The Hero of Algol
Chapter 2: The Friend in Need
**** Interview with Alis Landale - excerpt. AW 344, Nov. 12 ****
Interviewer: Is it true that you panicked the first time you saw Odin?
Alis: *laughs* When you say it like that, you make it sound like I was scared of him!
Interviewer: *chuckles* Sorry... No, obviously it would have been Medusa that scared you, right? The threat of Medusa lurking somewhere nearby?
Alis: I had been thinking about Odin a lot over the days prior to that. Daring to hope that he would live up to his reputation. Wondering if he might really be the next Perseus, the great hero that Algol desperately needed. When I saw him -- the great warrior -- gaze defiant and axe at the ready -- imposing and statuesque -- his obvious strength and courage not enough to save him from Medusa's glance -- yeah, I freaked out.
Interviewer: So what did you do?
Alis: I ran screaming like a little girl back to the safety of Parolit, hid under the covers, and cried in fear of all the terrifying monsters in the world.
Interviewer: ... Come on, seriously now.
Alis: Well, except for the screaming part. I didn't need any more monster attention than I was already getting.
Interviewer: But... you're Alis! You really just ran away and cried?
Alis: *shrugs* What would you have done?
**** end excerpt ****
AW 342, June 19 (day 13)
Sorry. I should have said more yesterday and now I'm behind. I've been feeling sick today. Heart-sick. Soul-sick. First Nero and now this. I guess everything I'd heard about Odin had gotten my hopes up. I knew it was probably all just hype. Odin was probably an above-average Hunter and an exceptional braggart (possibly with a little bit of con-artist mixed in for good measure). And his death -- in the greater scheme of things -- probably doesn't matter much. But knowing and hoping are two different things. I really hoped he might be the one. I guess I'm not yet as cynical as I thought.
Before I found Medusa's new Odin statue, I found a cache full of money and an expensive-looking compass. Like, a lot of money. I'm not rich exactly, but it's enough to make me kind of feel rich. It didn't occur to me until after I was almost back at Parolit that I had probably stolen it all from Medusa herself, who had in turn stolen it from Odin and others. So now I feel even more awful. Walking around with a dead hero's money. Spending it on things to benefit myself.
I think I have an idea of how I might atone. It'll cost a lot. Maybe all I have and more. And I don't know if I'm brave enough to do it. But I don't know if I'm brave enough to try to live with myself if I don't. That talking cat that was Odin's friend. If what I heard was true, it was sold into slavery and shipped to Motavia. And Odin is no longer capable of coming to the rescue...
Help me know what the right thing to do is, Nero. And please, watch over and protect that cat. Goodnight.
AW 342, June 20 (day 14)
I guess I'm really going to do it. It's time to go to bed but my heart is still racing. I can't stop thinking about my trip to Motavia. Will my forged papers be spotted? Will I be arrested in Camineet for even trying this? In two or so days will I be on a ship crossing the vast space between planets? I hope I can sleep tonight.
My new Hunter "friends" here in Scion hooked me up with a local forger. Supposedly he's very good. He is, at least, very expensive. But tomorrow morning I should have a new birth certificate, hover license, road-pass, and passport, all under a new name: Ashley Chase, age 18, born in Drasgow so there's no way anyone will be able to check my story (what with the oceans as they are). This is more and better forms of ID than I have for the real me!
I bought new clothes and some lightweight armor, better for traveling in. I'm just about prepared for this trip, I think. Every way but emotionally. Keep an eye on me, Nero. I might need your help on this one. Goodnight.
AW 342, June 21 (day 15)
Ugh!! I had the nightmare again!! I hate this!! I'm terrified and I don't want to get out of bed and I don't want to risk being caught by the robotcops for trying to pass a fake ID and I don't want to go to Motavia to search for someone I have no idea how to find!
Why does my stupid brain keep making me dream about Perseus in a hopeless battle? And why was it a little bit different this time? I was watching. Perseus was alone, waiting. But before the monster came he was looking around. There was nothing but blackness, but he was looking for something. I don't know why, but it felt like he was looking for... me. It was too dark, I was hidden in the black, and I don't think I was even there either, I just observe what happens. He never found me, or whatever he was looking for, and the monster came. Then it played out like normal. The fight is always a little different each time, but it always goes inevitably horribly.
Stupid nightmares. I must be mentally ill. Thanks journal, I feel a little better now.
AW 342, June 21 (day 15)
I'm home. I get to sleep in my own bed tonight. I tracked down Nero's friend and told him about Odin. He let me know that the danger he'd warned me about had just sort of fizzled. There were a few harassment arrests, but no-one important. The robotcops seemed to be lacking good leads this time around.
I'm going to pay next month's rent in advance tomorrow before I leave, since I won't be back before the end of the month. Odin's money again. I keep owing him more and more. Will rescuing his cat friend be enough to pay off my debt? Assuming I can even do that much? I'll just have to do what I can. I can't expect any more of myself than that.
I don't have time to jump through the bureaucracy’s hoops to get a real passport, and I don't want to risk finding out that my name is on some travel restriction list, so I'm still going to be traveling as Ashley. I've started to get attached to the eighteen-year-old from Drasgow. I think her persona suits me well. She has some tragedy in her past (but then, don't we all) but is grown up enough to have learned how to deal with it.
My house is still cold, and it smells kinda musty, but it feels so... home! It feels so good here, even though I can't walk past Nero's room without choking up. I've been on edge and emotionally adrift since I was forced to leave two weeks ago. I feel safe here. Like I can finally relax. It's too bad I have to leave tomorrow morning. I've really missed being home.
Sitting here, getting ready for bed, it doesn't feel like Nero is dead. It just feels like one of those nights where he's staying out late. Leaving home fell too close on the heels of Nero's death. Reversing one makes it feel like the other has been undone as well. (Nero's death. Nero's death. Nero's death. Maybe if I write it enough I'll start to believe it again. How come I can write that now without crying anymore? Have I really gotten over it so fast? Am I that callous a person?)
I'm tired. Goodnight.
AW 342, June 22 (day 16)
It's late afternoon. I'm sitting in my crash-couch, waiting for take off. Today has felt like such an amazing adventure, and the best part hasn't even happened yet. This is what an adventure is supposed to be like. A real adventure. Everything else over the past two weeks has felt more like... a classical tragedy, or survival-horror. But this -- today -- this is what an adventure is supposed to be!
Striding bravely up to the robotcops at the checkpoint, waiting with my heart in my throat to find out whether or not my road-pass would be accepted. Riding the long, glass-enclosed moving sidewalk, high above the fields separating the spaceport from Camineet. What a view! What a sense of excitement as the spaceport draws nearer and nearer! Stepping out into the massive open space of the spaceport proper, built to handle so much more traffic than there is anymore. It felt vast and sad.
I wandered across the acres of concrete, dodged cargo carts, grabbed a burger at a First Food shop, missed the shuttle, and instead of waiting for the next one, decided to walk to the gate zone, over by the control towers. I've been doing so much walking lately, this seemed kind of a trivial distance. It only took me half-an-hour to get there. I was surprised and impressed by how much green space there was around the gates. It must be really nice for travelers coming from Motavia or Dezoris to see so many lush trees and bushes first thing after landing on Palma.
I had another heart-in-throat moment trying to buy a ticket, waiting to see if my passport would be accepted. It was. Then after killing a couple of hours enjoying the flowers at the park, it was time to board. I passed through the final security checkpoint and out onto the vast tarmac, and there they were. The ships. Red and sleek and beautiful. As if wrought by artists rather than engineers, to capture the soaring adventurer's spirit!
The boarding process was rather dull by comparison. I was shown to my miniscule private "stateroom" and shown where to stow my bag. Seriously, there's a door and four walls enclosing a space big enough for one-and-a-third beds, with a bed taking up most of that room. It's claustrophobic, but at least I'll have some privacy for the next five days.
AW 342, June 22 (day 16)
It's night time. They've dimmed the lights and people are being encouraged to go to bed. There's some people staying up upstairs in the rec-room, but I'm exhausted and don't feel like joining them. And besides, this isn't a cruise ship. There's room for passengers and cargo and not a lot else. Oh, we have a little bit of space to stretch out in -- there's the rec-room, an exercise room, and a dining/movie room -- just enough to keep us all from going stir crazy during the flight. And tiny privacy compartments for sleeping and reading and listening to music in, to keep us from wanting to kill each other. Space travel is not for the claustrophobic.
Lift-off was thrilling; I was able to see the Gothic Labs across the strait as we were gaining altitude. It's so sad how much of Gothic is abandoned now. They used to make almost all of Palma's spaceships and commercial aircraft, but with this economy there hasn't been money or demand for new ships for a long time. Gothic didn't look run-down, from the altitude we were at it still looked like a gleaming industrial center. It's heartbreaking to think that over 90% of it has had to be abandoned to the monsters.
Eventually we got higher and higher until the sky turned black and we were out amongst the stars, rising up away from our wonderful blue and white world. (Don't worry Palma, I won't be gone long.) Then we got to get up and stretch our legs and explore the ship finally (not that there was much to explore). Dinner was served, and they showed a documentary on the history of space-flight. I can't imagine trying to take a trip to Motavia or Dezoris the way they did back before constant acceleration ships were developed. Having to deal with weightlessness and space-sickness and travel times measured in months rather than days! Apparently some travelers really did go crazy sometimes.
Five days from now we'll be on Mota. It might be kind of a boring trip, but honestly, I'm looking forward to the forced R&R. After the last couple of weeks I kind of need it. Goodnight.
AW 342, June 23 (day 17)
I'm making friends! I was expecting to spend all day fending off boredom by reading and watching movies, but since there aren't any single tables in the dining room I ate breakfast next to other people and ended up talking to them. Someone said that I looked kinda young to be traveling alone, so I got to explain my (Ashley Chase's) tragic back-story. I got a lot of sympathy from everyone, but I don't really feel guilty about it since Ashley's personal tragedies are pretty similar to mine but with the names and dates changed a bit.
Anyway, I pretty much spent all day just talking to people. So much so that my throat's a little bit sore. It's nice to associate with older (mostly) middle-class people after having to spend so much time in seedy motels and with Hunters and underworld riff-raff in Scion. Admittedly, some of the folk on this ship have nothing but really boring stories about themselves to tell. (Agh! Mr. Dunl, I really don't want to hear about all your recent hospital visits! Please stop!) But even so, I'm kind of in the mood for safe, boring people right now.
There's a boy my age too I met! His name's Noll and he and his parents are taking a two week vacation to Motavia. Noll doesn't say much, but he's pretty cute. His parents are really nice. His mom Diana works for Camineet's social services department, so at first I hated her reflexively. But she was really sympathetic and wanted to hear all about my experiences in the foster care system and orphanages that Nero and I got bounced around between as a child. She said that a lot of the bad "outcomes" that happen in the system are a result of underfunding and excessive need (in addition to bureaucratic power plays and office politics among management). I don't think that's a very good excuse but I couldn't stay angry at her, she really does seem to care about the people the system is trying (ineptly) to help.
Four more days until Mota. I hope the rest of the flight is as nice as today was. Goodnight!
AW 342, June 24 (day 18)
Eeeee! I have a crush! I have a crush on Noll! He is just so......! Aggh! There aren't any right words! I just want to reach out and... touch him, a little (inappropriately...). ?! What?! No! I would never! Right?! Augh!
So dumb! So crazy, so dumb! But I think maybe he likes me too?! !!!!! ??
We spent all day talking today. Turns out he really opens up once you get to know him a little. He touched my hand a couple times by accident. Maybe on purpose?! It sent shivers up my arm!
Oh this is stupid, and I know it! Once we get to Motavia he's going to go on vacation and I'm going to have to start working on finding that cat! I'm just going to hurt myself if I pursue this any further. Forgive me Nero, your sister is acting as foolish as you used to.
Goodnight. (Only three more days until Mota!)
AW 342, June 25 (day 19)
The best thing happened today!! Noll and I snuck back into my sleeping cell while his parents were watching a movie and... ... we... Oh God, I'm blushing just trying to write it! We did a lot of kissing, but more than just that! We... ... !! I got felt up by a boy today and it was terrifying and exhilarating and the BEST thing ever!! (Not just over the shirt, but under!! Skin on skin and he could feel my heart beating and it was practically exploding in my chest!) And I... touched him too...(!!) Augh! Too embarrassing, I can't write about this!
BUT IT WAS THE BEST!!!
(Oh God, Nero. What am I doing to myself?! I don't want this trip to ever end, but we land on Mota in just two more days! Why?!!)
Editor's Note: The following journal entries contained simple drawings that are *described* here, rather than reproduced.
AW 342, June 26 (day 20)
Morning Entry: !!!
!!! Noll woke me up at 2 AM last night! He snuck down from first class to see me. I let him in even though I was only wearing my nightclothes. But I didn't turn the light on, so we could only sort of see each other by the milky starlight. We sat on my bed and talked (well, whispered) about how we both hated that we might not see each other again after we land.
And then eventually we stopped talking and just sat, leaning against each other in mutual silence and sadness. Feeling each other breathing.
And then we quietly started doing more than just breathing. It started just with kissing... but, in the romantic starlight in a tiny cabin on a ship out in interplanetary space... with our mutual longing we... we did a lot more than just kiss. ... ...It all seemed to happen so gradually, but it went so fast! We both wanted... we both just needed... each other. It was the most terrifying and the most exciting and the most awkward and the most natural and the most
I'm... still technically a virgin... (!!) But only because, without condoms... (!!) we didn't want to risk... anything. I... don't know how I should feel about this. I don't even know how I do feel about this!! It's like my heart's a swirled up mess of every emotion possible and it can't figure out how to untangle itself!
Maybe I'll find out where Noll and his parents are vacationing and I'll be able to visit sometimes after we land? Maybe my work on Motavia will take just long enough that I'll be able to take the same flight back to Palma that Noll takes?! Maybe after we land on Mota in a day and a half Noll and I will never see each other again??! *anguished face*
Nero, what have I done to myself?! I can see the cliff coming, but I just keep accelerating toward it, faster and faster!
AW 342, June 26 (day 20)
He has a girlfriend!
HE HAS A GIRLFRIEND!!!!! *angry face*
Oh God it hurts! *crying face*
His parents saw us together this morning, talking after breakfast. They separated us and his mom "warned" me that I shouldn't get too close since, in case I didn't know, he... AUUUGGGHHH!!!!
I wanted to slap him, or punch him, or scream at him, or whatever you're supposed to do to let this kind of outrage out! I walked up to him and asked if it was true, and he just looked guilty, and afraid. All he said was "yes" and then I left. There were just too many people around. I can't throw a fit on a ship this crowded.
How could he do this to her?! How could he do this to me?!! I hate him!!!
(God, why must this hurt so much?! Why can't all these stupid emotions just end?! Please make it stop hurting. please...)
AW 342, June 27 (day 21)
Ugh. Space-lag sucks. I've been up for twenty hours and the sun hasn't even set yet. Motavia and Palma have slightly different day lengths, so how much Camineet and Paseo's respective time zones differ is constantly shifting. Outside right now it's early evening. Inside my head it's two AM.
Motavia's hot, and I'm tired, and it needs to be night so I can go to bed. My hotel room has air-conditioning at least. I don't care. I'm going to bed now anyway.
AW 342, June 28 (day 22)
Up before dawn again. No nightmares this time, just space-lag. I guess this is a good time to write about what happened yesterday. The last half-day on the spaceship was unpleasant. Nothing different about the food or accommodations, I was just feeling pretty unhappy. Noll tried to apologize to me after we disembarked (I had been avoiding him on the ship). It was probably our last chance to speak to each other, but I wasn't in the mood and brushed him off. I don't like how tortured my feelings are about him still. I need more time to straighten them out.
Motavia is hot and sunny, just as advertised. At first I was surprised at how much green there is in Paseo, but I guess it makes sense that when choosing where to build a colony on a desert planet, you'd do it at one of the best sources of water available. I don't think it's quite a "tropical paradise", but Paseo is a pretty nice city. The people are friendly, the economy is in doldrums of course, but there's less of an air of despair and oppression than I'm used to. It's said the Governor of Motavia and Lassic aren't on good terms. Maybe I've been misled about how far Lassic's power reaches across Algol.
There are still monsters roaming the sands and grasses outside Paseo's walls, naturally. (Or should that be "unnaturally", since monsters aren't exactly natural?) From what I hear the desert is just teeming with scorpions, and is rife with ant lions that build traps in the sand.
Mostly I did the tourist thing yesterday, learning my way around the city generally before I try to delve into its underbelly. The Governor's mansion looked pretty nice on its island in the small lake in the middle of town. I wish I could see it close up, but security doesn't let just anybody across the water. Today I'm going to get serious about finding that exotic animal merchant. I brought the laconian pot Nero left with me, just in case I get the chance to or need to liquidate it for money. I scraped a little paint off of it and there really is a very clean white metal underneath, so I think it definitely must be worth something.
This sucks. I'm starving and it's not even dawn yet. I'm going to go see if I can find anyone who's open at this hour.
AW 342, June 29 (day 23)
Dear diary, I didn't think about Noll at all today. Not even once. Exploring Paseo's myriad shops and marketplaces I was very happy about how I wasn't thinking about Noll even a little bit. Eating lunch in the shade by a scenic fountain, listening to a man go on at length about the sandworms out in the desert, and tribes of native Motavians that have turned to banditry, and Esper enclaves dug into the northern mountains (since it's so much cooler underground), I was glad that I was able to be so mature and focus on the task at hand and not keep getting distracted by thoughts of Noll or what I used to feel for him.
Besides, I have a new crush now! He is incredibly beautiful and brilliant and rich and Noll can go get himself eaten by a sandworm for all I care! His name is Diamond Armor. (Okay, it's really an it, not a "he", but whatever!) I was perusing a local armory (I was in the neighborhood, and it's hard to walk by one without going in), when suddenly -- there it stood, proudly displayed behind layers of security far less protective than it itself. Is it not every girl's ultimate dream to be both incredibly well armored and covered head to toe in diamond?! Alas, our star-crossed love is not meant to be, for I am but a humble girl of modest means, and Diamond Armor costs more money than I will ever see in my entire life. Weep for us, for our fate is most tragic!
I actually did scour every pet shop and animal shelter that I could find. No sign of anyone who admits to ever dealing in talking cats, but I did learn that what I'm probably looking for is called a Musk Cat, a creature that -- like Centaurs and Dragons -- exists somewhere in the fuzzy grey zone between monsters and intelligent peoples like Palmans, Motavians, and Dezorians. But unlike Dezorians and Dragons, Musk Cats aren't all liars or sociopaths (respectively), though like (native) Motavians and Centaurs, they're mostly primitive savages.
The money's going faster than I thought it would, but I'm not out yet. I am tired, but not beaten. My internal clock's still screwed up, but at least I'm going to bed at dusk today.
AW 342, June 30 (day 24)
Good news! GOOD NEWS!!! Odin's not dead! Being turned to stone is apparently reversible, and I have the potion that can do it! Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes!!!
On the trail of Myau this morning (I still haven't found him, that's the bad news), I finally found the trader who had smuggled him in from Palma. It turns out that what was going on was actually a ruse of Myau's devising to help him get through customs. (The authorities on Palma don't much like Musk Cats, it seems.) After Medusa turned Odin to stone, Myau escaped and came to Paseo in search of a potion called Alshline, which supposedly can undo petrification.
Myau and the trader have been in occasional contact since arriving on Motavia a couple weeks ago. In that time Myau found a merchant with a bottle of Alshline to sell (but only one bottle, it's very rare), but it was so expensive that Myau couldn't afford it! He's since been trying to track down some money, or the favor of someone rich or influential enough to buy the Alshline for him. The trader told me where to find the Alshline merchant (though I hit the library first, to find out whether Alshline is for real or not (it is!!)) but the potion cost orders of magnitude more than what of Odin's money I have left.
A merchant who trades in very rare goods though, is exactly who I needed to be able to sell Nero's laconian pot. I traded it to him straight across, the pot for the Alshline. I do not-not-not want to think about how many years worth of food and rent money I just gave up for this; Odin could be the hero who saves Algol, so it's worth it, and that's all that matters.
The merchant says that Myau checks in with him every other day or so (to make sure nothing has happened to the Alshline), so I left a message for Myau there telling him where I'm staying and saying I wanted to meet with him. That was just a couple of hours ago, so I guess tomorrow I'll be spending most of the day staying in the hotel waiting. But that's okay! This is so so good compared to what I was expecting to find in Paseo!
I may as well go to bed early again (space-lag is getting better, but it still sucks) as a celebration of today's good fortune if nothing else. Goodnight!
AW 342, June 30 (day 24)
Middle of the Night Entry:
Oh wow, what a night! One, I'm a little wired so I don't feel like going back to bed yet; and two, I need to write this down before I forget any of it!
I had the nightmare again. It was as intense and brutal as always, but right in the middle of Perseus's losing battle something new happened. The monster faded back into the darkness and vanished. Perseus spun around looking for it and yelled something. I think it was: "Come out and face me, Saccubus!" He was badly hurt and losing the fight, but was still so defiant!
Then, while looking for the Saccubus(?), Perseus saw me, and suddenly he was right there in front of me, close enough to touch! And then he yelled at me; I remember he was very angry, but I don't remember what he said! Before I could respond though, there was suddenly a loud pounding sound and the Saccubus's hideous malevolent face reappeared right behind Perseus, also close enough to touch! I screamed and thrashed and fell out of bed onto the floor in a panic.
Then I heard the pounding again and realized that it was the sound of someone knocking on my door. Myau had come to visit me! Apparently he's kind of a night-owl and had stopped by hoping I hadn't gone to bed yet. Thanks to my space lag though I'd already been sleeping for a few hours. Anyway, I turned on the lights and threw on some clothes and let him in and we talked for over an hour. He's smaller than I expected. Just a little bit bigger than a house-cat. He has long pointy ears and thick brownish-yellow fur, and is really smart and friendly!
Myau had come to try to convince me to let him use the Alshline to save Odin, but of course that's what I was planning on doing with it anyway, so we really hit it off right away! Anyway, long story short: we decided that tomorrow we'll fly back to Palma together and then try to sneak into Medusa's cave while she's out and resurrect Odin!
I have no idea how I'm going to get back to sleep, I'm so excited!!
**** Interview with Myau - excerpt AW 344, Oct. 24 ****
Interviewer: When you first met Alis, what did you think of her?
Myau: Well at first I didn't know what to think. Somehow she had the resources to buy the Alshline out from under my nose, but her choice of hotel and suite didn't exactly scream 'wealth'. And imagine, there I am in the hotel hallway, really nervous about meeting this mystery girl of extraordinary means and contemplating the difficult task I have ahead of me of trying to convince her to hand the precious Alshline over to me so that I can save my friend who she doesn't know but I swear he's really a great guy! And as soon as I knock on the door I hear this terrified shriek! I nearly jumped out of my fur!
Interviewer: So she didn't exactly make a good first impression, then.
Myau: No, I wouldn't say that. Initial startlings aside, the second thing I heard out of her was a "just a minute" and then the sound of her scrambling about to get presentable.
Interviewer: I imagine you can hear a lot with those ears.
Myau: I'm sorry, what did you say?
Interviewer: *speaking up* Sorry. I said I imagine--
Interviewer: *realizes, slightly miffed:* Oh, very funny! Back on the subject, what was your first impression of Alis once you'd actually met her?
Myau: That she was small for a Palman. But no, seriously, I have to deal with a lot of unconscious bigotry from a lot of Palmans that I meet. Often assuming I'm just some trained animal, or that I'm probably not very smart or civilized, or else they'll just treat me like a child. But even though I was the first Musk Cat Alis had ever met, she was the exact opposite of this. Rather than assuming anything about me, she was instead just very curious and compassionate. After talking with her that first time, I was left with the impression that she was a very kind, sensitive, and humble person. Though at the time I thought that her sensitivity would probably be a serious liability for her if she continued to work as a Hunter.
Interviewer: And how did that initial impression hold up after spending more time with her?
Myau: Knowing what I know now, I would say that Alis Landale is a very kind, sensitive, and humble person, and that her sensitivity -- no matter how many times it caused her pain in our journey -- is one of her greatest strengths. And that the crucialness of compassion was one of the most important things I would learn from her.
Interviewer: You didn't use to be compassionate?
Myau: No, I was! I just kept it compartmentalized is all. Back then I believed that there was a time for fighting, and a time for caring. That there existed some circumstances where sympathy and concern were inappropriate emotions. Because of Alis, I no longer believe that.
Interviewer: Twice you've said Alis was "humble," can you explain what you mean by that?
Myau: Alis is the sort of person who teaches while believing she is just a student, and leads while believing she is a follower. She'd save your life, and then apologize for not doing it better, even though your life being in danger in the first place was in no way her fault. Alis is an extraordinarily good person who believes that she is no better than anyone else, and meeting her changed my life profoundly.