Such a kiss... The stars sang. The trees trembled. Magic spiralled and sparkled and glowed.
The story twisted and caught like magnet to a metal - true to its own rules.
But the beginning of the story still had to be told. Its importance pushed and insisted to Tara as The Kiss ended. Even with the burn of Willow's fire-sweet lips on hers, she still had to tell. There was more than magic here, she had to be true to Willow, and for that, she had to begin.
She pulled Willow up to her feet, helped her along the maze of passages to the cluttered room and unrolled bedding as Willow sat mesmerised on her rough chair. Suddenly, a sense of duty rose to the surface.
"You should sleep Willow, you've been awake for hours - for days... You should..."
Willow's silence broke, but her voice was still steady. "I... well, us... you.... what just..." a torrent of words was suddenly resolved. "I'd... I'd really like it if you would stay, that is, if you want to... I'd..."
Willow turned to her bed for a moment; embarrassed by the meaning she was sure burned through her skin. But then defiance leapt to her defence and she continued. "Stay? You could tell me the story, and I don't want you to go..."
Tara knelt, "I couldn't leave you," she spoke in a whisper.
And then time moved fast as Willow took her hands and pulled, and soon they were on the bed, curled around one another as though it was the most easy thing in the world.
And it was. It was far more than easy: It was hope; it was real; it was the beginning.
The time was right. Tara told her story.
"I grew up on a planet far from here - we called it Malathien - I'm not sure what it's called now, or which sector it's in, but I think we were associated with the Tathkien System, and I've met quite a few Tathkiens here on the Base already. It was a warm and peaceful place, with a lot of land and little ocean. There weren't that many of us, I think, and there was a lot of open sky and grassland. I grew up in one of the larger villages called Toth - we had a homestead, and my mother was the local doctor. My father worked on the land and studied languages and astronomy. It wasn't a pioneer planet - we had access to information networks, and were in the transport systems, and most people studied, farmed and learned. Many left to study or work, and some came to farm and contemplate... I... I had two sisters and a brother... they're... were... are..."
Tara faltered as her memories darkened. Willow pulled her closer, "It's ok Tara, you don't have to..."
"Oh, I do Willow. I... I want you to know. I just, it's just that I don't know what's happened since I left, and I..." Tara breathed deeply. "It's hard, but I want to tell you. Especially the good parts, at the beginning." Willow nodded, waited for Tara to continue.
"They... My elder sister, Lynn, she was, or is... Well, she was a writer and storyteller; she travelled around the villages telling tales and wrote for one of the Universities in Tathkien-1, the main planet of our nearest system. Then there was my brother, Seth, he did all kinds of things - farmed, painted, studied mechanics for a bit. He met his wife, Alana, a judge, when he was very young, and it turned out the thing that he liked best was having kids and looking after their house. Lynn and Seth were older than me by quite a bit, so mostly it was just me and my little sister, Dawn, at home with my mother and father.
Dawn was still at school when... Well, that's later. And she liked drawing and painting and animals. She spent lots of time at the bigger farms, helping with livestock and playing with the other kids. She talked all the time about rabbits and horses and cows and frogs, and always came home late, muddy with straw in her hair and feathers in her clothes. Dad hoped that she would want to continue the farm with him, and I think she wanted to as well.
Ours was a loud house. Lynn was always very dramatic and having adventures, her and Seth were always joking and shouting. Dawn joined in as soon as she could so that she could avoid the teasing they gave her for being little. Even when they moved out, Seth was always back in the house, and he would bring his little kids with him. Then when my Mom got home, we would hear what she had done, and she would joke and swap tales with Seth. Dad would play with the little kids, and Mom would change and drag Dawn back from whatever muddy puddle she was in. It was the same when we ate, Seth would cook a lot, and then Alana would come over with news from the Town Council and the Court.
Me, well, I was the quiet one. I started studying medicine and healing with my Mom when I was tiny, and I learned quickly. My Mom was pleased, but a little surprised that I had learned so fast, and so she took me to see some of the older members of the village to ask them about magics. I was apprenticed to the old doctor, Levith, who knew a little about magics and energy, and she just let me loose in her library. I learnt to cast simple spells, and continued working with my Mom, my skills being very similar to hers. Eventually, Lynn took me with her to Tathkien-1 to see the University, and I was tested and offered a place to study magic. But I was still really young, and a little afraid to leave my family, so we decided I would wait a few years until I went so that I would be the same age as the other students. I had just arrived back and was studying more and working with my Mom when we heard the news... The Conglomerate had come.
It was Lynn, she came bursting in the door with nothing to show for her journey but her clothes. We had been hearing rumours of a Conglomerate takeover of the Tathkien System, but weren't sure whether it was true. When Lynn arrived we knew it was. She had left the second she had any proof, and when we tried to check the network there were only the neutral monitoring system signals from Tathkien-1 to let us know it was still there. It was true, the Conglomerate had acquired the system and nobody was broadcasting or receiving messages. Nobody was doing anything, there's not much you can do when the Conglomerate want to merge with you..."
Tara drew a shuddering breath, "It's hard to describe. We didn't know what to do, it was all going so fast... We didn't know if they would come for us, or if we would escape, or anything... Lynn hadn't heard much, just left, and we couldn't get any messages..."
Willow tried to be calm as she heard Tara's tale. She knew what was coming, she had heard it from so many of the others in the Base, but it was always awful every time. The Conglomerate might take your planet and use the people there as workers. Or they might destroy it completely with mines and construction hangars and take the people away. They might just destroy it if it was in the way of one of their plans - sometimes building new structures was much cheaper than using old planets. Everything of any size was a commodity to the Conglomerate - planets, oceans, atmospheres, cities, farms, and individual people. There was no mercy, no way of finding the people you loved once they became part of the Conglomerate because the Conglomerate didn't care.
Tara continued, "At first we though that they didn't want us, that we would fall under their rule, but they wouldn't come, just see what we had. That would give us some time, and maybe we could... escape, or fight or..."
"But then they send counters, those m... machines that count everything on the planet. They counted, and then they reported. The Conglomerate communicated, told us they were interested in our resources, but had to make sure it was a viable prospect, so they had to wait for their assessment. We waited too, for a couple of days I guess, while they scanned and analysed. We had no choice; we couldn't escape their machines. I think they must spray chemicals or suchlike because we were all quite calm, but sad. They... they worked from high up in the atmosphere, and you couldn't get away, you couldn't..."
Willow felt the panic rise suddenly in Tara's voice, tightened her hold on the other woman. "I know Tara, I know... it's, I know you couldn't. You couldn't have done anything else.", she whispered as Tara gathered herself to tell the rest of the story.
"Then... Then it got dark, because their ships came close. They're so big, Willow, they blocked out the whole sky. I'd never seen any kind of machine that big, not even when I'd travelled to Tathkien-1. Mom made us all go inside, but we didn't know what to do.
I remember Dawn was pulled close with her back to me, and I had my head on her shoulder. I could feel my Dad's arms around us both, and Mom was standing on my left, with one hand in mine. Seth and Alana were facing us with their boys between them, and Lynn was between Dawn and Mom in front of me.
I remember Dawn's hair smelled of grass and it was so smooth it was like water under my skin. It was getting darker and darker, and everything was very calm. I could hear everybody breathing, and then I heard a whine that got louder and louder until eventually a tagger got thought the door. It hovered for a while and landed on Dawn.
I... It was like we were underwater, I saw the tagger land on her arm, right next to mine, but I didn't move or do anything while it dug down and was suddenly under her skin. Then the whine got louder and there were lots of taggers in the room, all circling and looking for their targets. I don't think I even felt mine land, I was watching them hover over the boys while Alana stepped back to let them. And then when I looked down again, I saw the scar on the inside of my arm, and I could feel the wires growing and settling."
Tara paused, and shifted so that Willow could look down and see the mark on her arm.
There wasn't one.
No scar, no deep unsealing wound that Willow had seen so many of at the Base - a result of forcing a tag out with magnetic signals and scalpel. No traces of wires, no tattoo that some of the workers were given when there considered to be of little value. Just Tara's smooth skin.
Willow looked back up to Tara's face and saw a mixture of dark memory and gladness that made Tara's eyes change like blue kaleidoscopes. The redhead was amazed, her voice was lagging behind while her brain sped through the possibilities of what Tara had just shown her.
"You did that? You... You can get it out, get it all out? That's...Wow! So the Conglomerate don't have you any more, they don't know where you are or what you're doing, or... they don't own you any more. Is that really true?"
Tara smiled, the last of the darkness leaving her eyes. "Yes Willow, you're right..."
"Wow! I mean, that changes all kinds of things - we can fight without the Conglomerate knowing if any of their old prisoners are coming, and we can help people leave, and stop the taggers from even arriving, and we can, well if we can make fake tags, then we can get in and destroy..." Willow trailed off as she watched Tara's reaction to her rushed logic.
"Willow," Tara's eyes darkened again, and she pulled the redhead closer to her. "That's only the beginning..."