Ch8: The Map

The next morning, Wren wakes up to feel warm breath wash over her face and a body snuggles closer to hers. She smiles and gets off of the bed, not wanting to disturb the peaceful sleep of the other occupant. She fiddles with the strange steam shower, using a dollop of her 2in1 lavender/vanilla wash. With a sigh, she finishes and wraps a scratchy homespun towel around herself before pulling on her running clothes. Her iPod has only half of its original battery and she bites her lip; she will have to ask Altair if they have a plug or some other way to transfer the music and notes onto one of those floppy squares she'd seen before.

She presses play and Avril Lavigne's What the Hell? blasts through her ears and she imagines she is back on Earth, running around the track with her best friend. The boy would obviously be dead by now but she hopes with all her heart that she had a good rest of her life. Wren shakes her head and passes by tubes and watches as people shoot up the tubes as if gravity has been shut off.

She reaches the end of her makeshift 'track' and looks up to see a small door. Curiosity getting the best of her—it was one of main reasons she always got into trouble—she opens the door and smiles when she sees a set of stairs. Taking them two at a time, she reaches the second floor and creeps through the door. It's as if she has stepped into the world of nerds and she can imagine to look on her best friend's face if he had seen this.

"What are you doing here?" asks a familiar voice as she tries to sneak around to where she can see the plugs for billions of computers spill from the wall. She spins around to find her sister's doppelgänger shooting her a suspicious look. "You shouldn't be up here."

"What makes it your business?" she shoots back.

"I'm a worker here, and it's my job to keep track of every single person on this ship," she answers. "I'm a Locator."

"So you stalk every person's movements on the ship?" she asks and the other girl nods. "That's so creepy!"

"Well, we wouldn't want to lose anyone," she explains. "Now, how'd you find your way up here? Where's Altair?"

"If you're a Locator, why don't you tell me where she is?" She's really starting to get pissed at the girl; not only is her sister's look-alike, but she is acting like Wren has to be totally dependent on Altair and everyone else to take care of her. She's acting as if she is some sort of animal that can't take care of itself.

The other girl doesn't say anything, but her hand reaches up to press the blue-tooth implant. "Com-link: Altair," she says and waits. Wren watches her with crossed arms before her eyes wander over to the wires again. There is a small outlet across the sea of them and she beams, taking her iPod out of its sleeve and the charger she had grabbed on her way out of the room. With caution, she sneaks over to push the plug into the outlet. It clicks and she lets out a small yelp in triumph. She puts her iPod in and watches as, almost instantly, the battery increases.

"Hey! What are you doing? Get out of there!" the girl is shouting and waving his arms angrily before Wren's view is covered by a shadow.

"What are you doing?" Altair's voice asks in a much softer tone and she looks up with a smile to see the boy's curious gaze.

"I'm charging my iPod because it's almost out of power," she explains, holding up the small device. Altair cautiously reaches out and touches the home button, making the lock screen appear, and he jumps. "If you slide that to the right…" Wren almost laughs at the raven haired boy's fascination with her iPod.

"It's so primitive," Altair's voice is barely a whisper as he drags the small arrow button to the right. "What's its purpose?"

Wren watches Altair's fascination and she lets the device slip from her hand and into the pale boy's. She bites her lip to keep from laughing at the childish look on his face. They stay like that for about five minutes, according to the clock at the top of the screen, and the creepy girl has checked on them every so often, until there is an alarm noise coming from the closest monitor.

"Altair, you might wanna come see this," the girl says as he pulls the raven haired boy to his feet. Wren felt a warm hand pulling on hers and she slips her hand into Altair's, following the two teens to the screaming monitor. On the screen is a sphere with patches of green and blue.

"That's Andros," Altair whispers. Wren is shaking beside him. She could remember her Momma pointing out the same thing a long time ago.

(Flashback)

"This is the River Deli," Sam pointed out a long winding river that snaked through the largest continent. The raven haired woman was part of the FBI program called PCA (Project Colonize Andros). Her job was to name all of the major landmarks and to find out what might be the best place to land.

Wren was standing behind her mother's chair, staring at the 3D map of the new planet. Her sister, with her long black hair, looked over the map, double tapping certain points to zoom in.

"It's amazing how we know so much about the landscape just by sending that solar-wind powered satellite to send back pictures and scans," she said with a smile.

"Well, the FDX (Federation Deep Exploration) is getting better and better technology as time goes on," Sam pointed out. She turned back to the model. "Now, we've even been able to capture images of some of the wildlife but nobody can figure out names for them." She turned back to her daughter, who looked eager to see the screenshots. "Wren, since you're the 'Animal Whisperer', I was thinking you could name the ones we know."

Wren looked startled. "Me?" she squeaked. Her mother nodded. "O-okay." Sam smiled and clicked on the first file. It showed a strange horse-like creature—Wren could compare it to a Clydesdale Arabian mix—but it's mane looked more like the fins of a fish and it has wings that looked like butterfly wings. "It looks like a mixture of a Pegasus and a waterhorse. Maybe you could call it a kelpie…"

Sam nodded and keyed in the name so that it floated just above the head of the animal. "Life forms have been detected underwater but we have yet to see them." She pulled up another animal. It looked like some kind of reptilian creature. It had thin membranes stretching like wings from its sides and its eyes were slitted like a cat's. "We know it's carnivores and can fly. They live on the cocky cliffs of some of the ridges on the Dragon's Spine Mountain."

"Well, since they live in a mountain rage with the name dragon and they kinda look like dragons why not call them Sky Dragons?" Wren asked. Sam laughed and keyed in the name. "Why am I doing this again?"

"Because I wanted you to feel like you're an important part of this mission, Wren-Bear," her mother told her, using that embarrassing nickname. "In two years we'll be frozen and many other people on the team see you as an NE, a Non-Essential." Wren shrugged.

"Anything else?" she asked, looking at her mother with a small smile on her face.

"Nope, we're all done for now," the raven haired woman smiled and hugged the brunette. "I think your sister's waiting downstairs for you…" Wren smiled, kissed her mother on the cheek, and walked out to hear her shouting, "Good luck with the audition!"

(End Flashback)

Someone is shaking her shoulders and she blinks back her memory to see Altair looking at her with concerned blue eyes. "You okay, Wren?"

"I-I'm fine," she stutters, looking back to the map. "It's really there…" Altair cocks his head to the side and the girl looks at where the map seems to be reacting to her voice.

"Could you say Activate Map for me?" the girl asks, wanting to test her theory.

"Why should I?" she snaps, "I don't even know you!"

"You didn't introduce yourself before you scared the poor girl?" Altair glares at her. She shakes her head and has the nerve to look ashamed.

"I'm Nila, Middle Deck Navigation Technician, Locator, and Andros geography specialist," she smiles softly, holding out his hand. Now that she knows the other girl's name, she looks much less intimidating and friendlier. She shakes her hand with a small smile of her own. At least she's not a mindless zombie like the ones downstairs.

"Why would you want me to say Activate Map?" Wren asks, not realizing she has said the words. As soon as she's done says map, the computer in from of them begins to freak out.

"Voice recognized," the computer speaks with a familiar feminine voice. "Wren: Animal Specialist and Field Researcher."Nila and Altair exchange surprised looks, but Wren is watching with an open mouth.

"It's my mom," she whispers, touching the screen. The picture zooms in under her fingertips and she expertly works the map. She has forgotten to two teens are even there as she traces the ridges of the Dragon's Spine. Her mother had taught her how to bring up the correct coordinates of the landing sight. "Computer, bring up Landmass A," she instructs.

The computer chirps the command back at her and zooms over to the called-for landmass, the largest one on the planet. She watches as the Dragon's Spine surrounds the Valley of Artimes, which, to her mother, was the official landing sight. "So, what do you think?" Wren turns around with a smile, only to see Nila and Altair looking at her with wide eyes and open mouths. "What?"

Nila walks over to her and looks between her and the computer. "We've never been able to access the map before," she speaks with awe in her voice. "I guess you're not an NE after all." Her smile is warm and happy and accepting while Altair remains where he is.

"So, what are all these places?" Altair asks, coming over to stand beside Wren, a possessive hand on the darker girl's hip. Wren looked over her shoulder at the raven haired boy before looking back to the screen.

"Well, this is the Dragon's Spine," Wren points to the mountain range, "which circles the Valley of Artimes," she points to the indent on the map. "The only way to get out is to either take the calm River of Ma'at or to travel on foot through the Forest of Taurtaurus."

"How do you know all of that?" Nila asked.

"I helped my mom name and design the map," Wren explains, "I was actually the one who named all of the places and most of the animals we knew about." She is almost glowing with happiness and Altair lets out a small smile of his own. She's talking about it as if it's no big deal and Nila shakes her head. She begins to tap away at a nearby screen, entering in the coordinates for the landing spot.

"Well, now that we've got the map unlocked and we can pinpoint to landing coordinates, we could be down there tomorrow!" Nila is smiling from ear to ear.

"Really?" Altair asks, looking almost as eager as the bouncing girl beside him.

"Yeah," Nila nods, "the only reason we aren't down there now is because we didn't know where to land." She tilts his head to the side. "You didn't realize we've been circling Andros for at least a year and a half now."

"We must be more than ready to land by now," Altair looks over at Wren. Reaching up, Altair presses the button on his earpiece. "Com-link: Sikowitz. Ready for landing. Coordinates have been obtained. Requesting for permission for reanimation."

Wren blinks. This is really happening. They are finally going "home"…

So, the map has been activated and they're landing tomorrow! Well, not real life tomorrow but story tomorrow. It might not be until Chapter 12 or 13 before they actually get to land. I'm so close to writing Jori's first kiss but don't expect romance because it happens at an angsty time.

The Sky Dragon is based upon the Forest Banshees from Avatar (with the blue people) and the Kelpies are my own creation (not the name though).