but people don't generally say 'crew Owl.' If you hold a specific position, work on the ship, you'd have a separate title." They came to the doors to the map room, and Jaz pushed them open. "Like, if something WERE to happen to Kasby and/or I, you'd be called 'navigator,' because you'd know the maps."
The two women stepped into the circular room, and Owl immediately made for the strange spiked glass ball on the central pedestal. She leaned in close, frowning at it. "What does that?" she questioned, pointing at it. "Should a navigator know?" She straightened, looking at Jaz, then her eyes widened. "Not that anything should to happen to you two! That would be terrible!"
"Of course not. But in this life, it's better to have backup plans, don't you think?" Jaz smiled, and answered Owl's question by dramatically pushing a button. The glass elevated on its piston, and began to glow. The points of light pushed out from it, filling the room with a thousand tiny icons. Most were white, but here and there a red one pulsed quietly.
Owl's jaw dropped. "Oh..." she breathed. "Is this... a map? And why are some red? Are they the important part?"
Jaz smirked. "Yes. Look..." She reached up and was about to tap a point near one of the red ones, a point that was glowing and spinning, when all of the points abruptly winked off and on again.
Owl jumped in surprise. "What was that?"
Jaz laughed. "Just the map updating with current data from various automated surveillance buoys." She turned back to the point she'd been looking at, only to find that a dozen other nearby points had turned to a blinking, insistent red. "... oh. Shit."
"Um...?" Owl looked at Jaz, worried. "Are they not supposed to do that?"
"Well, it's really, really good that we're getting out of here as soon as possible. Look." She pointed to the one that had already been red, before the update. "This is your crystal, Face, I think you called it? It's blinking red because it's newly broken." She moved her hand to the other newly-blinking ones. "And, now, so are these. Broken." She chewed her lip.
"...Oh." The words sunk in. "Oh! Oh my, that's... those are all new demons?"
Jaz nodded slowly, not saying anything.
Owl stood in silence for a moment, then leaned in close to the point that stood for her home, examining the floating square. "That's Face? How? It looks nothing like Face!"
"Oh, uh, right, sorry." Jaz reached out a tapped the point with the tip of one finger. A line of text spilled out in the air.
CUBIC; est. 9,012km
EST. DATE OF DAMAGE: APR 13 802AT
DEMON STATUS: UNKNOWN
"It's not going to look like Face, as you saw it," Jaz said, preoccupied with her own thoughts.
Owl scowled at the readout. "What are those numbers there for?"
"That's all we know about the place you grew up, those numbers, those statistics. It's up to you to tell us more."
"So... all these words, the status and the damage..." Owl's eyes clouded with tears until a few slipped down her cheek. "We're... all that's left other than that."
Jaz looked at her. "I'm sorry."
Owl sniffed, and wiped her eyes. "No... don't be. If we're the ones who have to tell you our stories, then... Will I get a book of my own?" Her eyes shone with a mixture of hope and home sickness.
Jaz grinned in spite of herself. "You can have a dozen. Hundreds! You're a whole new branch of history, Owl!"
"I'm a... I'm a..." Owl pressed her hands to her chest, a smile breaking out on her face. "Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I'll do it! I'll write thousands of them! My stories will be available for everyone!" She grinned ear to ear, thrilling at the prospect. "...Jaz. Will you teach me how to put the paper in the cloth? You know, so it's all one story in book form?"
Jaz laughed delightedly. "Of course." She wrinkled her nose. "Maybe someday someone will have quotes of yours, all over their ship. A Captain that takes her inspiration from Owl, Historian of Face. She'll have a ship like Oliver..." She sobered, and almost wished she could cry as easily as Owl, at the memory.
"I doubt it. The last time my words were all over a ship not all of them were very nice. I think if Skunk could read, she would be mad at me."
"Sometimes you have to use those, though."
"I guess," Owl answered. "Maybe if I take the time to compose my quotes though, for the books... they'll come out nicer."
Jaz turned her eyes back to the map. "Look. My home doesn't have much more about it than yours." She tapped the Sector Four Base point, far away from the spinning ones. "Maybe I'll write a book, too."
"Yes!" the older woman encouraged, "You should. We can have a wing of the Archives together."
As she spoke, words spilled out of the point Jaz had indicated.
SECTOR FOUR BASE
A small triangle was below that, pointing downwards. Jaz touched it, and the words continued.
ACTIVE FREQUENCY: 3600NM
COORDINATES: 38.12236, 120.23344, 2.03842
The text scrolled on, indicating more various data about Sector Four.
Owl tilted her head, and walked over to the other triangle she'd seen in the room, the button on the wall. She jabbed it. "Does this give our ... coordinates?"
Something in the panel clicked, and a voice began to play, gruff and determined. "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."
The short woman jerked back from the panel in surprise, and spun, looking for the voice for a moment.
Jaz's lips moved, silently repeating the words that she knew backwards and forwards.
"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." The voice paused for a moment. "That's... that's it, really." Another pause, this one heavy. "My boy's one year old today. Happy birthday, Jeremy. Your father loves you." The voice seemed to catch, on the verge of... something. "Connelly out." Another click marked the end of the recording.
Owl turned to Jaz and in a stage whisper she asked, "Is Connelly behind the wall? Should we help him?"
She shook her head. "It's a recording. He's long dead." The pilot took a deep breath. "And there you have it. The founding tenets of our society. 'Kill the fuckers before they kill us.'"
"Oh... I see." Owl looked at her feet for a moment, and then lifted her head again. "Jaz... is a recording like a book? But a spoken book?"
Jaz cocked her head. "Yeees, very much so."
"I see... Maybe my title should be recorder. That's what I do. At home, I mean. That's what I did. I told stories like a book."
Jaz smiled. "I like that. Very well, Recorder Owl. Would you like to be navigator as well?"
Owl beamed. "I can have two titles?"
"Of course. I'm a navigator, as well as a captain, and a mechanic, and a warrior, to name a few. But to be navigator is harder than just deciding. You have to listen, learn. And judging by the amount of broken crystals, you have to do it now."
Owl nodded solemnly. "I can do that. I'm good at learning." She took a step towards the middle of the room, looking at the strange snowflake of glass. "What's at the Center, Jaz?"
"A massive crystal, bigger than any of the others, with a huge city on it. The heart of the Void, Sector One." She smiled. "It's beautiful, in a way. Not regular, like the crystals... big spires of gleaming crystal, rising up around the city..."
"You've been there?"
"Once, when I was young. No one's ever been inside it, though. Well, no one's been inside it and lived... Anyway!" She reached out and pointed to another point of light, halfway from Sector Seven to the Center. "This one is my home, Sector Four. We call it the Roost. I think you'll like it."
Owl was silent for a moment, thinking. "Which... which way is the map pointing, relative to us? Do we go... that way?" She pointed off to the side, following the line that Sector Seven made to the Center.
Jaz shook her head. "No, the Center is straight down from here. All gravity in the Void points inwards, so to get there... we just fall."
The Navigator frowned. "A controlled fall, though? Otherwise..."
Jaz laughed. "Of course. And our ships have artificial gravity, so we won't even really feel like we're falling. Earlier, when I found you, we were flying straight up, coming at Sector Seven from underneath, but you couldn't feel that, could you?"
"Oh. I suppose not." Owl began to think again, processing and restructuring the map in her mind.
Before their eyes, the map updated again, and another of the points of light slowly turned red and began to blink insistently. Jaz' eyes zipped to it immediately. "Dammit." A whole group of them were now red, in an expanding radius around what had been Face. "Shit, shit, shit." Jaz shook her head. "Listen, I'm really sorry, but this is really bad. There'll be maps on the ship."
"What ship?" Owl asked, eyes darting from red dot to red dot.
Jaz was already striding from the room, muttering to herself. She turned back, standing in the doorway. "The one Kasby and I are going to build. Oh, and Owl? Grab whatever books you want for the trip. It's gonna be a long ride."