From the Story Arc: Two For The Show

Previous Story in the Arc: What Dreams May Come by Astra Kyne Murdock (Saturday, August 12, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Into These Hands by Astra Kyne Murdock (Sunday, August 13, 2006)

(posted Saturday, August 12, 2006)

Of all of the Murdock children, it was Astra that Bella felt closest to, most protective of. It was hard not to feel that way; Shuma was fiercely independent, the boys were, well, all boy—and at any rate qualified as young men now. But Astra…there had always been something particularly endearing to Bella about Astra. Outwardly fragile, inwardly tough in some ways, yet vulnerable in others, a little shy, very bookish, combining the stunning good looks of her mother and father in a way that was uniquely her own—

But most of all, the trust she had in people—the surety that under it all, people were basically good. That even the worst criminal deserved a chance to reform. And it wasn’t as if she didn’t have an example of that right in her own family—Aedan’s Warshade partner, K’takei.

Everything that had happened to her up to the point of the Tutelary Trial might have shaken that conviction and trust, but it had still remained firm.

Until this.

Until now.

Bella wanted to hurt someone. A lot of someones. Starting with the reporters, Longbow, and gawkers who had blasted Astra’s mind with their hate and fear. And ending with SnoQiti. Her beautiful little star had gone out as normal as a metahuman Kheldian fusion could get—

And had returned shattered in so many pieces that Bella was not sure if they could ever be put back together.

But all this had to be walled off from Astra, along with her own dark secret.

Mandragora, may the gods of her choice bless her, had at least sorted out where the horrific visions of Longbow gone mad had come from and sealed Astra off from them. Azuria was taking steps even now to make sure there was no more leakage from the Portal they were calling “Recluse’s Victory.”

And I can’t fix her myself…physician, heal thyself…but at least I know who can, if it can be done at all.

But there was one thing that Bella could do.

Sera had brought her to CCCP HQ at Bella’s request, and now the fragile girl looked up at Bella out of haunted eyes. Bella projected reassurance and love. “All right, kidlet, Kyne, I’ve worked out something to help you. We’re gonna get you through this, okay?” She reached out and held the child, who, she sensed, was craving that kind of physical reassurance.

“K-k-kay Aunt B-b-b-bella,” came the whispered response. The stuttering nearly broke Bella’s heart. The trust, commingled with fear, made her even more determined to fix this, or find someone who could.

“The first thing is this. I’ve found a place where you can be absolutely safe. No one, and nothing, can get to you there. No piece of crap from the Isles, no government agent. No Nictus, no Council, no Longbow. Nothing. It’s the safest safe-room in the world. It’s probably even safer than Underhill.”

A faint flicker of hope stirred in the dark-shadowed eyes. “You d-d-d-did?” Astra breathed. “It is?”

Bella nodded. “I’m going to take you there now, and give you the key to it so you can get there any time.” She took out the first of the Portal Keys that had gone into any hands other than hers and LlewellCo techs. “I just need to play vampire here,” she joked, getting out a sterile lancet, deftly lancing Astra’s finger, and putting the single drop of blood she squeezed out into the DNA recognition patch of the Portal Key. “There. Now this is sealed to you, and no one else can use it.”

“What is it?” Astra asked, as Bella showed her how to fit it into the back of her hero ID badge.

“It’s called a Portal Key and it lets you use our teleporters for a destination they aren’t programmed for. So let’s try it out.” She led Astra to the bank of Hazard Zone ‘Porters. “Just get in, and select the new option, the one marked ‘Sanctuary.’ I’ll be right behind you.”

When she stepped out of the ‘Porter, Astra was looking around with a puzzled expression. Not surprising since this room and the attached MedBay looked identical to the ones in HQ.

Except, of course, that the floor, if you noticed such things, was vibrating, and moving ever so slightly. “Come on, kidlet,” Bella said, before Astra could stutter out any questions. “Time for the nickel tour.”

And of course, the moment they stepped out of the ‘Porter room and into what was clearly a narrow ship’s corridor, it became clear that they were “not in Kansas anymore.”

“We’re on a ship,” Bella explained, leading Astra to the staircase that would take them up into crew and officers’ quarters. “It’s something called a ‘container ship,’ basically a big, a very big, freighter. Ms Llewellyn and I reached an agreement. We play janitors and door guard for her, we get the use of most of this. And there’s a lot of it. We call her ‘Sanctuary,’ and she’s at permanent anchor just off Paragon City, out of the shipping lanes but in international waters.”

“Oh—“ Astra’s eyes lit a little more. The kid was anything but stupid. She saw all the implications of that immediately.

Bella led the way up past the crew bunkrooms—tiny staterooms where any of the comrades would bunk down four to a room—and into officers’ territory. And finally to the Captain’s quarters, which had been refitted for the Murdock family. “And this—is your home away from home.”

She opened the door.

It was very small by the standards of the Murdock apartment. Fitting two adults and five kids in here stretched the bounds of the word “cozy.” Bottom line though, was that it was—Bella prayed—unlikely that all seven of them would ever be in here at once, or at least, not before some of that vast open space belowdecks had been fitted out for a real set of living quarters. Once that happened, Astra could even have the Captain’s suite for herself alone, if she wanted it.

For now, though—

Astra stepped through the door—the steel, bullet-proof, blast-proof, airlock type door—and into the set of three rooms, and looked around with wide eyes, taking it all in. The first thing she did was go to the porthole-windows and look out. The second thing she did was look at the porthole windows themselves. At the bulletproof glass. At the blast-shutters that could be closed over them.

It was Kyne, however, who asked, < Self-contained air-system? >

Bella nodded. “At need. Controls are at this panel here by the door. Told you. Safest safe-room on this planet, short of being underground.”

< Solid, Jackson. >

The tension that eased out of Astra was thick enough to slice. Finally. Bella felt a tiny bit of her own tension ease.

“The only people who are here now are LlewellCo techs and scientists. You trust Ms Llewellyn, right?”

Astra turned to her and nodded, slowly.

“You probably won’t see them, though. They have their own ‘Porter and their own sealed-off part of the ship. So right now—have a look around. Explore all you like. I’ll be waiting for you back at HQ.”

“Kay,” Astra replied, then managed a ghost of a smile. “Thank you, Aunt Bella.”

Bella took the ‘Porter back to HQ, feeling that at least there was one thing she had finally done right, amid so much wrong.