The First Step

Perhaps they had never realized that their departure might steal the smile from her face again. For them, there would always be other hosts. Other horizons, and new stories to be told.

Their existence was certain, a series of stories with endings already known. Hers was a question, one that no one could hope to answer in her place.

Though it did not take her long to learn how many would try. For everything she was, there would be a multitude who told her how she was meant to be. Orphan. Girl. Survivor. Suspect. They all came with expectations burning in the eyes of others, and less than four years after her father's self-destruction, those expectations became hers to face alone.

Not that she had any intention of abiding by them. The courses that strangers would construct for her life had walls too close, lanes too narrow, no idea of how much could be seen and done beyond those borders.

So Gwyn's departure may have taken her smile, but they would not keep it for long. It was not 'farewell' that had parted them in the night, after all, but an enthusiastic challenge on the part of her partner in mind and body.

“Come and find me. Come after me, and life will be more than you ever could have guessed.”

The expectations of strangers fell to pieces as she devoted herself to science, and years spent in the rider's company left her more than prepared to tackle the challenges which that world could offer her. Purposeful in manner, world-weary in gaze, holding herself at a distance from her contemporaries. Making a mystery of herself, possessed of knowledge that her humble years should not have provided, disappearing night after night into the sole room of her home that would not open to anyone else.

Accompanied by mechanical oddities and an abundance of parts, untold time and expense over the years. Those who knew of the room's existence guessed at the nature of the new marvel that might be built within, but Andrea Addison would never answer with more than a spark in her grey eyes.

Twenty six years of age, a scant handful of days after the birthday which had made it so. Electric light hummed and hissed above her receiving room, littered with benches and tomes, populated by those who were proud to count themselves as her assistants.

Their glasses were brought together in a clatter of celebration, tilted to lips in the wake of a rousing cheer. Where some spluttered at the acrid taste of the contents, she was swift in draining it to the final drop, setting her glass aside with an appreciative sigh.

Shorter and slighter than the lot of them, yet there was no missing how they deferred to her presence. Clearing the space that she would occupy, hanging on the half-drunk insights that she might voice. As the newest of those assistants lowered his glass, glazed eyes came to rest on her, and he made an effort to slur the question which had prodded his mind since the evening's beginning.

“I'm always one for celebration,” he was quick to assure her, and none who knew him would consider disputing the fact. “But what is it we're celebrating here? Last I checked, the arc iron wasn't going to be complete for another month at least.”

All eyes were brought to her in the wake of his query, attention that she had long since learned to handle with grace. An easy smile and answering shrug, voice raised to hold sway over their passing murmurs.

“Sometimes celebration doesn't need a cause,” she advised her younger companions. “I just...wanted to see all of you. It's been far too long since we've occupied the same room together.”

All of them too drunk or unfamiliar with her to recognize the expression which haunted her. The moment of distant darkness, eyes downcast in a rare betrayal of something deeper than the smile. Fleeting seconds returned that smile to her face, however, and she showed no further hesitation in laughing, chatting among the rest.

An expression held firm until the last of them were seen off for the night, chuckling at private jokes and shouting their promise to see her in the morning. Promises that she accepted without a word, silhouetted in the warm light of her doorway.

Then she was alone, a word which always carried additional weight for the former host of a rider. Whether it was accompanied by relief or regret, it had become something alien, the sense of a broken part that she could not return to herself.

The thought hung heavy as she shut that door in her wake, passing the staircases and hallways of her home to reach the one that would open only to her. A key hung around her neck, a thrill of anticipation as the lock answered its presence with an obedient click.

When it swung open, it was to reveal the life's work which no one else in that world would ever behold. If they had, its shape might have been compared to a fish or undersea transport, its surface a wonder of mottled silver and green. Smooth as the sweetest music, a broken mirror for all that surrounded it.

At the sight of it, that word 'alone' would always lose some of its weight. An honest smile tugged at the corners of her lips, and that thrill redoubled itself in the tips of her fingers.

For the first time in years of work, there was nothing else to be put in place. Only two things for which to reach – the goggles and knapsack she had prepared earlier that day, one secured over her eyes, the other pressed to her chest as she lifted the foremost of the craft's bubble-like doors. The seat within was formed to fit her with perfection, and the knapsack was set in her lap as she reached for controls in bright colour-codes of blue and red. Two dials turned and it purred to eager life, anticipating her next movement. She paused only long enough to pull that clear dome of a door into place again, then hands were set to levers and switches, raising that anticipatory hum to a roar.

A static crackle expended throughout the whole of its metal body, a moment in which her stomach seemed to drop from its place. Her pride and joy was shifting into motion, but not the sort that would carry it through the walls of the surrounding room.

When her assistants returned in the morning, groaning against hangovers, they would find that forbidden door hanging open. When curiosity drove them to peer inside, they would stare in confusion at an empty room, only the odour of grease to reveal that mechanical work had taken place within.

They would search, they would question, but no sign of their valued mentor would be found in that house. Nor in that city, in that country, in that isolated world as a whole.

Andrea Addison was gone from their company for good, off making cosmic steps of her own.

The End

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