The story is written for Mercscilla, who turned me on to Solarbabies in the first place. She's right. Darstar is much more interesting than Jason. I'm not a big fan of AU stories where the author just decrees that one or another character isn't there, and I do like Jason, though I'd prefer he wasn't with Terra. (There's just no chemistry and the whole relationship seemed to be mostly based on the fact that both of them were in a sort of displaced parental role with Daniel and the fact that they were together all the time than any real connection on a psycho-emotional level. ) My first idea was to have Jason not survive the jump over the bridge and then do a partial re-write of the movie from there, but the more I thought about it, the more I was uncomfortable with the trauma that would have caused Daniel. So what I ended up with was a story set a few months after the film.
Solarbabies falls into the category of "bad movies I like anyway." I just don't happen to like it as much as I like certain other ones. Actually, I don't usually like post apocalyptic anything, but the elements of fantasy in this appeal to me, and the Eco-Warriors remind me of the Fremen The film strikes me as something with a marvelously interesting premise and annoyingly poor execution. The characters could have been interesting, but there isn't much development of their personalities. A lot of things either don't make sense or require further explanation. For example, roller skates do not work in the desert for any length of time in a sandy, rock-strewn environment. Yet the kids were on their skates in the desert for day without any problem. Distilling TIRES for water? And how exactly does a glacier get trapped under a lava flow? I have some ideas both for character development and explanation—or at least re-imagining—but I'm not sure I want to invest that kind of effort. One Path needs to be finished before I undertake any more major fanfiction projects, and currently my original work is my priority. So, for now this is a one-shot.
Of Earth and Stars
Darstar crouched in the sand just beyond the mouth of the cavern that led to the Eco-Warrior's oasis. The desert night was cold, and a light wind whipped his long hair around his face. He pushed it back with his fingers and shook his head, shivering a little. It wasn't the cold that affected him so much as the strangely heavy, moist air. The land had begun to change after he and the Solarbabies destroyed the Aquabunker. They all saw the evidence of those changes, but Darstar felt them in a way that the others didn't seem to. Well…most of them anyway. He could sense some of the same awareness that he had in Terra, and now he understood that, for her, it came from her Eco-Warrior ancestry. Her sensitivities were less developed, though. She didn't rely on them as heavily or even listen to them the way that he did. She really didn't have to, which was the difference between them. She had her friends and now a family who surrounded and protected her as much as she cared for and guarded each of them. Darstar's closest companion was the land around him, and his only real friend had been the Owl.
The truth was that he had always been an outsider with the Solarbabies, and although they seemed to make him welcome now, he still wasn't one of them. He'd expected them to hold more of a grudge about the fact that he had stolen the sphere, but except for one conversation he'd had with Terra in Tire Town, no one even mentioned it. Maybe they figured there was no point in making an issue over it when, in the end, it had led them to the Oasis and then ultimately resulted in the destruction of the bunker. Whether it mattered to them or not, though, Darstar felt a continued sense of separation from the other orphans.
It wasn't just because of Bodahi. They had a shared history and a bond as teammates and friends that he had never been a part of. The Solarbabies had never mocked or baited him the way that Gavial and the Scorpions often did, but he was still the outsider. They didn't understand him, and although he sometimes felt lonely when he watched them, he didn't understand them either. He could have been one of them once, if he'd chosen to be when they were younger, before friendships solidified into exclusive groups and skateball teams. Maybe then, he would have come to understand them, and the nagging sense of difference wouldn't matter the way it did now. It wasn't the companionship and camaraderie of a team that Darstar really wanted, though. It never had been.
For a long time, he wasn't sure what he wanted. He only knew that something was missing; he was an outsider among the people with whom he had been raised. It was only when he stumbled into the Tchikani camp that he actually began to understand what he missed. However briefly, he had known a sense of kinship with Ivor and the rest of the band. Then he began to realize that the Tchikani leader was more interested in profit than in understanding the Bodahi's magic, but still he'd hoped that he had found a home in the camp. The Tchikani were his people, after all.
He sighed with quiet regret and pushed himself erect, then brushed the sand off his hands and turned his gaze toward the bright three-quarter moon in the cloudless black sky above him. A half-smile turned up the left corner of his mouth. It was still strange to think of describing the night sky as "cloudless." For most of his life, clouds had been things he read about. Now, on any given day or night, he might actually see them.
There were other changes too. It looked like freedom from the Orphanage wasn't going ot make any of their lives easier. Word was spreading about the destruction of the bunker, and as it did, the Protectorate's authority dwindled. Bounty hunters were beginning to amass territories and followers, styling themselves as warlords, while Strictors like Grock jockeyed for personal control over their previously assigned territories without much assistance from Main Stream Control. The Eco-Warriors, who once might have been able to step in as a stabilizing influence, were still too few in number to pose a real challenge. The Oasis was still safe, and Greentree said that the best thing they could do would be to wait things out. No one was looking for Eco-Warriors now, but Darstar and the Solarbabies were still wanted. On top of that, there were warlords who probably would have killed them just for fun.
Darstar knew that the safest thing for him to do was to stay here with the other kids. The Eco-Warriors welcomed his presence, and he had been learning something of their ways. He felt restless, though, and there was nothing holding him here. These may have been Terra's people, but they weren't his. The others had no idea who their families might have been, and they seemed content to accept the home that Greentree offered them. It wasn't the same for Darstar. He at least knew who his people were. There had to be other Tchikani camps left somewhere.
The question was where and how far away. The Wasteland was dangerous, and for the most part it was still waterless. There were more earth shifts since the Aquabunker blew, and there were other dangers now too. He wasn't afraid to face them, but he wasn't stupid either. Running away from the Orphanage had taught him a few things.
On the one hand, he'd figured things couldn't get any worse for him than they already were. Whether he made it or not, at least, on the outside, he would be free. He'd wandered around outside the gates enough that he knew something of how to survive in the desert. He'd also thought that Bodahi's magic would help him. Maybe it had, but not in the way he'd expected. In the few days he'd been alone out there, he discovered that taking short trips that let him make it back to the Orphanage before he could be caught or missed was completely different from trying to live out there. The Wasteland was a lot harsher and more difficult to travel than he'd been prepared for.
He didn't know if he would be able to find water or if there were other cities like Tire Town somewhere along the way. He wanted to have at least some idea of where he was going this time. How exactly he was going to find out any of those things, he didn't know. Maybe they were just convenient excuses—more convenient, at any rate, than the other thing that held him here.
He shook his head. He'd always been drawn to Terra. Everyone was, really. Her name suited her. Like the Earth, she could be volatile and dangerous, but at her heart, she was a nourishing force. Her magnetism came from the sense that she saw and knew things in a way that others didn't. When she looked at someone, he felt that she understood him in a way that could be both empowering and frightening. For the Solarbabies, she was a hidden spring or food gleaned from the inhospitable desert. For people like Galavial, who needed to control and dominate everything they touched, she was the threat of an earth shift or the crackle of current that sang in the air just before a storm struck.
For Darstar, she was simply the Earth. He was drawn to her the way a moon or a meteor might be drawn toward a planet. She was one of the few people at the Orphanage who had always treated him as an equal. Most of the kids either didn't like him or regarded him with a kind of perplexed awe. Some of that was his own doing. He kept them all at a distance, including Terra, but with her it had been more because of her friends than the usual discomfort he felt with people.
He knew that if he let himself get too close to her, what developed between them would pull her away from the Solarbabies. Not that they would have rejected her, but their relationships with her would have changed dramatically, and as long as they were in the Orphanage, she needed them as much as they did her. Darstar didn't really need anyone. At least, he never thought he did. So, what was he still doing here?
He turned at the sound of footsteps behind him and wasn't surprised when Terra came out of the shadows at the entrance of the cave. She smiled and walked up beside him, looking out at the night sky for a few moments. Darstar returned his attention there as well, waiting for her to speak.
"Greentree says you're thinking about leaving," she said at length.
He nodded. "Yeah."
"To go where?" she asked.
"I don't know, I haven't figured that out yet."
"Why can't you stay here?" she asked.
"It's not my home," he shrugged.
"It could be," she said with a touch of firmness that surprised him.
"Maybe I don't want it to be," he said.
"Why not? It's a good place. Good people. We've known you for your whole life. You want to go back out in the Wastes alone to look for strangers. What if there aren't any? Or they don't accept you when you get there? If you get there," she amended.
He caught her gaze, but she glanced away, suddenly uncomfortable, as if she realized that she had overstepped some invisible line. It might have been okay for her to talk that way to one of the Solarbabies, but not to someone like Darstar who had no real ties to her. He paused at the thought, his breath catching a little, and he wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. There was a connection between them. He'd always thought that she wasn't aware of it, and maybe she hadn't been, but things were changing. She was changing. Finding her people, her family, gave her both the freedom and the opportunity to learn about a part of her nature that had only manifested in whispers of intuition before. Now maybe they would change too—but did she want them to? Did he?
"You know where you come from," he said aloud, pushing aside his questions to focus on the immediate conversation.
"I thought you did too," she replied.
"I know the name of my people," he said. "It's not the same thing."
She nodded slowly, accepting the truth of that. Then she fell silent again, considering, and Darstar waited patiently. He was comfortable with silence; it didn't press on him the way it seemed to do to most of the people he knew. They had a kind of compulsion to fill it with something, but even before he'd started to explore the outside and spent hours alone with no sounds but the natural ones around him, he had never felt that way. In fact, there were times when he actually resented people's voices—or at least their constant need to mar the quiet around them. They were jarring and intrusive to him. When Terra spoke again, though, he was neither surprised nor resentful. The conversation flowed easily, its peaks and lulls entirely natural to him, and he almost knew she was ready to continue before she started to speak.
"Do you really think you're going to be able to find your family?" she asked.
"I don't know. But it's better to try than stay with strangers forever and wonder," he replied.
"We're not strangers, Darstar," she shook her head.
"I didn't mean it that way, but…people who aren't mine," he amended.
"You were going to stay in Tire Town," she reminded him. "How is that any different?"
"I guess I figured it didn't really matter. There was work, shelter. I didn't know if there were any other Tchikani camps, and I wasn't sure I cared."
"So why does it matter now?" Terra asked. There was no criticism in the question—only curiosity and confusion.
He shrugged. "Same reason this place matters to you, I guess. I don't wanna be alone forever."
"You don't have to be, Darstar," she said, her right hand slipping hesitantly onto his arm. He turned to face her, feeling his breath quicken a little as her palm slid upward and then moved onto his cheek. "Sometimes we get to make our homes. Choose our own people."
She leaned into him, and Darstar's arms moved slowly to encircle her waist as she cupped his face in her hands. He could feel the moist warmth of her breath on his face, but he hesitated. Sensing his uncertainty, she paused and bit her lip. He felt her tense against him and could see her sudden indecision as she considered pulling back. Even in the moonlight, he could see her cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"What about Jason?" he asked.
She opened her mouth, then paused and frowned, searching for words. Again, he waited, not moving away, enjoying the closeness and the touch of their bodies even though he was aware of her tension. Terra took a breath and slowly let it out again.
"I'll always care about Jason," she said finally. "But I think we were kind of together because…we always were. Neither of us really thought about it. There was always this—something—I don't know—pulling me toward you, but it didn't make sense, and I guess I didn't really want to figure it out.
"Does it make sense now?" he asked with a knowing half smile.
"As much as gravity makes sense," she shrugged. "Or rain."
"Rain," he repeated, his smile widening as their lips met.