A Gift Of A Gift – Chapter 2

It was the proudest day the colony world of Jewel-of-Solace had ever known. The rumour had been circulating for some time that Brighthawk was paying a visit to every inhabited world, when she was allowed some respite from her more exacting duties as Mistress of Dominion. Sometimes, the event would be announced beforehand, and whole cities would come to a standstill to welcome the Sister of Darkhawk, and on others, a stranger would walk into town, and engage in cheerful conversation, asking occasional questions until someone, somehow, managed to recognise her – but for the people of Jewel-of-Solace’s main city, Brighthawk’s arrival was something quite different. She simply… appeared, seated on a bench by the town square fountain, watching the people walk by, going about their everyday business until they realised what was happening and, all of a sudden, everyday business stopped being so important.

There was no way So’uel and Tia’au could stop Masiti from hurrying into town. They were just as excited, but exercised good old-fashioned parental restraint as best they could, but with their daughter tugging constantly on their arms, it was a struggle not to quicken their pace. The presence of a joyous crowd, pouring into the main avenue from every side-street just made things worse, and So’uel was already wondering how he could explain to his daughter that there was a good chance she wasn’t going to actually see Brighthawk for herself, not when there were going to be tens of thousands of bodies between the Bajessa family and the Mistress of Dominion by the time the mass of people reached the square…

“Sweetling, there are just too many”, So’uel started to say. “Maybe we should just go home…”

“No, it’ll be all right”, said the girl. “Look!”

The crowds were not packing the street into the square from wall-to-wall, as So’uel had feared. Those at the front of the great wave of adoring Dominians were standing back, paths forming through the throng to allow only a chosen few to move closer to Brighthawk – the children. They had no questions, no need for answers to great philosophical dilemmas, being content to chase the tiny fireflies of living light that Brighthawk conjured from empty air, or bring her little gifts; flowers, pieces of homemade jewellery, even shiny pebbles.

Masiti looked to her father. In her hand, as it was almost constantly from the moment So’uel gave it to her, was the orb of Dominium from the satellite. She glanced at it, then towards Brighthawk – her wishes so plain to her parents that they needed no words.

“If that’s what you want to do”, murmured So’uel, “then go ahead. Whatever makes you happy, my sweetling.”

Masiti nodded, then joined the tide of youngsters, fearless as she approached the young woman who was now the living embodiment of Dominion. So’uel and Tia’au watched with intense pride as their little girl did something they could never have the strength to do – go up to the Mistress of Dominion, as though it was nothing out of the ordinary, and speak to her as she would with any other child at the teaching annex.

“One day, she’ll be commanding her own starship”, So’uel said to his life-mate. “Just you wait and see.”

So’uel wasn’t about to admit it, but he did feel just a little disappointed that his special gift was going to someone else, but as Brighthawk accepted the little almost-sphere of amber crystal, she seemed transfixed by it, in almost the same way as Masiti had been when she received that precious jewel from space. On that occasion, however, the piece of Dominion had not begun to glow inside, causing the children to chuckle and cheer with glee, and their parents to gasp in astonishment.

“I thought you said that stone was inert”, Tia’au whispered to her mate.

“It is”, So’uel assured her. “Guess that’ll put any doubters in their place. Brighthawk truly is of Dominion – can’t be any other explanation…”

- o O o -
Later, on board Bright/Strike One…

Bright/Strike One, Brighthawk’s “flag-ship”, had arrived at Jewel-of-Solace unheralded and almost unseen, but when the starship departed, things could not be more different. A fleet of small ships gathered around the vessel as it prepared to depart, and accompanied Brighthawk part of the way as she made her way out into the space between planets, before reluctantly breaking formation to return to their home-world. She didn’t want to make a “big deal” of such personal appearances, but it did her heart no end of good when she was welcomed with such joyful enthusiasm – the kind of response Darkhawk used to receive.

After some rather disappointing appearances, when the children got squeezed out of meeting the Soul-Sister of Darkhawk by overeager adults, Brighthawk had decided to let the children come to her first, and that had been a good deal more rewarding. They cared little for the day-to-day running of a space-kingdom, and didn’t think for a moment to speak of family members lost in battle – their wide-eyed innocence was so… refreshing, and their small gifts were more precious than mountains of gold, or statues made of diamond; so much more personal, but never as surprising as the small, not-quite-sphere of Dominium one girl had given her.

“I’ve run all the tests I can on this without damaging it”, reported Myr’aa, sounding quite defeated, “and they all come back the same. This is a really old piece of Dominium, possibly dislodged from a planet’s surface by a meteor impact or such like, but it’s been in space so long that it’s lost its vital link to The LifeStar. It… it’s little more than pretty glass.”

Brighthawk didn’t pursue the matter any further. To do so would be to come out and admit that she knew there was more to the Dominium fragment than science could determine, and she was not at all sure that was something she needed to share with even a close friend like Myr’aa. I saw what I saw, she told herself as she peered into the depths of the crystal, and this time saw only the palm of her hand on the other side. An… an island in space, so close to The LifeStar that it shouldn’t exist – yet every fibre of my being says it does…

Retiring to her quarters as Myr’aa supervised the return journey to Eyrie, Brighthawk found she could not relax, the mystery of the little jewel preying constantly on her thoughts. She could not avoid the feeling that this… vision was a matter she simply could not set aside, and worry about later – there seemed to be something she needed to know, perhaps somewhere she needed to be. An island in space, something that seemed impossible…

Rather than try – and, most likely, fail – to get some rest, Brighthawk decided to investigate the matter for herself. “Bright/Strike One, perform a Dominion-wide scan for free-floating objects that could be described as ‘islands’”, she instructed the ship’s computers as she sat down at her personal data-retrieval console. “Focus on objects in close proximity to The LifeStar, and display best available images of objects matching those criteria.”

Bright/Strike One, a space-faring machine that was a hair’s-breadth from being alive, had access to every network, every database, that had been assembled by Dominion’s space-flight organisations, military and civilian, and in moments, the fruits of the interrogation of all those computers began to come through. Heart fluttering in her chest, Brighthawk studied each image as it was retrieved, afraid that she might recognise the fragment of planetary material she had glimpsed in the heart of the Dominium crystal…

Could Dominion be trying to… tell me something?, wondered Brighthawk as more images appeared before her, on the oval plasti-glass table-top. But what? None of these look anything like what I saw.

Fifty-four matches retrieved, the computer reported as the last image appeared on Brighthawk’s desk-top. Awaiting further instructions.

Brighthawk had no answer to that. She didn’t know what to think – or how to tell the computer to look for places where such things might appear… in the future. In the end, she gave a series of orders: “Bright/Strike, send instructions to the onboard construction facility to begin building a series of independent sensor satellites, with top-level stealth capability. Prepare them for deployment in close orbit around The LifeStar, with instructions to carry out continual scans for… physical anomalies, of the type we just searched for. If anything registers, I am to be informed directly, and no information is to be provided to any other civilian or military division until it has been cleared by me, personally…”

Brighthawk didn’t like hiding things, especially from those whom she was trying to win over, but she had no idea where any of this was leading. She was afraid it had something to do with the impending expansion of Dominion – perhaps something was going to come through with one of those other-dimensional “bubbles” that were becoming part of Darkhawk’s realm, gradually increasing its volume, and perhaps Dominion was…

trying to warn her.

“What did you bring me, Masiti?”, she wondered. “Am I going to eternally grateful for your gift, or will I end up wishing you’d never been born…?”

The answer is coming.
708-02 (7/100)
Marking TEN YEARS of The Darkhawk Diaries

02-07-2003 – 02-07-2013.

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