ysabetwordsmith: Jump gate showing diamond ring of light (blueshift)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is posted as part of a character development activity for The Blueshift Troupers. It also fills the "backstory" square in my 12-11-13 card for the [community profile] ladiesbingo fest, the "stranger" square in my 11-26-13 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest, and the "locked in" square in my 1-2-14 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest.


"Locked In"


After the hard work of training,
Emersan wanted a break.
While she rejoiced in the opportunity
to join a team of shapeshifters
whose main fighter had just retired,
the learning curve wore her out.

She ambled along the street that stretched
between the Academy and the Capitol,
festooned with restaurants and shops
selling fragrant and colorful things
gathered from dozens of worlds.

Along with them were coffeehouses
and little theatres that boasted
musicians, orators, jugglers,
and in one case a troupe of actors.

The last attraction snagged Emersan's eye,
for she loved the theatre in many forms,
particularly dancing and acting
and any kind of staged combat.

The actors lounged around the patio garden,
vivid as tropical birds in their bright costumes
as they advertised the evening's performance
and chatted with curious pedestrians.

One young woman with blazing copper curls
and porcelain skin waved to Emersan.
"Come to our show tonight," she invited,
offering a round opalescent disc
with a discount blinking on it.

"Perhaps I will," Emersan said.
"What are you performing?"

"We're staging famous battle scenes
from Earth-before," said the actress.
"I'm playing an Irish warrior queen."
She flourished a hand down her body,
which did not at all resemble the jumble
of multiracial features on this cosmopolitan world.

"Playing?" Emersan asked, intrigued
by the gesture and the subtle pull
of affinity that she could feel between them.

"I'm a shapeshifter," the woman explained.
"It comes in handy for an actress."
"I can see how it would," Emersan agreed.
"I'm a shapeshifter too, but I'm training
at the Academy to join the crew of a hiveship."

"How exciting!" the actress said.
"I'd love to see more of the galaxy.
I have some plans -- well, we'll see
how things play out soon enough.
My name is Reilly. Who are you?"

"I'm Emersan," the fighter replied.
"My profession is security,
but I enjoy theatre as a hobby."

"Oh, then you should stay here
and meet the rest of us," Reilly said,
whereupon she towed Emersan
around the patio introducing her
to all the other performers.

Emersan laughed and went along,
enjoying the chance to indulge her hobby.
"I look forward to tonight's performance,"
she said when Reilly wound down a bit.

"I'm thrilled to hear it," Reilly said
as she leaned against the wall.
"I'll be back in plenty of time --
I have another engagement now,
I just need to change clothes and
grab a few things from my dressing room."

"Do you need a hand?" Emersan offered.
"Everyone looks pretty busy out here."
She knew how some costumes
really needed extra hands to put on.

"That would be such a help,"
Reilly said with a grin.

So they both slipped indoors
and Emersan assisted Reilly
into an outfit that was cinched
with quite a lot of elastic lacings
that needed to be pulled snug.

"You look beautiful," Emersan said
as Reilly twirled expertly
in front of a mirrored corner.

"Thank you," the actress said
as she bundled up her hair.

Then something went click!

Emersan whirled in place,
dropping the little box of hairpins
to reach for a weapon she wasn't carrying.
She hurried to the door and tried the handle,
but it wouldn't turn, and the sturdy door
didn't give even when she hit it with her shoulder.

"Do you know what's going on?"
Emersan demanded.

Reilly gave a tiny nod,
her pale face even paler.
"It must be that fig-faced chit Carletti,"
the actress said. "She's been so jealous ..."

"Why would she lock us in here?"
Emersan asked. "The show isn't for hours."

"I have an audition in about twenty minutes,"
Reilly admitted. "I love this troupe, but
I've got a chance at a place in another
that travels into the Annula. I want to go.
I'm the only shapeshifter there is
in the local theatre community --
I'd be locked in, nobody could beat me."

"So somebody decided to block the competition,"
Emersan said. "We will just see about that."
She picked up the spilled hairpins
and set about trying to open the lock.

It was no use.
The door refused to budge.

"Carletti knows that I grew up
in a traveling caravan," Reilly said.
"She must have jammed the lock somehow."

They tried shouting.
They tried pounding on the door.
Nobody heard them over the noise
of the musicians practicing and the troupe
chatting up bystanders on the patio.

Emersan was all for breaking the door down
but Reilly didn't want to cause any more damage.
"It's not worth tearing up the theatrical hall,"
she said, although tears trickled down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry I got you mixed up in my trouble ..."

"I'm not sorry," Emersan said.
"Dealing with trouble is my job.
I just regret that I can't get the door open.
You sound really upset about this."

A clock on the dresser chimed.
Reilly began to cry in earnest.

Emersan patted her on the shoulder,
a bit awkwardly because they were strangers still,
but the affinity hung between them
as warm and bright as sunrise,
subtle marker of those drawn
to jumptech and to each other as well.

"I just wanted to go somewhere new,"
Reilly said. She leaned against Emersan,
who draped a muscular arm around her.

"Tell me about your plans," Emersan coaxed.
"Maybe you can find another opportunity."
Reilly sniffled, then spilled out her hopes and dreams
of traveling to Pharos to perform for the spaceborn there.

By the time the stage manager
discovered Reilly's absence,
tracked her to the dressing room,
and found a way to pry the door open,
the entire audition period must have been over.

Reilly struggled to put on a brave face
while a glowering Emersan reported
their suspicions about Carletti.

"You can be sure I'll look into that,"
the stage manager said grimly.
"I have had enough of her nonsense."
Then he flicked his hand at Emersan.
"Hand me your admission disc."

Emersan raised an eyebrow
but did as he asked.

The man pressed his thumb against it,
tapped around the rim, and then
the blue numbers blinked out
to be replaced by green letters
that read FREE.

"It's the least I can do for you
after you kept Reilly company,"
he said to Emersan.
"She doesn't do well alone --
if she'd gotten trapped by herself
for this long, she might not have been
in very good shape for the show tonight."

"That's an ugly bit of sabotage,"
Emersan observed.

"I'm fine, honestly," said Reilly,
who did not look fine
but did seem as if she might
get back there by showtime.

The stage manager humphed at her,
but left her to make her own recovery in peace,
heading off to hunt for the hapless Carletti.

"Listen, Reilly ... the team I'm joining
lost their adjunct member too," said Emersan.
Often a crew included someone
with a random profession outside the standard;
the last one had been a gambler
who finally made a big enough haul to quit.

"What are you thinking?" Reilly asked,
tilting her head as she watched Emersan.

"I'm thinking that you're a shapeshifter
with useful skills and a lot of wanderlust,
and we're short a crew member still,"
Emersan said. "I can't promise
that you'll be locked in this time,
but I can promise you an audition."

Reilly bowed, all grace and spring,
her wild red hair bouncing.
"You just set the stage," she said,
"and leave the audience to me."

* * *

Notes:

Shapeshifters are people whose biotech heritage gives them the ability to change their bodies into other humanoid forms. It's a valuable ability in a galaxy where many of the planets are a lot more insular than this one.

"Earth-before" is one designation for the planet Earth prior to the discovery of jumptech. It's more of a cultural background than a home now, because there are no jumpgates near the Sol System.

Boudicca and Maeve are two of Ireland's legendary warrior queens.

"Fig" is an all-purpose expletive in this setting, based on a famous failure of biotech due to the presence of a fig, similar to the etymology of "bug" for computer problems.

The hairpin lockpick is a popular trope that actually can work.

It helps to know how to comfort a stranger in a crisis. Even partially trained, Emersan already has a good head on her shoulders.

Affinity is what attracts some people to biotech and to each other. The effect resembles friendship at first sight or falling in love. It relies on similar biochemistry. This also relates to an observation that women often use relationships to defuse stress. The Blueshift Troupers prefer nonviolent problem-solving methods, reserving violence as a last resort.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-17 12:45 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
I just trying to imagine how a fig could mess up biotech... allergic reaction perhaps?

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-01-18 12:27 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Did some research, because I was curious... figs are an ancient species and have a number of biological defences against disease. Including an enzyme that blocks a wide range of retro-virus reverse transcriptases... the enzyme the 'reads in' viral RNA into the host's DNA genome.

Which is to say, it would really mess up bio-tech based on modified retro-viruses... introducing glitches into the gene-code.

Not a good thing to accidentally introduce if you're in the process of recoding something...

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-01-30 09:21 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Well, the basis of biotech now, is based on enzymes derived from retroviruses, without the viruses.. so even if their biotech bears as much similarity to current tech as a p90 assault rifle does to a crossbow, it's still going to be messed up by fig enzymes to a greater or lesser degree.. and earlier irritations more so.

Of course, if someone figures out how to patch that, there'll be a lot of people after it... and odds are it'll be some over-looked plant or a small critter that has the required enzyme blockers or something.

*ahem* sorry if I'm waffling on, on this point, I'm a gene-engineer by choice after all, so it's my passion.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-17 03:43 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Or some stray DNA. That could make an interesting story.

Figs have an interesting life-cycle, IIRC, involving symbiotic wasps.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-18 12:10 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Wheee! :-)

I didn't even notice anything special about "fig". "Fig-faced": at least with dried figs, all wrinkled and crumpled, the our-world meaning is quite sufficient!

Edit:
"I'm fine, honestly," said Reilly,
who did not look fine
but did seem that she might
get back there by showtime.
→ did seem {as if / like} [or] it did seem that
Edited Date: 2014-01-18 12:12 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-01-17 07:49 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Blessings in disguise. :like:

Thank you!

Date: 2014-01-18 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I want to explore character interactions with this series -- different ways they decide what to do with their lives, and meet each other, and solve problems. Too much fiction is either about solving problems with violence, or hand-wringing whilst doing nothing productive at all. Some of what happens is just serendipity, or synchronicity.

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