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Chapter 37: Stargirl

TM sat on a bench in the park in the middle of the night, looking out at the field that once played host to the fair, remembering.

The last week had been hard.

Derrida was still in hospital, but hoping to be let out soon. His arm had been broken in two places, but he would recover. Marty had taken Gary Mackerel to his parents’ house, then sprinted back to help. He was just about close enough to hear the explosion from the museum when it happened, and found TM and Dominika doing their best to keep Derrida calm in the ruins. There was no evidence that anybody else had ever been there, except the hole in the road that looked oddly like a tall woman.

For TM’s part, the doctors had told him he was lucky to be alive, lucky not to have broken more than two ribs, lucky not to have been arrested. Dominika had somehow managed to talk the police out of arresting the three of them, since they had been the only people at the scene of the enormous explosion that had destroyed half of an ‘architecturally significant’ building; TM would never know how she had done it, but he would always be grateful.

After being released from the hospital, TM had gone back to Muscles & Mussels, where Dominika and Marty spent most of their time helping him try to restore some normality to life. It would take time, and it would hurt, but they were carrying on.

When he wasn’t at the gymnastaurant, he had spent the days… sitting, mostly, since he had been advised not to do much more than that. Thinking. He was never sure what about, but it was all he seemed able to do.

A young woman sat down beside him. TM glanced over at her; she seemed to be watching her knees as they bent into a sitting position. She was small, pale, with unusually bright eyes, the hood of a thin blue jacket pulled over her hair.

‘Hi,’ she said, after a moment.

TM said nothing.

‘I’m really sorry about what happened to… you. Your friends. All that.’ She had a strange accent, TM thought vaguely: somewhere between Welsh and Finnish.

‘How would you know about that?’ TM said. It was hard for him to talk, with his ribs in the state they were, but her words were not ones to be left unresponded to.

‘It’s… kind of my fault,’ she said.

TM turned his head then to look at her properly. ‘You’re Vega,’ he said after a moment. ‘The real Vega.’

‘In the flesh,’ she said, smiling sadly.

‘My friend got turned into a ball of gas because of you,’ he told her.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘I heard about that whole… incident.’

‘Incident?’ TM said. ‘I think it qualifies as more than that.’

‘Yeah,’ Vega admitted. ‘I’m sorry.’

TM sighed. ‘I forgive you,’ he said. Vega looked at him, her already wide eyes widening further.

‘I came here to ask for that,’ she said, ‘but I wasn’t really expecting to get it.’

‘There’s no point holding it against you,’ TM told her honestly. ‘I had a friend, a really good one, and what she wanted most in the world was to live on earth as a person. So I can’t really expect you to… not want that.’

‘I’ve known others like me, down here. One of the binary sisters from Theta Aquila. She’s still around somewhere, just trying to live a life, you know.’ She sighed. ‘We’re just trying to have the lives you get given from the start. But that doesn’t mean we think we’re more entitled to exist than you. I wouldn’t have let your friend go in my place, if I’d known.’ TM believed her. ’But… since he is up there, instead of me, I’ll do my best to make it worth it.’

‘You do that,’ TM told her.

‘You need anything?’ she asked, looking at him with what seemed to be concern.

TM thought about it. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘Just… don’t waste what you’ve been given here. That’s all I ask.’

She nodded, gave him a quick, gentle hug, and vanished into the night. TM watched her go until he could no longer turn his head to follow her, then turned back and gazed up into the sky. Ziggy and Veggie were burning up there among those stars, he knew. So were Orion, Altair and the foursome that made up Lyra under Veggie. He had no idea which ones any of them were. He’d have to ask Dominika.

TM sighed, and wondered if there had really been any point to any of it. When after a few minutes he was unable to come up with one, he decided that perhaps all he could do was to take his own advice to Vega, and not waste the existence he had been gifted. He stood, stretched, and made his way unsteadily over to the Octobike, which sat parked in the field behind a few trees. Vega, to his half-surprise, was still there, examining it.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Sorry, I -’

‘It’s okay,’ TM said. ‘Just wasn’t expecting you to stick around.’

‘I wasn’t really planning to,’ Vega said, ’but then I realised I didn’t know what I actually was planning on doing.’

‘Sounds familiar.’

They watched each other for a few moments, then both opened their mouths at the same time.

‘So what’s this -’ Vega began.

‘So what are you -’ TM started.

‘Er,’ said Vega.

‘You go first,’ TM told her.

‘I was just going to ask what this is,’ she said, gesturing to the Octobike. ‘I mean, it looks like some sort of vehicle, but not any I’ve ever heard of.’

‘It’s called the Octobike,’ TM said. ‘I invented it.’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Vega recalled, smiling as she looked the machine over. ‘I heard you were an inventor-y type.’

TM watched as she marvelled over the contraption, feeling something he couldn’t identify.

‘Sorry,’ she said after a moment. ‘You were gonna say something?’

‘Oh,’ said TM. ‘Yeah. I just…’ He sighed. ‘This might be stupid, but I was just thinking… I’ve kind of got a bit of a hole in my life, you know? Some people have left some empty spaces. And… if you haven’t got any other plans… I was thinking maybe you might be a good fit to fill those gaps.’

Vega paused her inspection and gazed at him with her bright eyes. ‘You want me to… come with you? You don’t even know me.’

‘Last time I let someone I didn’t know come be a massive part of my life… well, it ended badly, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.’

Vega considered it for a few moments, then smiled and extended a hand. TM shook it.

‘Do you know anything about how to manage a gym-slash-seafood-restaurant?’ he asked her.

‘Nothing whatsoever.’

‘Do you… like pick and mix?’

‘You serious?’

TM gave a quiet laugh. ‘We’ll pick some up on the way back,’ he said, and helped her onto the Octobike.

The universe might not care about him, but somehow that no longer seemed to matter so much.

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