Her eyes flutter open. The sky expands infinitely above and trees curve towards the center of her vision, obscuring the sun. It's Alcyone, her home. Rather, it's a dream of her home. She can tell because she dreams in black and white. She wishes she would dream in color--she misses the vibrant foliage of the Alcyonian forests.
Sunlight peeks between the leaves of the trees, warming the ground. The Alcyonian sun feels different than the sun in Lucky Palms. Not better necessarily, just different. She can tell that her hair is long, longer than it has been in years. Her head is resting on something--a man's lap. She watches the gentle rising and falling of his chest. Her eyes slowly move up his body before she reaches his face.
"You," She says, "It has been a long time." Her speech was measured, more deliberate than the human language she had cultivated in preparation for her assignment.
"It has been a long time," he echoes. She focuses on his eyes, which are staring back at her. He's crying. Not sobbing, just crying. She remembers a story she read when she was first studying human culture.
"Odysseus," she said, "you are like Odysseus. Stoically crying. Why are you crying?" The query oozes with pretension, and she feels stupid as soon as the words leave her lips.
He chuckles through the tears, "Why did Odysseus cry?" he asks.
"He missed his home. His wife and son," she answers, immediately, as if she is being tested.
"So why are you not crying?" his response is snappy, almost derisive.
"This is ridiculous," Polaris responds. She reaches for his face so she can wipe away his tears. He leaps up, knocking her to the ground.
"No," he warns, "do not touch me, Polaris." She winces at the tone of his voice, but rises from the ground and reaches for his face again.
"Please, I am sorry. I am so sorry. Every day of my life I feel regret, but I cannot change my fate," she pleads. He begins to push her away.
"You can, Polaris," he angrily hisses, "you must!" He shoves her, and she feels herself fall backward. Her stomach drops as she plummets.
"Ouch," Polaris mutters. She is lying on the colorful, itchy rug of her new living room. It is the next morning--she had slept for almost twenty-four hours before falling off the couch and into consciousness. A somber pain pierces her heart as she remembers her dream. She promptly shrugs away the sting.
What a stupid fucking dream, Polaris thinks bitterly. As she yawns and stretches her stomach growls loudly, I don't have the energy for this kind of angst. More pressing matters await. She stumbles up and towards the kitchen.
Polaris doesn't usually cook, and it shows. She fumbles with the ingredients and the utensils. She's used to food replicators, which are standard issue on Alcyone. This isn't so bad, though, she thinks as she stirs the pancake batter. She plops the batter into a frying pan and places it on the stove, staring out the kitchen window as the pancake cooks.
It takes only a moment of negligence. A fire erupts on the stove top, taking Polaris by surprise. The flames quickly engulf the stove. She jumps back with a scream as the smoke alarms blares.
"Why is this happening to me?!" Polaris screeches at the fire. She digs the fire extinguisher out of a cabinet and aims it at the flames. Here goes nothing. She firmly squeezes the trigger.
The extinguisher sputters ineffectively. She stares at the nozzle as the fire continues to blaze. "Great," she grumbles, "I haven't even filed my first report and I'm going to die." She shakes the extinguisher and takes aim again.
Thankfully it works. Polaris aims at the base of the fire and quickly smothers it. A sigh of relief--she won't die a painful and humiliating death, at least not today. Her stomach grumbles again. Polaris opens the fridge door and searches for a fire-proof meal. Perfect--salad.
As Polaris circles around the counter to the breakfast bar, a firefighter barges into the house. "Where's the fire?" the stranger demands. Polaris rolls her eyes at the woman's tardiness.
"You're a few minutes too late. I put it out myself." Polaris settles down at the breakfast bar and chows down on the lackluster salad. "I won't hold it against you, though. It's not like you put out fires for a living or anything," she says with a mouthful of half-masticated spinach.
"What a waste of my time!" the hotheaded firefighter dramatically screams.
"Preach it, sister," Polaris deadpans. She knows she should be more civil--and thus less memorable--but something tells her that this woman isn't particularly perceptive or reasonable. Besides, Polaris is not in the mood for politeness.
The firefighter scoffs and turns to leave. "Next time, be more careful you freak," she mutters as she slams the door shut. Well, I'm off to an auspicious start, Polaris muses.
Fully fed and still intact, Polaris ventures out of the house. She's a woman with a mission...
...and it turns out it's a fun mission. Polaris enjoys chasing the butterflies she finds near her house. She catches one and gently holds it in her hand. "It's a crying shame you're going to be dissected, you little cutie," Polaris coos. The butterfly is blissfully unaware of its fate, and contently flutters its wings as Polaris slides it into a jar.
Polaris plays it safe and looks for samples on the outskirts of town. She finds several interesting gemstones, including a particularly beautiful blue one that glows slightly. "Oooooh," Polaris declares as she picks it up, "I wish I didn't have to send you away."
Polaris revels in the sun as she bikes around the desert. Alcyonians usually travel either by walking or teleporting, but Polaris finds the bike to be more pleasant. She grins gleefully as she peddles. When she was first assigned to Lucky Palms, The Commander had ordered her to use her velocipede as her primary mode of transportation. He was not thrilled when she corrected him ("Humans calls them bicycles, not velocipedes. No one has called them that in decades").
After a long day of collecting, Polaris is tired and far away from home. She decides to set up camp instead of returning home.
The next morning, she awakens to a glorious sunrise. A dreamless night, she happily thinks, and a beautiful, serene morning.
As if on cue, her communicator beeps. She pulls it from her pocket and finds a chiding text message from the Commander:
<Tardiness is unbecoming, Agent Polaris. Submit your report immediately.>
She sighs and quickly types a reply:
<Patience is a virtue. My report is forthcoming.>
Despite her initial intention to return home, Polaris feels the impulse to explore a bit more, in search of more samples. She follows a rocky path and soon stumbles upon an oasis.
Seeking reprieve from the heat, Polaris strips off her clothes and wades into the water. She floats around for a bit before responsibility nags at her.
She sighs wistfully as she emerges from the water. Time to get home. She scratches at her neck. She's a tad nervous, though she won't admit it even to herself. What if the Commander isn't pleased?
It's night when Polaris finally reaches her home. As much as she enjoys riding her bike, it is slow. She dutifully places the samples she collected into the mailbox, which is rigged as a teleportation device. She had found several rocks, gems, and insects, though she saves one particularly enchanting sample for herself: green fireflies. She likes the way they bounce around in their glass home, buzzing and flickering.
Polaris is exhausted, but she knows she has to file her report. Placing the contraband sample on her desk, she settles down to write. She types quickly and without much thought, despite her previous concerns about the quality of her work.
To: Commander Eridanus
From: Agent Polaris
My first days in Lucky Palms have been fruitful. I have found several rocks that appear to be of extraterrestrial origin, much like yours truly. Additionally, I found numerous gems, including a particularly lovely iridescent blue one. The types of rocks appear to vary greatly, though this agent cannot speak for the value of them. There are a variety of insects, though again, I know nothing about them. I would like to take this time to remind you that I am an anthropologist, not a geologist or botanist.
Lucky Palms is dry and hot, much like Central Alcyone.
Wish you were here.
Author's Note: I really intended for the plot to thicken this chapter, but it just simmered (does that even make sense?). I initially planned for much more to happen, but I realized my chapter was getting long and it might become unwieldy if I continued much further. I have the screenshots for the next 1.5 chapters, and I promise more will happen soon!