Where am I? Who are you?

Welcome to Eighth Angel Studios. We're going to write a novel.

This is a collaborative project- contributors (like you) provide characters who are woven into the story as it progresses. But your involvement doesn't end there- as the story progresses you can give feedback on your character, developing them further, influencing their decisions and guiding their actions. The more feedback you provide, the more development your character can receive.

If you want to join in, please follow this blog and comment on this post with a thirty-second description of your character- a name and enough to describe a first meeting. That'll get the ball rolling.

Anyway, enough rambling- on to the plot!

Friday, 8 October 2010

[STO] Handshaking

Karen forced another cup of instant coffee past her gag reflex. Her hands were shaking. She hoped it was the caffeine, but her churning gut told her otherwise. It was a Sunday morning, dammit, she should have been in bed! And why New York? Sure, this was the UN headquarters, but why here, why now? And most importantly, why her? Where the hell was the Director? Why couldn't they have landed in Vienna?

She quickly checked her reflection in the window- hair tidy, no stains on her suit, the look of panic on her face somewhat suppressed. It was going to have to do.

"How long have we got?" she asked the security officer at the door, hoping the response would be in days, weeks, months.

"About thirty seconds, Ma'am, they're in the elevator now." Damn. "They asked for directions at the front desk. Can you believe that?"

"They just parked a spaceship on the lawn, right now I think I'd believe anything."

Karen turned to the window, hoping for a moment's calm. Outside, the streets were thronged with people. The city- possibly the whole country- had ground to a halt and it seemed every face was looking up at her, expectantly. Soldiers and police had cordoned off the area around the complex, but their faces bore the same expressions as the throngs of people they held back. Similar expressions to her own. There was an urge in the pit of her stomach to run and hide, to lock herself in a toilet cubicle until this all went away. The President should be here. Or the Secretary-General. Or any one of a dozen world leaders. Or her damned boss whose job this actually was. Or-

The door opened.

The first figure through the door stood head and shoulders taller than the tallest person Karen had ever seen. Humanoid, and clad in what appeared to be iridescent armour the colour of oxidised copper or a beetle's wing casings, its head brushed the ceiling tiles even at a slight stoop. Its face was masked behind a golden visor that reminded her of the astronauts she'd done photo calls with. Astronauts were never this scary. She clasped her hands behind her, mostly to avoid the tenmptation to bury her face in them and cry.

The second figure was shorter, and much more slender. Unlike the first, it bared its face to the world, narrower than a human's with large, dark eyes, which would be expressive, she thought, if she knew how to read its expressions. It had no nose, merely a vertical slit in the centre of its face, and its pupils were a cruciform shape. Arms, legs, body... it was just human enough to give her pause, if not for the features that looked more amphibian than mammalian. Its skin was nominally a mottled blue-grey, but other colours traced across it- greens, reds, browns- as it looked around, examining and absorbing the new world around it. Was it chameleonic? Did the colours represent moods? Was this how it communicated?

"What is your name?"

The question, in English, threw Karen completely. She was so concerned that the colour-shifting skin might be a language she would have to learn, and fast, that for a moment she forgot how to use her own mother tongue.

"I-I... Err..."

The al- not alien, never, alien, individual, person! - approximated a smile. "It is a relatively simple interrogative."

"I- I'm sorry, my name is Doctor Karen Wilshaw."

"Thank you, Doctor Karen Wilshaw. I am Ankjh'ya, of the Kalan'thi. I represent the Morning Star. Do you speak for your world?"

Right now I can barely speak for myself. "I represent the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Um, I'm not sure if I can speak for the whole world right now, but on its behalf I welcome you to Earth."

The giant behind Ankjh'ya barked something guttural that made Karen jump. She cursed herself for flinching. The speaker smiled again.

"I apologise. It appears Kh!Ruik has won a wager with his kinsmen with regard to your planet's name."

"I'm sorry?"

"It seems that every world, in its native language, names itself after the material underfoot." Ankjh'ya paused for a moment. "I apologise also for our manners. This is the first time since our voyage began that we have happened upon a population that was not bewildered, distraught, terrified and angered. We are used to the extremes of emotion. To meet a new race under calmer circumstances is something new to us. We are used to expecting the worst in a reception."

"In that case I'm happy we can be different." Karen started to relax a little. Questions began to bubble through her terror. "How did you learn our language?"

"Your world is noisy. We have been listening to your broadcasts, learning from them your tongues and your ways to make this day a victory for all. We have learned to be quick studies of languages; when we encounter a new race it is normal for them to be hostile, and the wrong words may be regrettable for all."

"May I ask why? You make it sound like every world is hostile."

A cascade of colours shifted across Ankjh'ya's skin. "The reason is why I must speak to a representative of your world."

Fear knotted itself around Karen's stomach. Oh God, this is going to be bad, isn't it?

"My office is charged with handling our first communications with species from other worlds. In that regard I can speak for my planet." There, she thought. I've said it. Now tell me how bad this is going to be.

"The Morning Star is home to many races, from many worlds, that all share one common link. They have all been victims of The Storm."

"The Storm? What is that?" Oh Jesus, here it comes.

"The Storm is the antithesis of life. It is a plague, a predator and a harvester. It has existed since the dawn of time, and it travels through space searching for planets with intelligent life. Then it destroys them. It attacks all signs of life and strips the planet bare. Those who have survived The Storm did so in deep shelters or on other worlds."

Oh, fuck. Karen's legs betrayed her and she sat in the chair by the window, hoping it didn't look too much like she'd fallen into it. "Is it intelligent? Is it a species?"

"It was once, perhaps, a fleet or a species. Since then it has become a force of nature. There is no dialogue with The Storm, no more than shouting into the wind. Some of our species tried diplomacy. Some tried war. All fell."

"So you've come to give us a warning?"

Ankjh'ya smiled againg, the once-disarming expression now oddly sinister in Karen's eyes. "That was part of our intention. But in the many years we have lived since The Storm took our home we have found many other worlds, and this is the first time we have reached one before The Storm has fallen."

"How long have we got?"

"We are unsure. we believe the time can be measured in orbits of your star, but precious few of them. But we did not come simply to warn."

"Then can you help us?"

"We have learned much from your race already. We have seen your brightest and darkest sides in the information you have sent into space. And we have a... prophecy. We believe that this time, with the right preparation and if the right portents are followed, there is the option not to run, but to fight. Your species may prove equal to the task of standing against The Storm."

"You speak of preparation and portents- what is our part in this?"

"We will provide you with technology in advance of your own, that your own thinkers and makers may be able to adapt. But from you we will need a commitment to stand. We will honour it by standing with you, but once we are on the path we must not falter. And as a symbol of that commitment, we will need something precious from you."

Karen suppressed a shiver. "What do you need?"

"In the first instance... Give us the Ghost Raven."

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