(( Part 2 of ?? ))
(( Paris, France, Earth. ))
Ah, Paris. The sounds and smells that wafted down the streets, and up from the metro. Not the good kinds. Starfleet, Collins, the strange man - they were again all in an unknown, unthought-of world somewhere else.
After free-falling through a canopy of thoughts, she struck this memory like a particularly rigid branch.
Maria resented the crowded streets and messy language. The fancy hats and elaborate coiffed hair styles. The ancient opulence and nouveau-riche alike gave looks that told her to go back home. But after so many years of the unending toil to learn her craft in the birthplace of ballet, how was this not?
Camila was home. Diego was home. But she was here. Exiled. With her mother.
She turned down an alley leading away from the main street, and trotted up some stairs to a cramped flat. It was a space granted to those like her: troubadour painters, poets, musicians, and students all with little or no family, friends, or colleagues - and no heritage countryside vineyard to claim. In a city as populous and diverse as this, though, it was a small treasure, afforded to her so long as she studied at the ballet school.
Her mother’s dour, unamused expression greeted her on the other side of the door. The conversation started straight away in Spanish.
Emilia: Llegas tarde, María...
Alvarez: ¡Aj! Lo sé. Lo siento. :: She continued in the language of home. :: Tyrnan invited me out with some of the other dancers.
Maria hung her woollen coat and purse on a hook, leaving her in her tight practice athletic wear.
Emilia: Tyrnan? :: She scoffed. :: If only you spent as much time practicing as you did chasing boys.
Alvarez: :: She grinned. :: Honestly, there’s very little chasing…
The innuendo wasn’t lost on her mother.
Emilia: María… :: The flat, low tone, and vigorous rolled R said it all. :: You know we’re here for you to dance, not for you to waste everything you’ve been given.
Alvarez: This again, mother?
Emilia: Remind me, María, why you’re not dancing with a corps de ballet this summer?
Maria’s face scrunched into mute annoyance. She hadn’t managed to get into any of the major corps this year. Despite all the practice, all the hours, all the talent, they’d decided to pass her over. She knew she was so close to getting it, the feedback told her she had an impressively original style, she just lacked refinement and consistency. Maybe if she’d practiced more she’d get in next year. Really committed herself. She wasn’t quite sure why she couldn’t. Maybe there was something wrong with her. Defective. Her mother seemed to think so.
The lack of response was all the excuse her mother needed to keep talking. She sighed, communicating disappointment as deep and black as an ocean.
Emilia: I’ll never understand you, Maria. Just what was so important with Tyrnan to keep you late again anyway?
Alvarez: If you must know, there was an exhibition at the Starfleet… :: She paused, something amiss. :: embassy...
An exhibition? For some reason the word ‘Bairiri’ came to mind. She didn’t know what it meant, or where it came from, but it was there. Jangling about like so much loose change. Her brow furrowed, her mind briefly slipping from the moment.
Emilia: Starfleet!? :: She exclaimed. :: Of all the ways to waste time… You should keep away from them.
Alvarez: And why should I? They’re good people!
Maria said the line, like she knew she had, but her calm voice seemed far away as she floated above her own head. She wandered over to the window. She swallowed at the sight of a red-and-gold painted clown performing in the deserted street outside. He appeared to be juggling planets. Not balls that looked like planets: actual, miniature planets - atmosphere and all. Her mind labelled one of them “Venthis.” Whatever that meant.
Emilia: María, you know I’ve worked too hard nurturing your creative soul to have it ruined by that lot.
She looked back fondly at her daughter, really believing her words.
Alvarez: You’ve worked too hard?!
Maria wheeled around in anger, suddenly taken by the strange earrings that hung from her mother’s ears. Miniature starships, by the look of them. Sabre class to be precise. How did she know that? It didn’t matter - the worn trail demanded it be walked, no matter how urgently the alarms rang in her head.
Emilia: Spare me the theatrics Maria. We both know what your idea of “work” looks like.
Maria scoffed. As if hours a day and years of study weren't enough. No, it had to be a total commitment. Follow the plan. Her plan. She threw up her hands, knowing the response was “why yes, of course.”
Alvarez: I’ll never be good enough for you, will I? If I were in a corps, it would be “why aren’t you lead?” If I was lead, it would be why not reviewed. If reviewed, why not touring… Maybe you should stop to think about what I want for myself.
She turned to the window again, huffing away in anger. The clown stared at her eyes back up from the street, a starfleet badge painted in silver on his face. Behind him, an all-black motorcycle suddenly lit aflame and turned into an inferno. It was almost as startling an image as what she faced when she turned back to face her mother.
A neural collar sat neatly cinched around her neck. She held the other in her hand.
Emilia: And just what would that be, hmm?!
Alvarez: I don’t know! A life! A purpose! Something more than this... tunnel vision!
Her mother walked towards her. The life in her eyes was gone. This was no memory. Not anymore. Maria tried to back-pedal, but found her feet stuck to the floor.
Emilia: Oh, my sweet María… :: Her voice became a resonant sing-song. :: My dearest daughter. :: She lifted the neural collar to Maria’s neck. :: Why would you need a purpose, when you can serve mine?
The collar slid around her neck, and the lock popped shut. Before she knew it, she was dancing like a marionette, strings controlled by her mother. Using her like a toy.
Of course, in reality, the strings were far more metaphorical, far more subtle.
Panic flooded Maria’s body, and in a flash, she was somewhere else.
(( The Collins Mansion. Collinsport, Maine ))
A dusty old painting hung above a dusty mantle, in a dusty room as full of old sofas and furniture as it was devoid of natural light. Books were everywhere. This time, Maria knew where she was. Her home. Well, Collins’ home really. In the drawing room. But she wasn’t there now.
She found herself in the middle of the room in a splotchy cream shift with corset ties in the back, as if she were an old servant tasked with caring for the enormous estate. The feather-duster in her hand corroborated that notion.
She dropped it, and her breath caught as her brain ran in fast-forward through all the events from Paris up through falling on the gymnasium floor.
Alvarez: Well, Commander. This certainly counts as strange. :: She looked around. :: Now, where are you, Collins?
She floated across the room looking for clues. The vision just prior could wait. The faces in the paintings seemed to follow her steps. Maria glared back warily. Vague, pallid laughter wafted in from outside.
That was all Maria needed to rush through the heavy door, past the upper-level stained glass window, by the ugly tapestry, down the stairs. She raced through the halls she somehow knew, out the entry, and crashed out the heavy main doors onto the foggy expanse of green lawn. She stopped, chest beating heavy, looking for any sign of life.
Alvarez: Collins?! :: She shouted out. ::
The cold damp closed in, snaking across the ground and coiling itself around her body.
Another wet silence sucked the sound away.
Then she saw him!
She saw (or thought she saw) him running straight at her!
Alvarez: There you are, what is…
She was cut off by the large, foggy shape of Collins passing right through her, seemingly unaware of her voice, her presence, or anything but the shadowy shape several hundred feet away on the hill below. Only two steps took her to the spot right behind the figure’s jean-jacketed form.
Fernandez: You again, chica?
The back of a wavy head of hair turned into a leering face without the body moving at all. Maria stood her ground, despite this man, this place, defying every rule of reason.
Alvarez: I’m not leaving without Collins.
Fernandez: Really? :: His grin looked more like he was baring his teeth. :: And how will you?
Alvarez: Watch me.
She wound up and sent her fist straight through his face, only for it to turn to mist.
A sickening laugh echoed the sky turning to black dust spreading through the sky. The man’s voice became one with the sky.
Fernandez: He hasn’t told you, has he?
Alvarez: Told me what?
A breeze blew in from the ocean, pushing black tendrils ahead of it as the sky’s laughter turned to manic thunder. Lighting blasted the sky, and the scene changed again.
(( USS Eagle, 239612 ))
In the dark, Maria’s eyes couldn’t make out much more than a single wall and the brightly lit computer display illuminating a woman’s fair face, petite form, and blonde hair - blue uniform and all, frozen in time. Maria got the sense this would be someone she’d like, judging by the easy posture that might have held almost as much forward energy as Maria’s did. Her mind assigned the woman a name without warning: “Kayla Drex.”
Meanwhile, Maria was dressed as a cadet, third class - as she would have been at the time. She took a step across an invisible floor, with stars the only backdrop to the scene.
Alvarez: What is this?
A voice replied from the void.
Fernandez: You’re saying you don’t know already?
Maria whipped around, looking for the source of the voice. There was none to be found. She inspected the panel again, trying to find any clues. All the readings looked nominal, but…
There was a reflection on the glass. Red and orange blaze commingled together in the shape of an explosion steadily mushrooming somewhere in the distance behind the woman. How close was hard to say. A lead ball of thought bounced down her spine in heavy cold thuds, then landed in her stomach, making her feel almost sick.
Alvarez: Is she dead?
The voice laughed again.
Fernandez: She might as well be…
The words repeated over themselves, tumbling in a hamster wheel of menace. Maria shook her head in frustration.
Alvarez: I don’t get it, why show me this?
Fernandez: Perhaps this will help…
Suddenly, the face changed, and instead it was her sister standing frozen, awaiting annihilation.
Alvarez: Cami! :: She gasped, then whirled about again to face the nothing. :: What have you done!?
Fernandez: More like what didn’t the witch-boy do…
Maria finally understood, a piece of the puzzle snapping in place letting her see the whole picture. Collins was responsible for the death of someone painfully close to him. Or at least he felt he was. She could feel the full weight of the loss squeeze on her like it was her own, causing her breath to hitch and chest to tighten in maddened grief.
She took a second to gather herself.
Alvarez: What is this? Some kind of threat? I'm the next victim of some… :: the word came to her. :: curse? You should know - I’m not afraid of dying! Doubly, if it will save my friend!
The voice murmured a giggle. Then it broke into lewd laughter. Then raucous, gurgling guffaws assaulted her senses from every bearing.
Fernandez: Oh no, chica. It will be far worse than that for you…
The images blew away like sand, and the kaleidoscope of scenes spun on.