Pilot-Major Abigail Ioane had called the Mayview complex home for most of her childhood and adolescence. She’d once known every corridor and room in the place by heart, even the “secret” places which were supposedly off-limits to anyone without the highest staff clearances.
Now, following Dr. Kiely deep into the complex’s underground heart, she barely recognizes the place.
The smell of greenness, even, has fully taken over the smell of “home” that her memory is seeking, along with the varying smells of flowers and over-ripe fruits. The path itself is somewhat familiar, but all of the landmarks are changed or obscured by the overgrowth of flowering plants of every kind. Many of the doorways memory tells her should be there are hidden altogether, and more than one corridor filled with plant matter so much as to seem impassible.
For the first time she can remember since she was a very small child, Ioane genuinely feels lost in the place. She doesn’t know how much of that is the fault of the passage of time, though, and how much of it is that of the overwhelming growth of plants.
Dr. Kiely seems to know precisely where she’s going as she leads the way down through the corridors. She never stumbles on the vines—although since she’s still leading Sarge by the hand, she has to stop to help him up more than once—and she slips through seeming dead ends as if it should be obvious that a path lies beyond the curtains of dense foliage.
Ioane walks behind the two reunited childhood friends, trying keep track of where they’re going and how she might retrace the path if she needed to. She’s puzzled by Dr. Kiely’s presence here, even with the partial explanation. If nothing else, Wyndi’s reaction to the woman is a good indication that it is, in fact, Dr. Kiely herself and not some bizarre new Novan trick. The kitten isn’t good at being subtle when Sarge is in danger.
With that in mind and no reason to have more than her usual level of cautious alertness underneath the surface, Ioane is content to follow along and wait for the rest of the explanation. It’s a pleasant change that one of the misadventures she and her Wing-Sergeant so often find themselves on has come with finding a friend they’d thought dead—and amusing to no end watching the young man literally tripping over himself because of that. She’s seen Sarge flustered before, but never quite to this extent.
“I remember this place being a bit of a maze,” Ioane says finally, dusting herself off after having squeezed through the latest vine-choked doorway. “But with the plants cutting so many of the paths off like they do it’s more like a labyrinth. I keep losing track of where we should be—we’re down near the main geothermal pumping station now, though, aren’t we?”
“We’ve done our best to make a labyrinth out of it,” Dr. Kiely replies. “But ye be right. We ain’t far from home now.”
“Why in the stars are you living down in the basement when there’s perfectly good living quarters up above?” Sarge wipes beads of perspiration from his brow.
“Warmer, safer… we have our reasons.”
“I don’t remember you being this cryptic, Reba.”
“I’ve had reason to learn. Besides, ye’ll be hearing the whole story soon enough.”
“You’ve been saying that for an hour now.” Sarge teasingly nudges Dr. Kiely’s arm. “Just how much further is this lair of yours?”
“Ye still haven’t learned to be patient, have ye?” Dr. Kiely laughs brightly. She stops and leans against a wall near a seeming dead end.
“I’m not so good at that myself,” Ioane interjects. She looks around at the vine and flower-covered walls of the corridor, trying to align what she’s seeing with her memories. “Am I right to think we’re there?”
Dr. Kiely nods, then pushes a thick curtain of jasmine vines aside to reveal a door. She taps a hidden keypad behind the hydroponic growtubes holding the roots of the jasmine vines along the wall, then beckons for them to follow her. “Nyx!” Ioane hears her call as soon as she’s through the door, “I’m back and I brought someone to meet ye!”
Ioane follows her sergeant in, the curtain of vines falling back across the opening behind her. The room inside is spacious, warm, and filled with well-maintained flowering tropical plants. Unlike the rest of the outpost, the floors are neatly cleared and none of the vegetation seems to have been allowed—or perhaps encouraged, Ioane now wonders—to grow out of control. Monitor screens showing different areas of the outpost have been installed along one of the walls in some semblance of a technological control center. Assorted equipment scavenged from other parts of the outpost is set up elsewhere amongst the plants, including a basic meal-preparation setup and some sort of makeshift medical station.
A Florivan in a casual ruby-toned tunic and matching loose-fitting trousers comes over from behind a hanging screen of additional jasmine vines which partitions off the innermost portion of the room. Unlike Wyndi, they’re a fully grown adult: human-sized with smooth silver-striped inky-blue skin and neatly half-braided silver hair on their head instead of the all-over coating of fur. Ioane can’t tell precisely how old they are, but she has the impression that they’re young, somehow. Curiously, both of the Florivan’s right arms are missing; they bear significant scarring along the same side of their face and neck.
The Florivan greets Dr. Kiely with a relieved hug, wrapping their silver-tufted tail around her in place of the missing arms. They’re roughly the same height as her, if the fullness of the large catlike ears atop their head is counted.
“I was beginning to worry, Reba,” says the Florivan, softly. “It usually doesn’t take you so long to get back from the upper levels.” Like all members of their species, their voice is lightly accented and carries wind-chime like after-tones.
“Usually, I ain’t got a man in tow what can’t go ten meters without tripping.” She glances back to Sarge with a smirk as she says this. He rolls his eyes in response.
“I see your point.” The Florivan’s lower two eyes turn his direction as well, although their third one stays focused on Reba’s face. “So, our visitors turned out to be friendly after all? I can see that you’re right about them being human.”
“Oh, better than that, Nyx!” Dr. Kiely laughs brightly and makes a wide sweeping gesture to Sarge. “This be my Julian, come by accident to rescue us!”
“The Julian?” The Florivan—Nyx, apparently—laughs. “The one you always talk about? I almost can’t believe it.”
“The very same! Along with Major Ioane from his squadron and—” Dr. Kiely pauses, taking on a teasingly exasperated tone. “And where’s ye wee beastie gone now, Julian? They’re just as bad as ye are for getting lost.”
“I’m not that bad, am I?” Sarge whistles towards the vine curtain. “I swear they were on my shoulder a second ago.”
“You are, Sarge—don’t try to deny it.” Ioane shakes her head. “Heaven help the poor captain who gets you for a Navigator.”
Nyx flicks their ears curiously. “I thought Reba said you were a pilot?”
“Well, I am, but—”
Wyndi pops out of the vines as a bouncing silver streak. They chatter and squeak excitedly as they bypass all of the humans and scamper up onto Nyx’s shoulder.
“Why, hello there, little one!” Nyx makes a bell-like trilling sound as they accept the kitten’s enthusiastic greeting cuddles. “You’re awfully young to have chosen your Navigator already, aren’t you?” They turn their third eye to Sarge too, now. “An orphan?”
“Yes.” Sarge nods solemnly. “Their parent was the jumper for a civilian cargo ship called Equinox that the Novans destroyed a few years back—Iolite Mereday, if you knew them, from Elder Marine’s household. I… couldn’t do anything for them, when I found them, but they gave their kitten to me to look after.”
“I see… I’m afraid I didn’t know them, but the loss is felt all the same.” Nyx nods, their ears drooping momentarily. After a short silence, they look back to the kitten who’s perched on their folded upper arm and snuggling against them. “What do you call this little one?”
“Their given name’s Mirawynd.” Sarge smiles. “We’re thinking Cerulean for their public name—That’s not official yet, though; I’m supposed to be presenting them to your Elders in a few months when Surnia makes port at Luyten’s Star again.”
“Wyndi!” says the kitten in question, purring happily. They nuzzle Nyx’s neck for emphasis. “Friend.”
“Wyndi, then, if that’s what you prefer, little cousin.” Nyx chuckles, lightly stroking Wyndi’s head and ears with their lower hand. They gesture with their tail towards the corner of the room where a sitting area has been assembled, complete with a small couch and an arm chair. “Come, I’ll make us all some tea and we can share our stories.”
Ioane follows them.
“Guests first!” Dr. Kiely takes Sarge’s arm again to lead him over to the sitting area. “Ye’ll have the shorter one, I’m sure, and I’ve already heard the half of it.”
“Fair enough.” He chuckles. “Well, we set out from Surnia this morning on a routine patrol…”