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By: Rebecca McQuarrie
The ancient sun glinted off of the icy mountain peaks as it rose over the city of Eirlys, sparkling like an over-sequined beauty queen. Aura smiled at the beauty of it, trying to forget that someday her descendants would never experience this amazing sight. The world was growing too cold to survive on, and if something wasn’t done soon, there would only be a few more generations born before the frigid land claimed her people.
The short walk from her house to the underground conveyance tunnels was enough to wipe the smile from her dusky blue face. It’s really cold out today, she thought while glancing at the digital unit on her wrist that monitored her body temperature, as well as the air temperature. The day could very well bring a record low. Picking up her pace, Aura descended the stairs and waited on the platform for the transport. When it arrived, she boarded and found her usual seat. With a soft sigh, she settled in for the short commute that would take her to Roagon Ventures, an up and coming technical exploration firm, and her current employer.
“Hi,” piped a young woman as she plopped down next to Aura, startling her from her musing. The woman’s hair was short, spiky, and, on that morning, a brilliant shade of pink. “Where were you? It looked like you were a million miles away.”
“I’m sorry Zella,” replied Aura, a little chagrined at having been caught daydreaming. She was usually very aware of her surroundings and not prone to wandering thoughts. “I’m not sure where my head is this morning. There’s something big going on at Ro-Ven, and they’ve kept it pretty quiet until now, but this morning I received a communication stating that I was to report to the main office instead of the lab. Of all days, you would think I would keep focused on this one.” She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. “I hope they don’t plan on serving me a termination notice.”
“Now why would they do that? You’re the best employee they have and you know it.”
“I wouldn’t say best, but I am good at what I do. They’ve just been doing a lot of ‘restructuring’ lately. It makes me a bit jumpy.”
“Well, I guess you’re about to find out,” said Zella as the transport slowed to a halt. “Here’s our stop.” The two women gathered their things and headed to the surface. Hunching to avoid the cold wind that suddenly gusted up, they hurried to the business complex across the plaza. “Good luck,” Zella said with a wave as they parted ways.
“Thanks,” replied Aura as she took a deep fortifying breath and headed to the main office of Ro-Ven. After crossing the lobby and verifying her identification, she proceeded to one of the upper floors where both the conference room and the suites of the chief officers were located.
“Aura, I’m glad you arrived safely,” greeted a dignified, middle-aged man, as he extended out his arm with his palm facing outward. Aura quickly stepped over to him and extended her arm in the same manner, pressing her palm to his in greeting.
“It’s good to see you too Amerillian.” Glancing around to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard, she quietly asked, “Do you know what this is all about?”
“Yes, and don’t worry,” he said as if reading her thoughts, “We don’t have any plans to terminate your position any time soon. If fact, I have a feeling that your position will need to be filled for a long time. But, by someone else.” Seeing her eyes grow big with worry and confusion, he quickly continued, “We have some big plans for you…ah, here comes Tarren now. Why don’t we step into his office?” After exchanging greetings with each other, the trio entered the office, Tarren taking his place behind the sleek desk, and the remaining two seating themselves across from him.
“Aura,” Tarren began, “We here at Roagon are very impressed with your work. You have excelled in your research further than we thought possible. At this time, we would like to offer you a new position in the company. The environment here on Jolar has become hasher with each passing generation. Most of the other research facilities have been focusing on how to adapt and survive this change, so we have become the forerunner in finding out why, and whether or not it can be corrected. For the past few generations, we have teamed up with exploration facilities and have been monitoring the climates on other planets in nearby solar systems. You should be familiar with this, as quite a bit of that data has come across your desk during your time here.”
“Of course,” she nodded, “The information was very helpful during the development of the growing centers.”
“There was information that didn’t make it into your hands though, mainly because it was an anomaly. There is a planet on the outer edge of our galaxy whose climate is the exact opposite of ours. There seems to be a global warming instead of cooling. Over the past generation, their average global temperature has actually increased by multiple degrees.”
“So, you would like me to use this data to improve the growing centers?” Aura asked with a slight frown, trying to follow his pattern of thought.
“No,” answered Amerillian, “we would like you to head up another form of research. I think it’s time that you met Cassidy.”
“Cassidy? Is she going to be my new research partner?”
“In a way. I think a proper introduction will help clarify things.”
“Hello! I am known as the Cassidian High-Bio Support Tech System, but you may call me Cassidy,” chirped a pleasant voice over what appeared to be an intercom system, mounted on the control panel of what Aura could only assume was an inter-planetary transport. “Based on registered data, you must be Aura. Welcome aboard!”
Not sure how to respond, Aura looked at the speaker and replied, “Thank you.” Turning to the man at her right she asked, “Merill, what are we doing here?”
“Introducing you to Cassidy. Cassidy is the product of combing Jolarian and Cassidian technologies. When we formed a treaty with the Cassidians this past generation, they imparted us with their travel technology. That, combined with our synthetic consciousness technology, produced this beautiful marvel. Not only is she programmed to adapt to our nature, she is also made with it. The same aqua-ions that are in our blood, the particles that make our hair and skin blue, are used in her control platform.”
“It was an amazing find actually,” interjected Tarren. “A member of the cleaning staff slipped one night in the lab, and he cut himself on a platform that was being developed. They were unable to remove his blood, but since it was such an expensive piece of equipment we didn’t want to destroy it. When it came time to run a trial, astonishingly, it ran far better than expected. We realized that the aqua-ions were excellent conductors, which also explains our ability to sustain ourselves in frigid temperatures.”
“This is all very interesting, but what does this have to do with me?” asked a still confused Aura.
“We want you to travel with Cassidy to the anomaly planet and research their climate. If we can figure out why their temperatures are increasing, we may be able to duplicate the effects here on Jolar. As far as we can tell, you should be able to thrive in their environment. The gravity should be close and the atmospheric contents are similar.” Amerillian moved so he could face her directly and placed a hand on her shoulder. “This is asking a lot of you. I realize that. You could be gone for as long as a generation. You’ll be giving up a lot by accepting this. I want to be honest with you, that is part of the reason we chose you. Since your father passed away, you have no other direct family, and you have not yet applied for reproduction authorization.”
“I appreciate your honesty. I’m mildly offended, but I understand where you’re coming from. So,” continued Aura, releasing a deep breath, “when do we leave?”
“Launch is scheduled for the next orbital completion, which gives us just enough time to get familiar with each other,” responded Cassidy.
Surprised at the amount of uninvited interaction, Aura began to wonder just how complex her new partner really was. She had dealt with some of the synthetic consciousness prototypes in the lab, but they were there mainly to water the plants. She had never had more than a two sentence conversation with them.
“That’s a splendid idea,” said Amerillian. “If you don’t mind Aura, I think we’ll leave you two alone for a bit so you can get to know one another without our interference. After all, you will be spending a substantial amount of time together.”
With that, the two men bowed their heads slightly in parting and exited the craft, leaving her unsure of how to proceed. Did she need to initialize contact? In what direction did she face while speaking? Could Cassidy ‘see’ her? All of those questions and more were racing through her head at a terrifying speed when they were brought to an abrupt halt by the sound of a giggle. Aura spun around expecting to find someone behind her, but she appeared to be alone. Again she heard the giggle, and still saw no one.
“Hello? Umm…Cassidy? Is that you?”
“I’m so sorry,” came the disembodied voice, accented with the giggle Aura had heard previously. “It’s just that I tend to giggle when I’m nervous. I’m very excited to finally meet you. My programmers and the construction crew all speak very highly of you. You are very talented and accomplished for one so young.”
“Thank you. It appears that I’ll be able to say the same about you. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“That is why I’m here.”
“Where are you? I mean, where should I look when speaking to you?”
“It does not matter. Think of it as talking to yourself, only someone else answers.”
“I think I can get used to that.” After looking around, she decided that the chairs at the controls looked like the best prospect for comfort. As she sat down, the chair automatically adjusted to fit her height.
“Is that preferable?” asked Cassidy.
“Yes, thank you. Are you able to control everything in here?”
“Yes, that is why I was built into the vessel. To minimize the need for a crew and provide companionship.”
“Well Cassidy,” Aura said, sinking deeper into the chair, “I think we’re going to get along fine. I think it will be a pleasure working with you.”
“Aura? Aura, will you please wake up?”
The pleading voice startled Aura from her sleep. “What? Cassidy? Is that you?” She had never heard what sounded almost like fear in Cassidy’s voice.
“There seems to be a problem in my main drive. The temperature has increased substantially. My sensors do not indicate smoke or fire, but I believe if the temperature is not brought down quickly, we could have a large problem.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said, jumping out of her bunk.
When she arrived at the engine room door, she could already feel the rising heat. Trusting in Cassidy’s sensors, she cautiously opened the door, stepping back to avoid the rush of hot air, and then slowly entered the room. All around her equipment radiated heat, but the main source was, as Cassidy concluded, the main engine.
“Do you agree with my assessment?” asked Cassidy, the fear encroaching further into her voice.
“Yes. But how do we stop it? If we lose our engine we’ll be stuck out here. We’re only halfway to the anomaly, and out of communication range with any other planet.”
“I’ve run a diagnostic report and there was an oversight with the coolant. I don’t know how I missed it. I am sorry.”
“Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but no one is perfect. Especially not the people who built you. What we need to do now is figure out how to fix it. If I can get the engine turned off, will we still have enough power to sustain us until it cools?”
“I do have an auxiliary power system that will allow me to remain in contact with you and maintain the bare minimum systems for survival.”
“Ok, I see the switch that turns it off. Get ready.” Aura then reached for the lever to shut of the engine, realizing moments too late that the handle would be hot as well. She let out a yelp as she quickly pulled her burnt hand away. In her panic, her instincts kicked in and she blew on her hand to cool it off. She gasped in shock as she watched her hand become encased in fine crystalline ice. The heat from the room quickly melted her frosty glove and the searing pain returned. Not knowing how to process the information she had just obtained, she ignored the oddity and blew on her hand once again. In a repeat of her first try, her hand frosted over a second time. The adrenaline from her mild fear mixed with the adrenaline from the pain and her mind kicked into overdrive.
“I’ve heard of this, but only in children’s stories and mythology books. They say that our land was formed by a people that carried ice in their souls. They could blow frost-filled winds and call ice and snow from the sky. It wasn’t just that they controlled ice, but they were a part of the ice. It can’t be true.”
“True or not, I witnessed what just happened. We can worry about it later. Right now, you need to blow a bit of that ice on the engine to cool it down.”
“Of course. You’re right.” She turned and focused her attention on the large bundle of metal components. She let out a large breath in its direction, and the let out a smaller one in a sigh. “It didn’t work!”
“Relax and concentrate. I just watched you do it twice. Try it again.”
Aura took a deep cleansing breath, closed her eyes, and focused her mind on the cold. She thought of snow being driven by frigid winds and her favorite ice covered mountains. She pictured frozen lakes and storms of ice. All of these images and more she held inside herself, and with a slow deliberate breath she pushed them out. Not wanting to be disappointed, she kept her eyes closed and asked, “Did it work?”
“Amazingly well. Open your eyes Aura.”
When she did, she was stunned. The entire room was iced like an enormous bridal cake. The floor was as smooth as glass and the walls were covered in swirls of frost. The thing that captured her attention though was the original target in front of her. The entire engine was encased in a block of ice. “Well, I guess that will do it,” she said, trying to bite back the hysterical laughter that was about to bubble out of her.
“Yes, it will. It will do very nicely in fact. Only next time, could you please tone it down a bit? I mean as a replacement cooling system you’re very impressive, but I think a cooling breeze would be fine next time.”
Finally letting her laughter escape, the only thing left for Aura to say was “Good night Cassidy.”
“This is going to be impossible,” exclaimed a frustrated Aura, as she let her head drop down onto the table in front of her. They had been in orbit around the anomaly planet for a while and she had just spent a large amount of time studying the signals that were being broadcast from its satellites.
“Not impossible,” soothed Cassidy. “Not that easy, but definitely not impossible.”
“Have you been monitoring the same broadcasts I have? This is a highly populated planet. They have over a dozen languages.”
“So you’ll learn the three most popular. You’re very intelligent. Besides, it’s not like we have a deadline.”
Laughing, Aura replied, “I would like to get back some time this generation. Even if there is no language barrier, how am I supposed to communicate with them?”
“According to my readings, the components of the atmosphere are close enough for you to safely breathe, and I have been slowly altering our internal climate to match it. I have also been adjusting the gravity as well. I’ll just drop you off on the surface.”
“Ok, smarty, figure this one out.” Aura was now anxiously pacing around the cabin. “I’m BLUE! They’re brown...ish. I think I’ll stand out a little don’t you?”
“I see your point. Perhaps we can paint you? In the meantime, why don’t you continue to view the data as we receive it and do your best to learn the language? We’ll figure out the rest eventually.”
“Buenos dias! Cómo está usted?”
“Good morning to you too Cassidy. I’m fine.”
“In Espanola, Aura. How are you going to learn if you don’t practice?”
“I…wait, what was that? Go back to that broadcast.”
The screen in front of Aura changed, from what appeared to be a show about contestants on an obstacle course, to a news broadcast. “We’re reporting to you live from Paragon city where, once again, the heroes of the nation have gathered for their annual convention. As you can see behind me, the costume contest here in Atlas Park is just wrapping up, with a light show scheduled to begin at dusk. It should be quite a show this year as the ever expanding hero population has discovered many new and different powers. Stay tuned for further broadcasts.”
The screen changed to an advertisement for a popular beverage and Aura sat there stunned. “Did you see that, Cassidy?”
“What? A group of oddly dressed people under a big statue? While the statue was impressive, I’ve viewed several on various planets that are equal or better. Besides, we’re not here to study art.”
“No, not the statue, the people under it. Could you replay that broadcast? Right there…freeze it. Look, that person to the left, he looks…green. And there’s a person with…wings? And there’s someone who is orange!” Aura exclaimed, getting excited over the potential implications. “If I go to this ‘Pair-a-gon’ place, maybe I won’t stand out as much. Do you think we could land in time to see this light show?”
“It takes some time for us to receive the broadcasts and since we’ve been filtering and viewing so many, I believe it’s been a while since it was sent. I don’t believe we’ll be able to land in time, but I can lock our obit over the city and use our equipment to view the event.”
When the show started, Aura realized that there was no need to use the monitor. The lights were easily visible through the windows, even from their altitude. She watched in awe as the beings below her hovered, flew, and teleported through the air. She watched bolts of lightning and streams of energy zip through the night, creating both intricate and simple patterns in the inky blackness. Aura imagined that the looks on the planet-bound viewer’s faces were much the same as hers; filled with awe and wonder. “Cassidy,” she whispered, “I think we may actually be able to pull this off.”
“Excuse me. Could I have a moment of your time? I’d like to discuss the steadily increasing temperature of the planet with you.”
“Global warming? Man, this city has more hippy-Mother-Earth-loving-Save-the-Whales-do-gooders, than anywhere else. You would think with that many ‘Make Love’ sorts, there’d be a lot less crime.”
All Aura could do was stare incredulously at the man’s back as he walked away. All she had wanted was information about the climate. Back on Jolar everyone was not only aware of their environment, they did all they could to share information and stay informed. It was essential for their survival. The fact that the inhabitants of this planet were uninformed, and worse, unconcerned about their weather, was shocking to her. Almost every person she approached expressed that their concern over crime was far higher than the increase in atmospheric temperature.
Completely exasperated with her situation, she decided to head the large statue that could be seen from anywhere in the area. She still didn’t understand the historical reference that she had read on its plaque, but she knew that there were always people gathered there, and at least a handful of them were usually speaking loudly and insistently about something of self-import. She also knew that the large building next to it housed a minor leader of some sort. Maybe someone in there can help me, she thought.
She sat down on the edge of a water reservoir that was next to the giant man-shaped sculpture, and watched people going in and out of the building, trying to discern a pattern. Most of the visitors were oddly dressed in comparison to the broadcasts she had watched, and quite a few of those came and went repeatedly. Perhaps they’re couriers. I would have thought that they would have a more advanced means of communication. Over all, Aura didn’t mind relaxing in the small forum. It was pleasantly warm and she wasn’t used to standing pools of water that were not frozen. So found that the sun reflecting off the rippling water was quite pretty.
It was mid-afternoon before she had worked up enough courage to venture into the high-domed structure. She had just started up the broad marble stairs, when she was almost run over by one the costumed people. He was moving so fast, that she almost didn’t see him pass by. Wondering if everyone on this planet was always in such a hurry, she climbed the rest of the stairs and entered the main lobby. Glancing around, she decided to try the front desk for information.
“Excuse me, is there someone here I can speak to about the warming temperature of your planet?”
“Honey, the people in this building can’t even solve the crime problem, let alone Global Warming. If you’re here to lobby for some environmental group you’re wasting your breath. I’d suggest you try elsewhere.”
“I have. I seem to be getting that response from everyone. Doesn’t anyone know why this planet is getting warmer?”
“The only thing I care about that is getting warmer is my soda.”
Brightening up, Aura said, “I can help you with that!” Leaning forward, she gently blew an icy breath at the bottle sitting on the desk. After a moment it was frosted over and the beverage inside was just above freezing.
“I don’t know how you did that lady, but thanks. Listen, if you use those powers of yours for good, and we get this crime problem solved, I’m sure we’d have more time to devote to environmental studies.”
“Really? Do you think so?” She thought about her poor results so far and weighed her other options. So far, this sounded like the best plan. “I’ll do it. I’ll help you out.”
“Great. Your name?”
“Sorry,” he said looking at the monitor in front of him, “that name is taken.”
“What do you mean? Of course it’s taken, it’s mine.”
“I’m not sure you understand. The crime-fighters here are all registered in our system. Unfortunately, everyone has to have a unique identifying name, and Aura is not available. Is there something about you that is different that we can add to your name? Like, why is your skin blue?”
Aura panicked for a moment. She had known that she was taking a chance by coming here and interacting with the inhabitants. Then she realized that he was waiting patiently and seemed unconcerned about her origins. “Aqua-ions. In my blood. That’s why I’m blue,” she said quickly, waiting for the onslaught of questions, or perhaps for the authorities to be called.
“Hmmm…Hey, we can do ‘Aqua Aura’. How does that sound?”
“Great,” she said, sighing with relief.
“Ok, here you go. You’re all set. Your contact is down that hall, down the stairs, second door on the right. She’ll get you started with your assignments.”
In a daze, Aura walked down the hall, watching people fly past her in both directions. When she finally found the woman she was supposed talk to, she found a flustered, over-worked, brunette.
“Oh great! I’m so glad they sent you. I need you to go put the hurt on some Hellions. Come back and let me know when you’re done.”
“I need to do what to whom?” Aura asked, as she watched three more beings zip in and grab assignments from the woman. “I think there’s been a mistake. Aren’t I supposed to be a courier of some sort?”
Sweetie. As of today…you’re a Hero.”