Ahead of Thursday’s new episode, BIRTHDAY, here is a web exclusive for the new installment of Aster, Issue 3
Aster, Issue #3 – Birthday Prologue
By Daniel J. Pool
“Hey, sweety! Happy birthday! Did you get my package?” A slender Centauri man with a tidy beard waved from the wall screen. His feathery eyebrows arched back over his forehead. The video feed flashed and the background moved as he took a seat.
“Dad! I did, thank you! I haven’t gotten to open it yet. I just got back in from physical therapy.” Aster was still in her gym clothes. The wall screen lit up her whole room. It had exactly enough room for a bed, a desk, and a sink with a mirror. Nothing more. Posters for bands lined the walls. There was an UltraSquad, two different Zardu Hasselfraus, a tiny hand-painted MegaCacher, and a trio of Uncle Kaiju posters that when hung together made one giant robot. A stack of vinyl records on the desk was still shrink wrapped next to a portable player.
A second figure leaned into the frame and said, “My liege, the council meeting is starting in 15 minutes.”
“Thank you, Percy. I’ll be right there.” He rubbed his face for a moment before putting his smile back on. King Sidus turned back to his daughter. “How is the arm doing?”
She flexed her hand and arm in her best bodybuilder impression then spread her fingers. “It’s doing good. It got a little weak while in the cast but I’m almost back to full strength.”
Sidus nodded, “Superb, that’s good to hear. Hey, the old dorms look just like I remember them.”
“Probably smells like it too,” Aster said. “Oh, thanks for letting me stay with you over the summer. Do you think I could do that again sometime?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Things have been busy here. You understand.”
“Uh, yeah, no. I do. It’s cool. How is work?”
Sidus thoughtfully stroked his chin, “A king’s work is never done. Some clans want to join Michon’s rebels or become independent. I hear whispers of others wanting to contact the Empire. That’s all on top of our obligations to Aegis. But nevermind all that, this is a birthday call. How’s school going?”
Aster replied, “No, this is good stuff. I need to know these types of things… just in case I ever have to take over for you.”
“Oh, so you get one good fight under your belt and you’re ready to contest the crown?” He laughed. “I see how it is, usurper.”
She laughed. “But really, I should know more about what’s happening. I can’t catch a lot of Centauri news in Citadel.”
“Your time will come. Until then, your mission is to make good PR for your people with our Earthling hosts. I’ll try to keep the kingdom calm until you’re of age my lady,” he said with a little bow.
“Thank you, my good and trusty servant.”
They both laughed. Sidus asked again, “But really, how’s school? What’s your favorite subject? Met anyone that might be your, uh, special partner?”
“Straight A’s, Physics, and are you talking shop or romance?”
The king blushed. “So physics, huh? Interesting choice.”
Aster waved a hand, “Oh no, you asked, so here is every member of my class ranked by our compatibility as determined by a risk/reward tier—”
“No, no, please, I beg you, mercy!”
She laughed again. “There really isn’t anyone at the moment.”
“What about that kid on your squad? Captain Havoc’s kid?”
She looked away. “What? Daire, er, Havoc Jr.? We’re just patrol partners. He can sort of be a jerk.”
“He seems pretty handsome and you two work well together but what do I know.” Sidus checked the time. “Before I go, how’s your mom doing?”
Aster rolled her eyes. “Still bitter. Called me forty-seven times when she saw the bank footage on the news, but won’t say more than two words when she reaches me. Have you . . . did you, I don’t know, say anything to her? I feel like it’s my fault. I could have handled leaving better.”
The king shook his head. “That’s just Jameela. She’s too stubborn to talk to me but also too stubborn to leave her Arctic facility. She’ll cool off and then I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“Are you two gonna split up?”
“Oh, no, I’m sure we can work this out. Don’t worry about it. She’ll throw herself into her work and cool off before long.”
Sidus scratched his chin. Aster pulled her feet up under herself.
The king asked, “Hey, have you heard from your brother? He was supposed to check in last night but never did.”
“No.” Aster shook her head. She checked her phone. “He didn’t text me this morning either. That’s… odd. He never misses a birthday text.”
“Well, I’m sure he’s just busy.”
A second window popped opened on the wall screen. The weathered scowl of the dorm mother, Helen, opened next to the king’s panel. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “Aster, you have an immediate extracurricular assignment.”
“Sounds important, dear. I’ll let you go. Love you, and happy birthday.” King Sidus turned his attention to the other speaker. “And a good night to you, Crazy Eight.” He winked.
Helena nodded. She made a polite snarl.
“Good night, dad.” Aster pushed a bang back over her ear. She said, “I can be dressed and in the Briefing Center in five minutes.”
“No time,” Helena rebuked. “Wear your stealth kit. Tell no one about your assignment. Fly directly to the coordinates I’m giving you.” Aster’s watch lit up with a new message. “I’ll give the full details when you arrive.” Helena’s image flickered off.
Aster threw off her gym clothes and pressed a switch on her bedside table. Her mattress lifted up to reveal an armory of gadgets and super suits. She grabbed her stealth flight suit, dressed, and ran out the door. In the hall, she took to the air while still fighting to get one boot on. She flew headlong into Thorn.
“Oh, hey Aster,” they said.
“Sorry, can’t talk,” she said. She flew backward directly into Havoc. “Oh, geez!”
Their collision sent a box of uninflated balloons, party streamers, a plastic food container, an envelope, and a small wrapped box sailing into the air. The boy loosed a short spell. He kept his balance and caught every item back into the box. “Hey, no worries, Court-, er, Aster. What’s up?” He wiped a bit of sweat from his brow.
“Sorry, Havoc, can’t talk,” she said. Gaining speed, she sailed down the hallway and into an open-air courtyard, turned toward the sky, and disappeared with a woosh.
Thorn’s face flexed into a puzzled expression. “That was not ordinary behavior for a vertebrate, right?” the plant asked.
“Nah, completely normal actually. If you’re hiding something,” Havoc replied.
Thorn said, “Guess this means we don’t need a diversion to decorate her room.”
“Yeah, but you know what would be fun? Don’t you need some A-Jet flight hours?”
Thorn nodded. They said, “Where would we find a qualified instructor on short notice?”
Havoc slapped the top of Thorns head, “Me! I’m a qualified instructor.”
“I forgot that I do. Let’s catch up with, uh, some flight hours.”
Havoc started to correct them but stopped when he saw Thorn trying to wink. He said, “Right, flight hours. You know,
The End… for NOW!
Hear or read the exciting conclusion THIS Thursday(03/29/18)!