Stories of Love
by Xepharious Wryn
She awoke to a gentle but incessant ping. The same troubled dreams that she'd been having for weeks drifted away as she propped herself up and looked around. It took a few moments for Caera to orient herself but as the grogginess faded and the sleeper cabin of the transport ship came into view her awareness returned as well. Others around her were also rousing from their sleep while some looked up from their reading pads or started waking young ones. An air of quiet activity quickly filled the room as the pinging faded and the lights moved from the lowest setting to something blessedly middling. Young voices joined the commotion with choruses of 'We there?', 'I wanna' sleep', and whispered 'I have ta' go potty'. Caera chuckled and remembered the same voices making claims that they were too excited and couldn't sleep so many hours ago when the ship had launched from Dodixie.
Most of her traveling companions were colonists; families emigrating to find a new life. There was wonder and fear on the faces and in the eyes of those around her, and she'd been the focus of many questions at the onset; once others had discovered that, unlike them, she was going back home to Origin. The journalism convention that had brought her out of the 'wormhole' system she called home had been very exciting. There was an energy just being around others who shared her passion and one or two of the symposiums, especially those given by some of The Scope's top field investigators, were nothing short of mind altering. Caera firmly rubbed her right palm and recalled, if somewhat distantly and in awe, the accolades one of those journalists had given her. Even now her cheeks colored at how she must have looked. She'd gone up to get an autograph, only to be congratulated for receiving an award she'd not known she had won.
As she finished gathering her few possessions, and feeling a little self-conscious at the larger loads taken up by others around her, Caera thought back to just a few days before she'd left Indigo to attend the conference and the communication she'd received. 'Dear Ms. Clarke' it read,
'We were so excited to receive your contest submission, submitted on your behalf by Xepharious Wryn, for the New Eden Capsuleers Writing Contest. We would be honored to invite you to attend the Prize Gala, held at The Golden Masque in Yulai where on 26 November we plan to announce the winners of the contest. Formal attire is requested and transport may be arranged at the expense of the contest committee for all entrants.
No RSVP is needed, however there will be refreshments and other treats for guests. As one of our potential finalists we would encourage you to attend.
The last line had caused her heart to skip a beat; until she figured that they must have added that to all of the missives that they sent to the writers. It was a Capsuleer's contest anyway, who was she to compete among gods? No; she'd quickly dispersed any notion of winning but instead turned her mind to solving the new problem. It would have been rude not to attend but the Gala was being held on the same weekend as the convention and many, many systems away. Given that it had been Xeph who had gotten her into this mess, she had first asked him to attend in her stead. He'd been the first to sponsor her migration into Origin as well as recommending her to her current employer; Transhumanity Today so she felt it only fitting that he get the honor. Alas he was busy that weekend, but recommended his girlfriend who was attending in his absence as well. Caere had known very little of Ms. Khammael when he offered her as a stand in, but as she had no hope of winning anything, Caera figured that she wouldn't be imposing much on the veteran capsuleer who had only just immigrated to Origin herself. She'd been wrong.
Being informed that you had won second prize in an interstellar writing contest, and by one of your childhood idols no less, turned out to be the most sobering moment of Caera's entire career. And now she had to go visit the girlfriend of her sponsor, a capsuleer that she barely knew, thank her profusely, retrieve the award, and retreat to her own apartment with dignity intact. Bah! She'd gone toe-to-toe with Origin's Elite. Suck it up Caera. Time to 'girl up' and get it done.
The transport finished its docking procedure with Indigo City Station and everyone inside began to shuffle towards the embarkation gates. A few more minutes and the hatches opened to a sudden rush of smells, sights, and sounds. She caught the scent of some roasting peppers and felt just a bit more at home knowing she'd soon have a bite from her favorite stand in the entire station. The others around her were a mix of haste and trepidation however and she was forced to wait while entire families carrying just about everything they owned slowly made their way into the station and then off to the right towards Colonial Immigration. As they moved on only a few remained to move, more quickly now,towards the standard customs gate. By the look of them most were returning home from business but some looked to be returning visitors.
The process through customs and arrival checks was relatively quick and as she made a straight march for her favorite VeggieReggie stand she tried to think about exactly what to do next. Of course she'd head to Literia's quarters in Indigo before catching a shuttle planetside, but after that... well, she just wasn't sure. Her award had included a disgustingly large sum of Interstellar Kredits, or 'isk'; a small fortune by capsuleer standards, but dauntingly outrageous for anyone else outside of the corporate elite. She could retire, buy, no build a home anywhere she wanted, and still not know what to do with the other 99% of the reward. But she didn't want to retire. She had come to find that she truly did enjoy what she did and who she worked for. She certainly didn't want to stop. The only trouble was, she kept wondering if there was something more she could be doing.
Memories of the dream she had awoken from returned to her. Images from it were all the more real as they played off of memories of a chance encounter she'd once had with a young boy. He'd been one of the kids she'd tried to interview back during the piece she'd done on Children's homes and the Araai Foundation. Unlike his peers he flat refused to say anything on camera and only after she'd promised to deactivate any recording device would he even speak more than a word to her. It had been his eyes though; something about them seemed to speak novels as though he'd seen so much in his short life. They'd penetrated her as if to ask what she had ever done in her life? It was those eyes that she saw in her more troubled dreams of late.
Caera had once read that you dream about things you'd seen or thought of during the day, that it was the unconscious mind's way of sorting and preparing concepts and ideas for long term storage. But had she really been thinking about this kid so much, or was it, instead, that he represented something else that her unconscious mind had been grappling with? Her thoughts took her through one tram ride and the next until she suddenly realized that she'd finished her roasted pepper and disposed of the stick several stops back. She couldn't even recall what sort of nut and umami sauce she'd gotten with it. She shook her head and also realized just how incredibly upscale the commons she was traveling through were.
The tram took her vertical before coming to rest at a bustling concourse some fifteen stories above the commons atrium below. Caera stepped out and to the left. Looking out over the gardens below she enjoyed one of the most spectacular views she'd seen in a long time. The convention center she'd just come from, or even some of the more affluent sectors of Foundation City paled next to the serene beauty of Indigo City's most affluent Pleasure District. It wasn't that they hadn't been as well designed or executed, but rather that Indigo City was just so new and as such had been afforded all of the lessons learned in Icarus's construction. And those lessons had been put to use too. Azure blue streams of crystal clear water gently meandered through some of the lushest and sturdiest grasses she'd ever seen. The vibrant greens, pinks, and purples of the short lawn accented the bioluminescent flora which sprouted and floated within the stream itself. Caera tried to imagine just how many other luminous species had been imported and decided that she might just have to plan a trip to return during the evening someday. In one small portion of the gardens, a statuary shop had lent it's masterpieces to the landscape in creative and complementary ways. Little statues, both moving and static, poked their heads or tails out from amongst the flower beds as children played games to be the first to spot them. Boutique shops lined the edges of the park where small peninsulas of textured rock or visually interactive decking drifted out to give an area for dining tables or benches. Her gaze drifted upward to see even more vegetation cascading down from terrace after terrace all around the atrium. One terrace, about halfway up the other side, even had what looked to be a waterfall that poured out into the open air only to dissipate into nothing more than mist before it ever hit the shoppers strolling below it.
It took some time for her to take it all in but eventually she remembered herself and resumed her search along the terrace for Ms. Khammael's home. She found it a few moments later, palmed the chime, and waited. The young pre-teen who answered the door was certainly not who she was expecting.
"Hello, Mom was busy with the twins, Caera right?" Her voice was cheerful if a little unsure but the girl gestured for her to come in and towards a nice sitting area to the right.
"Yeah, thank you." Caera followed the offer but didn't immediately take the seat, not wishing to be rude. It wasn't that uncommon for capsuleers to have children, but somehow talking with one of them seemed so at odds with the omnipotent caricature in which Caera had a tendency to hold their parents. "What's your name?"
The girl didn't immediately answer, as though accustomed to withholding personal information. She seemed about to say something but instead turned to look over at her mother who glided into the room with such a mix of grace and presence that belied her simple maternal appearance. She held an infant over one shoulder and patted him gently with the other hand all while smiling disarmingly to Caera. "Ms. Clarke, I'm so glad you could make it over on your way home. I'm sorry that I couldn't come to meet you at the docks and save you the trip into the station."
Caera started to refute the apology but in a very odd turn of character took an extra moment to find the words. "No; thank you! For going up in my stead, for even going in the first place."
"Oh not at all, I was going anyway. It really was a wonderful event, I'm sorry that you couldn't make it yourself. This is Amitel and Vincent by the way." Her eyes indicated first the girl and then the infant on her shoulder. "Violet is still sleeping so I don't think you'll have a chance to meet her."
"Oh, Hi Amitel" She turned to greet the pre-teen who was now smiling back.
"Are you really Caera, the THT reporter from the Network?" There seemed a small bit of wonder in her question.
Literia chuckled, "The award is just over on the counter, I'll go grab it." She moved off towards what looked to be a counter leading into a galley and dining area leaving Vincent to stare back at Caera in that wide-eyed way that every infant throughout eternity seemed to have.
Caera turned to answer Amitel. "Yeah, I guess I am. I didn't think many young ladies your age listened to my reports."
"Oh, I don't but Mom lets me stay in the room while she does. The one about those kids from Terminus seemed to make her really sad though and she wouldn't tell me why."
The reference to one of toughest assignments she'd ever done caught her off guard and she was suddenly glancing over for Literia for help. Luckily the capsuleer had already fetched a parcel wrapped in shiny red cloth and had heard her daughter's precocious remarks. "Ami, let's not discuss that particular story please."
"Ok" Amitel's face was a mix of humility with a spark of willpower that told Caera that the question would indeed come up again, if not in her presence. The kid's expression quickly turned to curiosity though as she saw the item that her mother was unwrapping.
The crystal statuette which emerged wasn't large by any means but it represented the additional isk award that had come with it, an award which was already in her accounts. She tried not to think more about that and reached out to accept the statuette and its protective wrapper. "Thank you, I do hope that accepting it on my behalf wasn't too embarrassing."
"Oh, no, not at all. I think that was well within the norms."
Caera raised an eyebrow in question. "Others couldn't make it as well then?"
Lit smiled again. "Sadly very few of the writers actually could. Though, a few weren't able to send someone instead as you did."
The additional comment had clearly been meant as a salve and Caera accepted it as offered. "Ma'am?" She looked down at the statuette in her hands.
"What do I do with it? I mean, I certainly don't need it..." It felt strange to ask but if anyone would know how to handle such massive funds, it would be a capsuleer.
Lit smiled warmly having caught that Caera meant the money and not the symbolic trophy. "What is it that you love, what gets you up every morning..." She let is sink in for a moment then added, "Invest in that. Invest in what you love."
"Right.... Thank you."
The rest of the visit was a bit of a haze as Caera said goodbye and even signed an autograph for Amitel but soon she was once more making her way back to the docking sector by tram. The shuttle down to Foundation City was also quite uneventful and as an endless stream of partial ideas and half thoughts kept her from sleeping during the trip she finally arrived home several hours later thinking that perhaps she should just give Jaysin a call. They weren't really serious, her and Jaysin, but he was generally always up for a night out on the town. As she walked across her very empty apartment and reached for her mobile communications terminal, somehow it wasn't Jaysin that she contacted.
"Hello? CeeCee?" The voice on the other end had that pleasant sort of slight flamboyance to it, a style that resonated well with a voice she'd heard since her childhood. The face to match soon joined it. "Girl, you look tired, had that dream again?"
"No, well yeah, but I also just got home."
"Oh! You're back already? How'd the trip go!? No wait; didn't I hear something about some sexy award?" His smile was infectious and his tone was nothing short of seductive. They'd tried the couple thing, back when they were 13 and 12, but it didn't stick and besides, afterward he'd found himself a nice boy to settle down with and firmly earned his place as her primary confidant and closest friend. He still liked to tease her though. She wouldn't have it any other way.
"Wont Tim be jealous?"
"He can come too..."
"I'm not really his type." She shot him an amused grin.
"Oh all right, kill all my fun."
She smiled again, enjoying their usual banter but her smile faded a little. "Yeah, I did win." She held up the statuette for him to see.
He whistled low. "Pretty, but there was some money with it too right, something like 300 million credits?"
"300 million Interstellar Kredits."
"Yeah..." There was a downturn to her voice and he picked up on it right away.
"What's wrong..." His voice was both knowing and already accepting in that leading way specifically used to draw her out. And it worked every flippin' time.
"I don't know what to do with it all." She sighed "I mean, I guess I could invest it in something that I love, but I'm just not sure that there is anything that I love that much."
He chuckled affectionately, "Do you remember Ms. Coothards class?"
"We were what, about nine, ten? Gods, I hated Ms. Coothard..."
"How could you hate her?! All she did was take attendance and intro us through a screen to our lessons. She didn't even teach." He was only mockingly incredulously; it was an old argument of theirs.
"And try to discipline us too? You forget that part often."
"Well maybe some of us were better behaved than others."
"Hah! Or you mean teacher's pet."
His face made a mock of being offended. "Again, not a teacher..."
"Coordinators Pet, I'm sorry."
"Should be!" She rolled her eyes at the smugness that accompanied his remark. "Anyway, clearly you remember, so do you also remember that report you gave as well?"
She had to think for a moment but it did come back to her. "You mean my Eyewitness Account of the Egg Laying of Ms. Coothard's Class Ka'Coopa Bird?" She again rolled her eyes as she remembered her own childhood tendencies toward the precocious. A stray thought recalled that she hadn't been any older than the orphan kid. "The 'egg laying' that everyone else in the class saw first-hand as well?"
"The very one hun." He beamed, also remembering his best friend's youth. "But can you also remember that feeling when you 'published' that silly report? There it was, for all of the other classes to read."
"You mean to ignore... but yeah..." Her retort was sarcastic but with no actual weight behind it.
"That is what you love hun, not the awards, not the fame... not even the money for nights out" He chuckled. "You love a good story."
'Invest in what you love', the words tumbled through her head again. After a while she simply said; "A publishing company"
His smile broadened but it took him a moment or two to respond as he considered it. "That could work, but you should find someone to run it for you dear... cause we both know you are absolute shit at that sort of thing."
"Hey, it's my job to keep you humble hun"
"Yeah yeah... but I think I might have an idea... gotta go."
"Go get em kid!"
She ended the call and immediately selected another friend in her contact list. Reggie wouldn't mind the abrupt end to their chat. Oh, he'd likely pretend to when next they met but a soft smile played on her lips as she relished in the thought of more of their banter because of it. The communicator at the other end activated.
"Caera... it's what, 03am?"
"Oh, sorry Aika.. I just... I... you still working for that warehousing firm?"
"No, that ended a few weeks ago, you calling just to get an update on my contracts?" Caera could almost see her friend wiping the sleep from her eyes.
"You got any clients now?"
"One, but it's not full time... what's got you on the relay with me so damn early... hey wait, didn't you just get back from-"
"Yeah, but never mind that. Would you be interested in taking on a new client... kinda a big one."
"I want to create a publishing company... you know, for up and coming writers."
There was a long pause before the image feed clicked in and Caera could see her friend, hair straightened but still in her pjs, beaming back at her. "Ya got a name yet?" Aika was already wearing a grin as well.
Caera frowned. "I'm crap at naming things... you know that. What do you think?"
"Valentina Publishers; 'The Stories of Your Heart'"
"And this is why I call you, Aika" Caera cast a tender smile out across the interstellar channels.
"Actually, if you can give me until tomorrow night, I think I've got just the thing for our new little venture."
"Yeah? What is it?"
"A surprise" Aika's face was positively mischievous.
"Oh fine, be that way, but I think you are pure evil... just so you know."
"That's harsh! Fine, it might have something to do with the event I am working on for my other client; but that's all you get."
"Have your secrets then... I know everything's in good hands." Caera let loose her own massive yawn and suddenly remembered that the time was getting quite late for her as well. "Guess I better let you get your beauty sleep as well."
"Hah! Good night you."
Caera ended the conference and looked longingly over at the bedroom. Perhaps tonight she'd dream of happier children.