Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below…
“Captain’s Log update. Further to the recent encounter with the last human colony in the Calamarti Sector, The Golden Strand is currently moving into uncharted space. We are following up on reports of the existence of a mythical and demonic alien race. The Kyruku.”
Captain Gervain’s elegant and poised outline could be seen silhouetted in profile against the receding planet as she finished recording her log.
“Do you believe the colonists, Captain?”
The youthful-looking science officer lacked expression in both her voice and her face. Despite the question, she displayed zero curiosity. It was as if the captain’s response, whatever it might be, was of no more than academic interest to her.
“I don’t know,” Gervain admitted after a moment of reflection. “Sub-Commander Stude seems to think the colonists have some genuine grounds to believe they do exist. He says the landing team he led met too many who had stories to tell about them for it to be a complete myth. But all I really heard from him was wild stories of the curse they are supposed to carry.”
“It is completely irrational to believe such accounts,” Science Officer Chay agreed, her tone clipped. “To accord any credence to the entire concept of a curse requires an irrational and superstitious mindset.”
The captain lifted one eyebrow and leaned closer to her colleague, lowering her voice so the rest of the crew wouldn’t hear. “Between you and me, I think you have Arlan Stude pinned, Xexe. You don’t get much more irrational and superstitious than he is.” She smiled knowingly at her science officer, who blinked and tilted her head.
“I am not sure I can agree with you, Captain. In my experience, Sub-Commander Stude makes highly rational decisions.”
The captain drew a sharp breath, but whatever she had been going to say next was silenced on her tongue. The lights on the flight deck suddenly flickered and a siren began blaring the “High Alert” warning. Both women turned and looked towards the huge viewing screen, just as a brick-shaped vessel shimmered into view against the backdrop of stars. It looked ugly, with the rusted colour of its hull and the alien technology appearing to human eyes like protruding pincers, needles and claw shapes.
“Will you look at that?”
The expression on Captain Gervain’s face was a well-crafted blend of wonder and horror. Beside her, the deadpan of the science officer was a brilliant counterpoint. High emotion set against pure mentation.
“I see it, Captain. It is there. The Kyruku. Do. Exist.”
Two such different female faces, one shot. Perfect.
Joah Meer glanced from the monitor view back to the studio where the two women stood in an empty room staring, rapt, at a blank wall. They really were very good. She had them hold their pose for a few seconds longer than was strictly needed, stopped the recording and smiled.
“Nice work. Take five and then we’ll be setting up to get the fight scene recorded.”
Heila, whose role as captain of The Golden Strand had lasted three seasons so far, stretched slowly as if she had been cramped, and glared at Joah.
“I’m not doing that hurling myself around on the floor thing again, so don’t ask.”
“Never, darling,” Joah said, soothingly. “You might get another bruise, and you have a full-exposure publicity shoot tomorrow.”
Beside her, no longer stone-faced, Zarshay snorted and broke into a grin. Heila scowled at her.
“Full exposure? Oh my, the life of a leading lady.”
Which was enough to send Heila stalking out in high dudgeon. Zarshay was still grinning as she navigated through the two tech-droids and their human keeper, Wilf, to reach Joah’s console. Joah opened her arms and hugged her tight, lifting her off her feet as they kissed.
“Seriously? You have booked Heila for a skin shoot?”
Joah shook her head.
“Of course not, it’s just a usual media thing, but she has been getting so precious recently, I’ve been tempted. It’s like she thinks we should change Starways Pathfinders to The Heila Camarthy Show.”
Zarshay made a rude noise and laughed.
But something of the tension was still there when they were adding the space-battle scenes.
Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original. Next week – Episode 0010.