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Here Before (and here after)

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Shantaya Sempers has a deep, dark, secret. And here it is:

She's died three times before. And yet, she also hasn't.

 

 

The first time, she was seven and talking to another kid about some bollywood actress and how pretty she was, and wouldn't it be nice if Shantaya got to marry a girl that pretty?

The boy hadn't liked that, had called her words she dared not repeat, and pushed her. Her head cracked open, and the concrete ran red with her blood before-

Shantaya lurched forwards, hands curled around her blankets. I'm in my bedroom, she realised. It was all just a dream. But she was only seven, and so she'd run from her room into her parent's and curled up in her mama's arms, falling asleep to her whispered reassurance that it was only a dream.

 

Her parents decided a change of pace was in order (at least, that's what they said) and so they packed their things and moved to the US, Queens, in a little house that was apparently owned by her great-great-granny and had been in the family since.

Time seemed to work differently in the house- food only ever spoiled in October, hot water never seemed to run out, and once, when Shantaya was eight and a half and scraped her knee, after a whole minute of wishing it would heal, it did.

The weirdest thing, though, was that, when they moved in, it looked lived in already. There were century old coins in the couch cushions, a box full of machine parts that only Shantaya ever seemed able to find, a beautiful silver comb that she swore summoned wind.

She never questioned why nobody else lived there.

 

 

The second time, it was the day her baby sister, Esther, was born, and she was nine. They were driving out of the hospital parking lot, when suddenly something slammed into the side of the car.

Metal had caved inwards, and Shantaya had seen, through the blood now streaming down her face, her baba reaching towards her baby sisters seat. The sirens had sounded, people prying open the wreckage and pulling her out into an ambulance.

She bled out, then, medics scurrying around her and trying to do something.

This time, when she woke up, she was in the stiff hospital chair of the day before. This time, when they were about to pull out, Shantaya screamed out 'Car!' and so they waited for it to pass and nobody died.

She thought of being laid out in an ambulance, choking on her own blood, and wondered if it was a dream. She thought of metal, twisted and lodged in her lungs, and wondered if it was just her imagination.

(She thought of a memory, or a dream half forgotten, full of concrete and blood and bollywood actresses, and wondered what was wrong with her that she dismissed that.)

 

When she was eleven, Shantaya got into Midtown Middle School with an engineering scholarship. Her robotics teacher, Ms. Palli, asked if she wouldn't like to skip her class and instead work on some independent projects in an empty classroom.

Shantaya grinned and turned in a project that was months ahead of the class curriculum.

 

The third time, she was twelve, and they were visiting her father's cousins Bahiyya and Imam in New York City. The sky had suddenly been filled with terrible monsters, and the family had been separated. She and Esther and cousin Bahiyya, twelve and three and thirty-five, had taken cover in an alley, shivering behind a dumpster and hoping that nothing would find them.

Then, there had been a cry of alarm, a cruel chuckle, and-

 "Why, I didn't realize Masy still had kin alive and kicking. You could be useful."

Something hit her back, burning hot and not entirely solid, and it felt as if she was made of energy. She'd felt her skin start to crumble away, and wasn't that terrifying, and her veins thrummed with power as she came apart at the seams.

When she woke up that time, it was back at home in her bed. She just so happened to get the flu, and so her family couldn't go visit.

The aliens (She learns later that they are, indeed, aliens) did cause some damage, but Queens was far enough from the wormhole that everybody lived and the road was repaired within a month.

 

 

When Shantaya was fourteen, partway through the school year, Toni Sharp transferred to Midtown. Shantaya heard whispers around her, as she was ostracized for the littlest things.

She's a foster kid, one girl gossiped. No wonder her parents didn't want her. She's insane. She say's shes been to space- probably just making it up for attention.

I heard she got caught kissing Avice Albinson in the AV closet, another hissed, as if it was any of her buisness. Why would they let a queer in?

Shantaya heard it all, from the fact Toni was gay to rumors she said she'd been to space.

She heard it, and squared her shoulders, and snarled at any who tried to hurt the star-girl who could make a working engine with a blindfold on and had no idea what any of the parts were called.

(She didn't realize she had met her soulmate in this beautiful, ridiculous girl. Not yet, anyways.)

 

 

Toni Sharp, it turns out, was just as odd as she sounded, but not in the ways everyone thought. She was, indeed, gay, but she was so oblivious she missed Shantaya flirting with her for a solid week until she outright asked her on a date.

 

(They had gone to a McDonalds and she'd laughed when Toni somehow managed to get honey-mustard in her hair)

Toni didn't really lie. When she showed up with a bruise covering most of her face, she said she got in a fight. When she skipped school, she admitted that she had done so on 'Guardian Buisness', whatever that meant. When Shantaya asked her how long she'd been in foster care, Toni said (after counting on her fingers) that it'd been a total of five-ish years, excluding the time everyone had thought she was dead.


Toni called her Taya, like the beautiful, ridiculous girl she was, and told stories about the stars and moons and planets. It was just too sincere to be a lie, and so Taya listened and thought and wondered.

(Will I ever have a chance to see it? Taya would ask, and Toni would laugh and hold her hands tighter and reply, Why do you think I've been working on a translator?)

 

 

 

 

Toni, according to her stories, was something called a celestial- a being whose conciousness resides in some celestial object- planets, stars, comets. Toni herself was a red star, a type of star known for their violence and feral tendancies. There were also blue stars, she said, known for being about either stasis or the continued existance of something, and yellow stars, known for creation or reuse.

 

She said she had learned this when visiting something called The Sanctuary, a place where celestials tended to gather to communicate in person. She could, as a star, change the atomic makeup of particles around her, and often used that power to 'find' Taya rare pieces of machinery for her projects.

 

There was more to her than just her star-ness, though. She had a myriad of mental health things, from refusing to work on lab animals (Taya still didn't get that) to not being able to go into candle stores without breaking down from all the smells.

 

She liked collecting rocks, and when she smelled something it was always either good or bad, and she had a set of tarot cards and a spellbook, and she had a June birthday, and she used to have three siblings, and she flapped her hands when she was excited, and she didn't like eye contact, and she could sew, and she liked baking (even if she burned stuff half the time), and she could make a decent piece of jewelry, and she hated the feel of velvet, and-

 

The list is so long it could go on forever, the peculiarities of this one ridiculous, wonderful girl.

 

 

 

Taya kept a list of all the things Toni had told her about space.

 

Mostly, it was little bits and pieces, but there was one whole notebook dedicated to a planet Toni was currently making to orbit her star. It wouldn't have a celestial in it, she explained, but it would be similar enough to Earth and earth-like planets that she could place animals in danger of extinction on it to save them. She called it 'ní-talamh', which she said was google translate irish for 'not-earth'.

 

She had made it capable of forming life, and then put a time-field around it to speed up the process, making almost four billion years of progress happen in half a year. There were basic life form that she had 'guided' with her powers to be similar in makeup to earth creatures.

 

Toni had invited her there, a couple times, and it really was nice. There was a building made of some kind of wood- almost like oak, but darker and it smelled almost like syrup. It was, it turned out, from a Humming Tree- something Toni had named it because it attracted all kinds of hummingbirdy creatures. they had sat on the roof and picniced and watched the sunset (Toni had somehow messed with the atmosphere to make them better) and Toni's eye had looked like stars when Taya complimented it.

 

All in all, she decided, it was a pretty sucsessful date.