She took a deep breath and listened carefully. D always established her first impression of a planet with her eyes closed, using her other senses. First by sound. Then by touch. You could sense so much more about your surroundings if you couldn’t see them. To her left, she heard a distant musical chirping. Birds. Birds singing were always a good sign. They indicated clean air. And there was a dull thrumming somewhere closer than the birds. Vibrations traveling through the air. Rhythmic. Soothing. But not entirely consistent. She couldn’t place it.
Her fingers found the soft fabric around her body. A bed. It would be hers. The engagements were always very thorough. She would need a home for this one, so they had created one for her. Her fingers travelled up to touch her head, exploring her favourite sensation in any placement. Gone was the smooth surface of her scalp. Replaced with long, thick strands of hair. She traced the strands down until her hand came to rest just below her breasts. She loved when they gave her long hair.
Her fingers danced across the skin of her face. Down along the curves of her body. The feeling was so different from the smooth, uniform bodies they inhabited in The Commune. This was the first time she’d ever returned to the same persona, but now she was six years older. The body had changed.
From beyond her room, she heard the sound of footsteps, a rattle of glass, laughing voices. She let her eyes flicker open and take in the room. The walls were covered in a dark wood paneling, the ceiling an intricately patterned tin. She pushed herself into a sitting position. A television set sat at the end of the bed. An open door at the end of the room led to another room. A small kitchen area was visible through the opening. The room was more opulent than she expected. The blankets were soft and plush. The light filtering through the floaty curtains was gentle and inviting.
Faulery Valley was located on Blosher, a fairly average planet by all accounts. She’d been to several like it, so she knew what to expect. There were easier planets, but there were definitely more difficult places to have to work. D pushed off the bed and walked over to the mirror. She smiled as she took in the long, straight strands of orangey-red hair. The same hair as before, but longer. Her eyes were no longer that flat white. Now they were a brilliant amber. A colour she remembered vividly from her earlier assignment. Her skin was still pale, but not the see-through transparency of Traveler skin. Freckles dotted the bridge of her nose and her lips were a pale shade of pink. The bow of the upper lip straightened as her mouth stretched out into a wide smile.
She walked towards the closet and pushed open the doors to reveal a row of dresses. Along the floor were a line of thick-soled shoes and boots in pastel colours. She pulled a lacey white dress from the closet and ran her fingers along the complicated fabric. The grooves of the designs played against the skin on her finger tips. The feeling wasn’t as intense as she had imagined it would be. Bringing her fingers to her face, she took note of the tips of her fingers. The skin was thicker than normal, covered in calluses. She glanced around the room, wondering what could have caused the delicate skin to solidify in such a way. There, against the far wall, a guitar. That would cause this kind of damage.
Details like that helped her understand who she was in this world, much more than the description provided on the assignment sheets. She didn’t know why the Masters didn’t realize that there was more to an engagement than just the surface details. She always wanted more information. But this life felt different, different from anything else she’d encountered. She already knew this girl. To have a real understanding of this body as a child and an adult was something she’d never experienced before. it changed everything. D remembered that shy eleven year old she’d inhabited on her last visit. Remembered the way the body used to feel, how foreign it was, but familiar at the same time. Remembered the moments that had formed this girl’s experiences.
D stepped into her dress, and began pulling up the long white sleeves. Along the inside of her forearms were lines of thin white scars. She scanned the embedded identity profile and found the information she needed. Her lovable child had grown up to cut herself. D closed her eyes and swallowed. She hated personas that required this kind of emotional motivation. She didn’t know how it could be useful for saving Carly. She quickly pulled the sleeves into place and slid the zipper shut. The dress cinched at the waist and flared out in the skirt, ending just above her knees. She’d worn dresses like this before, on other planets, but those had been long, confining dresses of proper, stoic woman. This dress was fun and cute. She spun in a circle and watched the lacy skirt billow around her. The long hair spun around her face, coming to rest around her neck and across her face.
She smiled to herself and grabbed the big gingham bag sitting on the table beside the door. A quick look around the room confirmed a piece of information that had been unclear in the profile. She was alone. Normally, engagements involving minor-aged personas were accompanied by other Travelers to act as parents or guardians. This body was seventeen years old, but this place was some kind of hotel or rooming house. It was a self-contained living space. She mentally flipped through the quick facts profile she’d been given, but the back story for why she was living on her own wasn’t listed. She needed that information before she saw Carly again.
Flopping onto the end of the bed, she reached into the bag and pulled out the small white cube. It had no discernable opening, but when D ran her fingers along the right side, a small latch materialized on the front. She touched the cube to her lips and the top popped open. Inside was her crystal leaf. D pulled the totem from the box and released a slow cool breath onto the surface of the crystal.
She felt the energy of The Commune pulse into her skin. She closed her eyes and watched the images of this persona’s life flash across her eyelids. Unlike normal assignments, where they could access all the information from childhood forward, she could only access images from after her last involvement with Carly. This was the information she would need to be able to relay to explain why she’d disappeared and why she was back. She watched it all. Her fictional life played out before her eyes. There were the awkward years of puberty. The teenage angst she’d played out in so many other assignments. Then there were the images of her sitting in a closet, back pressed against the wall, listening to voices shouting from another room. The pain and anguish of another bout of fighting. The sounds of violence. A sharp piece of metal across her skin. The bubbles of blood rose to the surface. The feeling of relief flooded the image and D suddenly understood why this had happened.
The image changed to a girl on the cusp of adulthood, confident and self assured, unwilling to put up with her parents any longer. Moving out of the house where all the pain resided. Setting out on her own. Moving back across the country to the last place she’d had good memories. To Faulery Valley. To complete her last year of high school. To find the only friend that had ever meant anything to her. D opened her eyes, feeling exactly like the girl she was supposed to be.
It was time to go find Carly, the only girl she carried with her outside an assignment. D knew that she was here on a job, but it already felt different. She felt immersed in the role as she never had before. She didn’t imagine that this engagement would be that difficult, and that made her sad. She liked Carly, saving her life would be a pleasure. Besides, she’d already done it once. She’d probably be here for only a couple days.
She pushed herself off the bed and straightened, shaking off D. Now she was Davey Nesbitt, seventeen-year-old girl, guitar player, former cutter, and aspiring best friend.
She placed the talisman back into the box. The cube deactivated and closed as she threw it into the large purse. As her only connection to home, it would be carried with her at all times, just in case. Now, she needed to get to work and figure out what had gone wrong in Carly’s life and how she was supposed to save her life. Again.