You look up at the number on the departure gate. Gate 12. You recheck your ticket. Gate 12. You frown slightly, and look around you. By day, the spaceport is a bustling center of noise, beings and confusion. But it isn't day now, it is night. By night, the spaceport is filled with silence and shadows. You look again at your ticket, still wondering if it is all some sort of joke.
You had received the ticket earlier in the day. It arrived via spacemail in a small white envelope with a curious gold and silver seal. The seal seemed almost familiar to you. As though you had seen it once a long time ago and forgotten about it. Inside the envelope, you found a small card bearing your name and a message. The message read, "You are hereby invited to the Conference of Introductions." On the other side of the card was another message. "Present this card at the Mount Lorial Spaceport to receive your ticket." Curious, you did just that and received another envelope. Inside this envelope, you found a ticket and a single sheet of delicate, rose scented paper. It read "You have been chosen as one of the representatives of your world to attend the Conference of Introductions. The Conference will begin tonight. To attend, present yourself at the Mount Lorial Spaceport - Gate 12 - at the stroke of midnight. You will be guided from there." Although you were hesitant about the strange request, something deep within you whispered that it was a conference you shouldn't miss. Which is how you came to be standing in an empty spaceport just before the stroke of midnight.
Even as you think how silly this whole thing is, you push open gate 12 just as midnight strikes. The glaring brightness of the lights on the other side of the gate immediately renders you unable to see. As you stand there, waiting for your eyes to grow accustomed to the light, you hear a deep male voice. "Ah, good, you made it!" As your sight begins to return, the voice continues, "The ship is ready to leave, you're the last passenger." You blink as the world returns to focus.
The deep voice belongs to a young man of around 18 cycles. His dark brown hair falls in tousled waves almost to his shoulders and his grin tilts up one side of his mouth. The most striking things about him though are his eyes. The twin emeralds twinkle merrily at you, their look both mischievous and cheerful. You can't help smiling in response. "Come on," he says, "the conference awaits!" Together, you head towards the small vehicle docked in the bay.
The ship looks like a long gold and silver tube with the ends tapering gently off. On the side, you can see the name "The Weaver" painted in graceful swoops and swirls of colour, which start out as light blue and end up as bright red. As you draw nearer, a small door suddenly pops open in the side. A blonde boy of around 12 cycles appears at the entry. He smiles and makes a graceful motion of his hand, gesturing for you both to enter. As you pass him, he says simply, "I hope you enjoy the flight." He closes the door and then heads towards the front of the ship.
As you settle into your seat, you notice several things at once. Firstly, the boy has settled himself into the pilot's seat. Secondly, there is a blonde girl of about the same age seated in the co-pilot's seat. Thirdly, the young man and you are the only passengers. Finally, you have the vaguest sense that something about all this should be worrying you. As the ship begins to move, you remember and your eyes open wide in alarm.
The Mount Lorial Spaceport is closed at night because it is nestled within a circle of mountains that contain large amounts of Triclycerine, a material that renders ship sensors inoperable. Only the best and bravest of pilots dare to fly to the spaceport during the day, using only their natural senses to make the daring run into and out of the port. By night, the journey is impossible to make. Only three pilots have ever attempted it, and all three suffered serious injuries. As the ship lifts off, you close your eyes tightly. A minute or so later, you hear a soft chuckle. "Don't worry, Shan and Lissa haven't lost anybody yet. You really should look, it's a great view." You open your eyes, look out the porthole and gasp in astonishment as the reason for the ship's name becomes apparent.
The Weaver doesn't simply fly in one direction. It weaves in a continuous, graceful dance. The forward movement is due solely to the two immense gold and silver streaked wings that have extended from the ship's sides and now flap lazily. You take a closer look at the wings and realize that they look incredibly realistic, just like the wings of a mythical dragon. Then you stop looking at the wings and spend the rest of the journey with your eyes fixed on the wonderful view. You note that the young pilots are handling the ship with more ease and skill than some of the pilots that regularly fly through the area.
All too quickly, you see another ship in the distance, your destination. You frown slightly as you look at it; it seems oddly familiar, although you're sure you've never seen it before. At first you think it is a simple golden disk, not unlike the craft that your people use to journey to the nearby popular holiday destination planet, which the locals just call 'Earth'. As The Weaver alters course slightly however, the rear of the ship comes into view. You blink in surprise at the long golden Weaver-like tube which moves gently back and forth through space. At the end of it, a heart shaped structure gives it an undeniable resemblance to a dragon's tail.
The Weaver begins docking procedures and you soon find yourself standing at the hatch looking down at a sea of bright eager faces, none of which appears to be older than 14 cycles. You take a quick tally and figure out that there must be about 70 children there. The young man you met back at the spaceport comes up behind you just as a commanding voice bellows from the far side of the docking bay. "Nothing to see here! Get back to your positions!" The children instantly obey, even the pilot and co-pilot of The Weaver hurry off the ship and out of sight. You blink and look around, uncertain as to what you're supposed to do now. Then the owner of the commanding voice comes into view. You blink and try to hide your surprise.
A girl of around 12 cycles, with a bob of short, ginger-red hair and flashing emerald eyes strides confidently across the docking bay, stopping at the bottom of the gangway. As you and the young man walk down to meet her, she says proudly, "Welcome to the Star Aurora Galaxy, Mother Ship of the Star Aurora Fleet. I am Captain Kearie, Chief of Security. I trust you will enjoy your stay." Kearie begins to lead you both down a series of long winding passageways, mixed with the occasional long winding staircase, pointing out interesting features of the ship on the way.
The garden is nice and surprisingly large, you smile at the human-sized boy-gnome fishing in the pond, and gasp when he winks back at you. As Kearie passes the gnome, she introduces him as "Botanist Birrek". A closer look confirms that he is indeed a real boy of around 14 cycles.
The ship's library is enormous, you've never seen anything like it before. You've never seen anything quite like the librarians either. Donni, a slim pale boy of around 12 cycles, is reading when you enter. He's also sitting upside down on the ceiling with an old-earth samurai sword resting across his knees. As you gasp, a soft, lilting laugh, like the tinkle of tiny bells, sounds from behind you. You turn and gasp again. Tantitha swoops gracefully up to Donni, her long blonde hair and gauzy lilac skirts swirling around her as her rainbow gossamer wings lift her effortlessly. Although you've seen fairies before in picture books, you have never seen one human sized.
You follow Kearie through the ship, meeting the young crewmembers as you go. You also see a variety of odd things, including a tiny pink elephant tap dancing and a two-foot tall flying goldfish crooning showtunes. Kearie doesn't appear to notice anything unusual, so you don't mention it. She does however notice a small patch of pink goop on the floor. She quickly touches her insignia (the same pattern as the seal on the invitation) and calls for medical aid for "the ambassador of Glochnorich" as he "has been atomised by the Sultani of Karabutana again". A moment later, the patch of pink goop vanishes in a shimmer of light and Kearie continues the tour.
Some time, and quite a few odd occurrences, later, Kearie pauses in front of a large wooden door. She goes to pass it, then pauses and looks thoughtful. Finally she sighs and mutters, "I suppose we'd better go in, but one chicken joke and we're off." She pushes open the door.
The room you enter looks like a 17th century Earth ballroom. For all of five seconds. Then it becomes a seedy little bar - again of Earth style. A minute later it becomes an alien world composed entirely of pink and yellow fairyfloss. Kearie groans. "He's got it set to random again." She concentrates and begins to move one hand gracefully through the air. A snap of her fingers and the room alters one last time. The chairs and tables are pleasantly normal, green but normal. There is a large dance area to one side of the room and a large stage on the other. Along the back of the room, an Earth-style bar runs. Everything is painted in various shades of green. The bar is also painted with a very realistic picture of a grapevine. As you look at it, you notice the leaves swaying in a non-existent breeze. When you touch it, your hand finds nothing more than a flat picture. As you try to maintain your sanity, you realize Kearie is arguing with the young boy behind the bar. He looks to be about 11 cycles, with rumpled light brown hair and an ever-present grin on his cherubic little face. Right now though, his dark brown eyes are shining with mischief as he taunts Kearie.
Kearie introduces him as Arin. Just Arin. He is the first crewmember you have met that she didn't give a title for. Arin sees the look on your face and laughs, a bright, bubbly sound that makes you want to laugh too. "What Kearie meant to say is that I'm Arin, Shift Controller, Bartender, Seer, Prophet, Pilot, Wiseone and Rubber Chicken Juggler Extraordinaire!" As he begins to demonstrate with five pastel coloured rubber chickens, Kearie hurries you and the young man from the spaceport out of the room.
Kearie explains as you continue the tour. "That was the Grapevine. It's the center of our ship, physically and emotionally. It's a fact of life that sooner or later everyone and everything end up at the Grapevine. Whether you actually go there of your own free will is another matter." At your confused look, she explains that a being known as the Shift aids them. The Shift does exactly that, shifts people and things from one place to another at the speed of thought. Usually it comes only when it's called, but if it senses someone lost or afraid it has a tendency to act on its own. Kearie grins. "It will take you anywhere on the ship, but if you don't know where you want to go, you will always end up at the Grapevine."
As you walk, a small whirlwind suddenly appears in a bright burst of light. Kearie sees your alarm and calls out, "Twister! Stop it! You're scaring our guests!" The whirlwind slows down until you can see that it is really a young girl of around 12 cycles. Her hair has just a touch more gold than Kearie's and falls in a mass of curls down her back. Her eyes are unusual, dark forest green. She apologises and skips happily down the corridor. Kearie sighs and explains that Twister is one of three android crewmembers. She is the one with absolutely no logic circuit or programs. Alpha has an illogic circuit, while the third, Omega, has a logic circuit so precise he irons his socks.
A few minutes later, you are startled as a ball of golden light erupts from a nearby control panel and moves to the center of the corridor. You step back in shock as it takes on the form of a golden gryphon about two feet tall. The gryphon stares at you and then turns and runs down the passageway. A moment later, another ball of light, white this time, emerges from the same control panel. It takes on the form of a small... actually, you have no idea what kind of creature it is. It stands about a foot tall and has silver-grey fur all over it's little body. It reminds you a little of a teddy bear, only standing on two legs and with long pointed ears. Around its waist it wears a belt with a tiny pouch attached to it. It smiles at you and hurries after the gryphon. Kearie sighs. "The gold gryphon is a being of extreme, and unusual, power. It is a sentient electrified shapeshifter called Glitch and that is exactly what it causes whenever it gets into a computer system. The second being is the last of his kind. He's a Timekeeper by the name of Signal. He's also the mascot and main guardian of the Star Aurora Galaxy. It's part of his job to keep Glitch out of trouble."
After visiting the engine room, where Ordon and Perisse, the Chief Engineers, were dancing a tango while wearing large hats and elaborate mask-like glasses, you finally arrive back at your starting point. The docking bay is full of young crewmembers running around, cleaning ships, moving ships, carrying gophers, repairing ships, eating fire and wearing squid hats You blink and take another look, but they are definitely hats with live squid sitting on them.
While you try to erase that image out of your mind, a tenseness suddenly fills the air. The crew immediately drop whatever they are doing, resulting in a sudden excess of released gophers, and run to the far side of the docking bay where they duck behind a long, waist high brick wall with the gophers and the squid. A high pitched squeal fills the air and Kearie motions you to step back. A small silver starfighter speeds into the docking area, coming to a neat, and somewhat sudden, stop.
As the crew emerge from their hiding place, the hatch pops open and a laughing voice can be heard, "Very funny team, my flying isn't that bad!" The next instant, a small, slender figure vaults out of the hatchway and lands lightly on the floor of the docking bay. She takes her helmet off and her hair flies freely. Beside you, you sense the young man from the spaceport growing suddenly tense. You glance over at him and discover his eyes suddenly focused intently on the girl from the starfighter. You look back at her and find she is looking at you and your fellow guest.
She is about 12 cycles old with long, dark red hair cascading in wild waves down her back. Her flight suit is silver with light blue trim, just like all the others in the docking bay, but her insignia are different. As well as the seal-insignia, she also wears a small circular mirror with a delicate, light blue rose etched in the center. She steps forward to greet you.
"Greetings travelers, I am High Commander Jade of the Star Aurora Galaxy. I hope you have enjoyed your stay. I regret that the conference must be postponed until another time, however I have just received word that our urgent presence is required on another world. Until that time comes, I shall have to veil your memories of your visit here. It would not do for you to recall everything you have learned here. You shall remember..." her voice begins to fade, "but you shall remember as though it were a dream. Or perhaps a story." Everything goes black.
You blink and wonder why you are standing at your window at midnight. You can't remember getting up, but you do vaguely remember a dream, or maybe a story, you can't quite recall.
On another world...
"C'mon Alec wake up! You were the one that wanted to get an early start on today's part of the journey!" The girl's voice woke Alec out of a deep sleep. As his emerald eyes opened, he brushed back a wayward lock of dark brown hair and blinked up at his friend and protégé Jade. The sun rising behind her made her dark red hair shine like molten flame, it dazzled him for a moment, for a moment he thought she was someone else. Someone else? Then he remembered.
"I had the strangest dream."
On to the next story