Aida Book 1: Dreaming of the Stars

Transferring from their home on Mars, best friends Isla and Anise arrive on Aida, hopeful and eager. Isla is initially unsure of her direction, but soon meets someone who can help her discover her destiny, and Anise finally feels like she can truly be who she is. Alongside their new friends and mentors, Lisa and Mira, Aida's latest arrivals quickly adjust to their new lives, beginning their ascent to idolhood. And along the way, they might both find some new and exciting interests on the side... Aida: An Idol Romance is a sci-fi-themed lesbian romance novel serial with some 10 books planned, and probably more. This is the free version of the full book and includes everything except the explicit ero scenes, those are mentioned but not directly shown. Like my work? You can support my writing here if you enjoy it: https://www.patreon.com/YurikaSGrant

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3. Chapter 3

  Upon entering, the first thing they noticed wasn’t the headmistress. Instead, their eyes were drawn to two other girls standing before the headmistress’s desk.

  The girl on the left had sandy blonde hair worn loose, wild, and falling to the small of her back, shimmering silver with subtle hints of gold. Her skin leaned towards tawny, making for a truly stunning compliment to her hair. Anise stared intently into the lime green eyes of this vision of perfection, breaking away before she gave her thoughts away.

  Isla was more interested in the other girl. Onyx hair, arrow straight and falling to her posterior, highlighting in gentle grey hues whenever she moved. Her sepia skin had warm orange undertones, and her dark hazel eyes appraised Isla in turn, a pleasant expression occupying her soft features.

  And walking around from behind her desk, the headmistress, her black suit giving her a refined air, an elegance that made her both sexy and imposing. She wore her hair in a long ponytail, jet black and silky, swept forward over her right shoulder to put the finishing touch to an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman.

  It seemed she had just been discussing something with these two before being interrupted. “We’ll continue this momentarily,” she said with a wave of her hand. As the other two girls left – each of them giving the new arrivals a warm smile and wave on the way past – she turned her attention to her latest students.

  “They were gorgeous…” Anise breathed.

  “I’m sure both my daughter and her best friend will be pleased to know they left such a positive first impression,” said the headmistress, smiling.

  Anise stiffened. One of those girls was the headmistress’s daughter? Oh boy…

  The headmistress gave a discrete cough. “Welcome to Aida’s premiere idol academy and agency, Dreamstar Academy, the place where dreams are made and stars are born. I am the headmistress, Amanda Lawson, it’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Her voice and speech were perfectly enunciated and measured; soft, calming, bordering on hypnotic.

  The new entrants introduced themselves.

  Amanda then proceeded to give a few words of encouragement and advice, pacing back and forth. “Feel free to take things at your own pace. It is for you to decide what sort of idol you wish to be. We are merely here to facilitate this and provide the requisite avenues for you to walk.”

  She stopped pacing and faced them. “Rushing headlong into things will likely trip you up, but equally, so will being too cautious. Strive for a balance of the two and never be afraid to ask for advice. Every teacher, producer, and coach here is happy to help.”

  Next, she had them sign a few documents, clearing up a few remaining points of an administrative nature, including details of their dormitory rooms. She placed the papers safely in a drawer, walked back around to her chair, and sat.

  “Very good. That will be all for now. Go and get settled in at the dormitory, I’m sure you must be tired after your flight. You will have a mentor each for your first week here, they will be along to see you shortly.” Amanda pulled turned her attention to the slim monitor on her desk, indicating their meeting was over.

  They thanked her and exited out. Appearing back in the spacious hall, they were immediately collared by the two girls they had seen initially.

  The sandy blonde girl moved forward and beamed, extending a hand. “Hey! Great to meet you, I’m Lisa, this is Mira.”

  The girl addressed as Mira shook their hands in turn. “Charmed.”

  Anise found herself staring once more, not least because Lisa’s mischievous expression seemed to indicate an identical level of interest to her own. She also had severe difficulties not staring directly at the beautifully rounded chest facing her. “I’m Anise, nice to meet you!”

  Isla nodded. “I’m Isla. How’s it going?”

  Anise immediately interrupted proceedings with a comment. “Uh, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but I don’t recognise either of you. I thought I’d learned about most of the idols here…”

  “We transferred in a few months back. We’ve kind of been floating about the colonies for the last few years,” Lisa said, vaguely waving a hand around.

  Mira shifted position, her every movement watched hawkishly by Isla. “Lisa’s father moves about a lot, so we decided it might be fun to go along for the ride.”

  This made Anise metaphorically punch herself several times. “How did I miss two cuties like you? Aaah, I really am slipping, Isla was right!” Throwing her arms up theatrically – as though asking Fate why he hated her – she lamented to the universe at large; her normally-fortuitous hair had failed her.

  “You ain’t living this one down for a while,” Isla said pleasantly, plainly hinting that this might be held over her friend’s head at some unspecified point in the future.

  Their new friends understandably looked confused, but Lisa had learned long ago to take life as it came and not worry much beyond that. She pointed at the door. “Anyway, we need to head back in. We’ll see you girls around!” Waving, she entered Amanda’s office, followed by a smiling Mira.

  “Jeez, Lisa is incredible …” Anise muttered, thinking this must have been how Isla felt earlier when she saw Luna. Shaking her head as if to remove these thoughts, she grasped her friend’s hand. “Right, let’s go check out our rooms.”

  Isla pointed along the hallway. “Lead on, O’ Failed One!”

  “You’re going to enjoy this, aren’t you…” Anise muttered.

  Back down the stairs to the foyer, outside, and onto the road network connecting the various areas of the island together, they took a casual saunter. Heading over to the left-most western side of the island where the dormitory building was located, Anise could finally take in their surroundings; most-especially all the idols.

  “Aaah, so many cute girls… idols on all sides, I’m surrounded by beautiful girls…!”

  Isla managed to contain her laughter for long enough to comment. “You really do love your idols, don’t you?”

  “Yep! It’s not like we have many at home, so mostly I’ve been restricted to looking at them on the stellarnet. But being right here among hundreds of adorable idols… ah, this is the best thing ever…!” Anise spun around a few times. “We’re really here, Isla, on Aida!”

  “We’re also in the middle of a road, so unless we want this to be a really short trip, we should probably get to the pavement,” Isla, the slightly more sensible of the two when Anise was gasming over idols, said.

  Approaching the western end of the campus, Isla spied something interesting. Four squat buildings in a square arrangement and pink stone paving in a cross-shape running between them. They were built from brilliant white stone to match the academy’s domes, and shiny black and silver metals were much in evidence.

  Isla fidgeted in excitement. “Isn’t this a shopping centre? There are shops here on the island? So we don’t have to travel all the way to the mainland just to get snacks?”

  A gentle sigh indicated that Anise probably needed to educate her friend again. “Yes, there are shops, among other amenities.”

  “What sort of amenities?” Isla asked, looking left and right excitedly.

  “There’s a salon, a swimming pool, a café and bar over the other end of the campus, all sorts. Didn’t you read the e-pamphlet we received? It was all in there.”

  “I skimmed it…”

  “Never one for study, were you? Well, now you know.”

  A little beyond the shopping district the sea calmly washed in and out of a small bay with three enormous black metal landing pads built out over the water in a triangle shape. Each was octagonal, some two-dozen metres across, and connected to the island via a series of walkways and staircases.

  They made their way up and around the bay, ignoring the empty landing pads for now. Then up from there to stand before the imposing dormitory building itself, situated near the northern edge of the island, far enough from the pads and well soundproofed enough for the resident idols not to be bothered by noise as flying vehicles came and went.

  “Is it just me, or does it feel like this should be the main academy building?” Isla said.

  Anise glanced up and shielded her eyes from the midday sun. “It’s pretty impressive, yeah.”

  Round like a doughnut – including the hole in the middle – the dormitory featured three storeys, constructed from sandy white bricks unique to this region of Aida, similar in size and shape to the red bricks used on Earth. Before them, a dark wooden porch through which they could reach the entrance doors, and immediately ahead in the foyer, two elevators. A staircase in the far left corner led to the second floor.

  “Guess we go up?” Isla said.

  “Yeah, Headmistress Lawson said we’re on the second floor, rooms thirty-four and thirty-six.” Anise led the way, taking the stairs for sheer novelty; steep stairs existed on Mars, but elevators took less room and were therefore the preferred choice where possible.

  They reached the top and Anise moved with purpose along a gently curved hallway with rooms to either side, scanning the number plates. She stopped at a door. “Here we are!”

  “I’m at the next one down?”

  “Yep.” Anise opened the glossy, jet black door and stepped inside. “Wow…”

  Isla peered around her. “This is really nice, I’m gonna go check mine out!” She moved down to the next door, unlocked it, and entered.

  Directly ahead a wide window had been opened to let some of the gentle summer breeze in. In the left corner, a wide single bed with crimson sheets. Under the window, a desk. And embedded in the right wall, an airtight and soundproofed sliding door. Isla pressed the small touch pad next to the door and beamed as it whooshed open to reveal an area between their two rooms.

  To the left, a door split down the centre to slide to either side, opening into a surprisingly spacious bathroom fitted with bath, toilet, and basin, nestled between their rooms. And to the right, an area with shelves and cupboards for shared toiletries, towels, and other essentials.

  Anise opened the sliding door on her side and stared at her friend. “Shared bathroom, it seems!” Her own room, visible behind her, was a mirror image of Isla’s, bed against the right wall rather than left.

  Isla entered the bathroom. “Wow, this is pretty posh for the size!”

  A frosted glass window occupied the centre of the wall above the bath, looking out over the central area and bathing the room in afternoon sunlight, highlighting several trillion dust motes.

  Isla waved a hand. “We should probably dust.”

  Entering behind Isla, Anise had a quick look around. Toilet to the left on entering, basin to the right, bath ahead. Compact yet spacious, and a handy shower attachment on the wall at the tap end of the bath.

  “Yeah, this is really nice, I actually thought we’d have communal bathrooms,” she said.

  “Maybe it’s to promote the idea of sharing and helping each other out?” Isla suggested.

  “Could be.”

  “Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t already know.”

  Anise shrugged and leaned against the doorframe. “It’s not really the sort of thing an academy for idols advertises in their publicity materials.” She switched to a TV announcer voice. “‘Come to Dreamstar Academy and experience real en-suite bathroom facilities!’ Doesn’t really work, does it?”

  This made Isla giggle. “Probably not, though personally I think having an en-suite is a huge selling point. Better than communal.”

  “Anyway, let’s get unpacked, I’m desperate to sit down already.” Anise wandered back through to her own room.

  Isla moved to her window and looked out. “Oh wow… hey, Anise, check out the view!” she called through.

  Anise did so. Their rooms looked out over the central area, green and lush with a well-manicured lawn. In the centre stood what appeared to be a sizeable – and circular, of course – gazebo, wooden with a set of steps leading up on each of the four cardinal directions.

  Inside, they could just make out a number of benches and tables, again arranged in a circular shape. Surrounding this structure, a circle of eight tall trees – some form of Aidan maple-equivalent with thinner foliage – provided a degree of privacy for the girls in the rooms facing into this area.

  “We’ll have to have lunch out there one day soon, Anise!” Isla yelled.

  “Sure!” Anise called back, and resumed unpacking. “And maybe some other things of an enjoyable nature…” she murmured in a suggestive tone, giggling to herself.

  Their other packages and suitcases had all arrived safely and were stored in the centre of each room, ready for unpacking, so the next hour was spent industriously settling in. Anise finished first, always the more efficient and pragmatic of the two – at least when she wasn’t lost in idol-related reveries – and sauntered through to the other room.

  “I wonder why this planet’s named Aida?” Isla said, neatly folding some cute underwear items she really should have grown out of several years ago. “I mean, I know it was named after someone, but I never really paid much attention beyond that.”

  Anise sat on Isla’s bed and watched her friend folding cute pants, though it was debatable which she was more interested in; her friend or her friend’s pants. “I guess you didn’t read Catherine Wong’s autobiography?”

  “No…”

  “You really should, it’s a great book.”

  “So you could say it’s… Wong of me not to read it?” Isla suggested, placing another item on her growing pile of cute pants.

  Anise sighed. “Not the puns, Isla…”

  “Sorry, I’ll behave, carry on!” Isla said, chuckling at her best friend’s mildly annoyed features. “And make it the abridged version, please.”

  Sometimes Isla’s puns really wore Anise down. She shrugged and leaned back, staring vacantly at the ceiling. “Basically… it all boils down to love.”

  “Love?”

  “Yeah. Catherine was a Chinese woman, one of the first people to use hyperspace to explore the new frontier. She went into space in one of the new explorer ships we’d been cranking out for the last couple of decades after discovering hyperspace, and spent nearly ten years charting nearby star systems.”

  “That’s some dedication!”

  “Especially so when you consider that she left her own girlfriend back on Earth.”

  “Wait… girlfriend?”

  Anise grinned at her friend’s flushed cheeks. “Girlfriend. One of the first and most prominent explorers of probably the most important period in human history was a lesbian.”

  Isla took a brief break from folding underwear and sat on the bed. “Wasn’t that something like a hundred years ago now? How the hell did Earth manage to remain so… backward?”

  “No idea. Inertia, maybe. The longer something exists, the more resistant it becomes to change. I guess Earth was still steeped in the old world, all those old beliefs and superstitions and things. Or maybe they just didn’t want to change, we’ll probably never know. History isn’t really the most reliable thing.”

  “I get the feeling the colonies happened as quickly as they did because people wanted out,” Isla said darkly.

  “Probably! Anyway, back to your question. Catherine’s girlfriend was a Japanese woman called Misaki Aida, and if you take the Japanese words ‘Ai da’ literally, it means ‘It’s love’. Catherine fell in love with the new world she’d just discovered, her girlfriend’s name popped into mind… and the rest is history.”

  “So she basically named it after her girlfriend, the rest was a happy coincidence? That’s really sweet!”

  “Yep. Take a guess what Misaki’s profession was!”

  “Mm…”

  “Here’s a hint: we probably wouldn’t be here without her.”

  “An idol?”

  “One of the most popular and successful idols ever. She was a large part of why the second idol boom happened. So we owe both of them a lot, their legacy lives on in literally everything we’re going to do here.”

  “Wow…” Isla finished folding things and stowed them in the top drawer of a dresser at the foot of the bed. A spacious built-in wardrobe occupied the space next to this, so she unpacked her clothes and put them away in there.

  “Some of their descendants are here on Aida as well,” Anise added.

  Isla’s expression morphed into one of surprise. “How’s that even possible? Or did they adopt?”

  “Isla… you really didn’t listen to anything in school, did you?”

  “Sorry, this is a whole new world to me, and I don’t just mean Aida. It’s not something I’ve thought to look into before!”

  Anise giggled. “Well that’s okay, you’re right that it’s not something most people would look into unless it affected them personally. And no, they didn’t adopt, they used techniques pioneered early last century which allowed them to, for want of a better phrase, conceive naturally.”

  “So it’s possible we could run into one of them while we’re here?”

  “Maybe! They probably just want to be left in peace, though, so let’s not go searching them out.”

  Isla’s expression morphed once more, this time into incredulity. “I know exactly how much you love idols, Anise, you’re not being very convincing.”

  This made Anise crack up. “Busted, huh? Yeah, I’d love to meet them. I want to learn everything I possibly can about idols. But I do understand there are boundaries, don’t worry.”

  “Well… okay.”

  Isla was naturally sceptical of her best friend, knowing full-well how passionate she was for absolutely everything involving cute female idols. Whether that be their history, the current idols working in the industry, or the future of idoldom in general. On the other hand, she also wasn’t a creepy stalker or anything, so Isla gave her the benefit of the doubt.

  A knock at Anise’s door interrupted their chat. She stood and walked through to her room. “Looks like we’re popular already!”

  Isla smiled inwardly and continued hanging clothes. “I doubt that, this soon after arriving.”

  Anise opened her door to find two unexpected arrivals. “Lisa! Wasn’t expecting to see you again. Hi, Mira!”

  Lisa beamed. “Greetings! We are technically here on official academy business, so I’m on my best behaviour. So Mother tells me.” Her faux formal tone was clearly at odds with the wholly relaxed girl they had met earlier.

  Mira stifled a quiet laugh. “Lisa doesn’t do so well with being serious.”

  “You can relax in private, right?” Anise said, moving to one side and inviting them in.

  “Thought you’d never ask,” Lisa said, and slid into the room with Mira.

  “We’re in Isla’s room while she finishes unpacking.” Anise led them through the connecting doors.

  Isla looked around from the wardrobe and greeted the new arrivals. “Hey again! Feel free to crash on my bed.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, still fussing.

  They did so, and Lisa immediately asked a question. “Settling in okay so far?”

  “Great, thanks,” Anise said.

  “Glad to hear it. Mum told you that you’d be getting a mentor each for the next week, yes?” Lisa received a nod from Anise in response. “Well, you’re lookin’ at them!”

  Isla closed the wardrobe and sat with Anise. To make room, Mira shifted herself over to the chair tucked under Isla’s desk.

  Making herself comfy, Isla turned to Lisa. “Didn’t you say you only came here recently yourselves?”

  “Ah, don’t let that fool you,” Lisa said with a knowing wink.

  Mira crossed a shapely leg over the other and leaned back comfortably. “Indeed, we’ve been active idols for several years now, working some of the colonies, spaceports, star bases. Anywhere we could.”

  “We’ll be here to help you settle in, and to help you both decide on your direction.” Lisa tugged her phone out. “I’ll be taking your numbers, if you please.” A brief bout of giggling – mostly from a lightheaded Anise – as they exchanged S-Mail and other contact details, and Lisa put it away again. “Right, any questions you’d like to ask?”

  Isla raised a hand. “I was interested in how many girls are at the academy.”

  “Four-hundred, I think?” Anise said.

  “Close. Four-hundred girls, yes, but four-hundred-and-twenty rooms in the dorm,” Lisa corrected her. “Mum’ll never turn prospective new students away if she can help it, and the dorm was built with a little extra capacity for just that reason. The two of you wouldn’t even be here otherwise, we’re more or less full. At least officially.”

  Isla’s eyes widened with wonder. When Anise had suggested a couple of months previously – sending messages back and forth between Earth and Mars – that the two of them should try out to enter this Academy, Isla had believed herself to be wholly incapable of such things. And now it seemed they had been doubly blessed; without the extra space available they couldn’t even have entered.

  Lisa crashed out full-length on the bed, propping herself up on an arm. Anise verged on hyperventilation at this point; Lisa’s breasts continued to taunt her.

  “Students drop out, graduate early, move for reasons beyond their control, all sorts,” Lisa continued. “It fluctuates pretty regularly, but at full capacity there are normally around four-hundred idols here. And right now, thanks to you two, there are a couple more.”

  “And you’re the headmistress’s daughter? Did you have any trouble getting in, or wasn’t this place full at the time?” Anise asked.

  “I receive no special treatment,” Lisa said. “We had to go through the usual exams and things, same as anyone else.”

  Mira sniggered. “Quite the reverse, I think Amanda probably rides your delicious ass more than any other girl here.”

  “Probably!” Lisa jumped off the bed and moved to sit in Mira’s lap, leaning down to peck her on the lips as thanks for the nice compliment.

  Anise’s eyebrows levitated. She pointed between them. “Hang on, are you two…?”

  Mira’s expression could best be described as suggestive. “Best friends. And a little more when the mood takes us.”

  “What she’s not mentioning is that the mood takes us most nights,” Lisa said, chuckling as Isla blushed. She moved back to the bed.

  Anise grinned, almost manically. “I so made the right decision to come here.”

  This elicited an appraising look from Lisa. “Oho? Interesting, maybe I’ll be talking to you some more about this a little later, Anise. I’m paired with you, incidentally, Mira here will be helping Isla.”

  “Anything you need, just ask,” Mira said.

  Isla again raised a hand. “So if you’re the headmistress’s daughter, will you be taking over the academy one day? I guess not, but I really have no idea how this would work…”

  Lisa gave a brief head shake. “Nah, I won’t be taking over or anything, it’s not like an inheritance or something. I have zero interest in doing so anyway, Mum knows that.”

  “What are you interested in doing?” Anise asked.

  “Music production,” Lisa said, pointing at her. “Made a name for myself across half a dozen worlds as a DJ playing all sorts of electronic music, but I’ve always loved tinkering with production. So that’s what I decided to do.”

  “So one day you could end up writing songs for us to sing?” Isla said.

  “Maybe! That’d be the dream, certainly. That, and being able to play more of my own music at live events. I’ve got two albums out already, more planned.”

  “Must be nice to have a solid idea of your direction,” Isla said, her soft tone conveying a hint of depression.

  Mira leaned far enough forward to gently touch a hand to her leg. “That’s why we’re here.”

  Lisa placed her own hand on Isla’s shoulder. “Exactly. We only decided to transfer in now because of the eighteen year minimum age requirement, and we’d spent the last year moving around so much with Dad that we didn’t think the time was right. But just because we’ve only been here a few months doesn’t mean we’re unable to guide you.”

  Isla perked up. “Thanks, both of you!”

  Lisa leaned forward to get a good look at Anise. “Mum says you’re hoping to produce and direct music videos?”

  “Yep! At least partially. I love learning about idols in general, but that’s more a hobby. My real passions are music and video, so I figured putting the two together would be a good plan. Oh, and photography! I thought maybe I could do something with that, too.”

  Lisa held Anise’s gaze for a few moments, smiling pleasantly. “I have the feeling we’re going to get along well. And we can certainly help you with that, no problem. Though the photography thing… mm, yeah, I’m not sure about that, not really my area, sorry.”

  “That’s okay, I’m sure I’ll be able to figure something out,” Anise said.

  “What about you, Isla? Thought about what you’d like to do?” Mira asked.

  “Thought about, yes. Still not sure beyond that. Anise mentioned earlier that being a pure idol might suit me, though,” Isla said. “Uh, a Personadol?”

  “Personadol as a term isn’t used so much these days, but personally I like it,” Mira said, smiling warmly.

  “In that case, let me tell you a bit about your options,” Lisa said. “The academy trains, promotes, and mediates. Sets up auditions, puts students into contact with producers, directors, and others in need of talent, and all manner of other useful things. It’s called an academy, but really it’s more of an agency with a few trappings of education.”

  Mira cut in here. “The main academy buildings have all sorts of useful facilities, by the way. My partner has a workshop there, for example. I’ll introduce you to her one day soon, she’s always happy to meet new vict… I mean, subjects.”

  Anise let out a hesitant laugh. “I feel worried, all of a sudden.”

  Waving a hand, Mira shook her head and laughed. “Sophie’s a lovely girl, you don’t need to worry. But as a designer she’s… pretty intense.”

  Lisa chuckled at this. “I let her design a stage outfit for me a couple of months back. Felt more worn out than if I’d just had an all-nighter with Mira.”

  An appreciable increase in the local temperature indicated Isla’s face verged on melting down at such steamy comments. “You’re a very open girl, aren’t you, Lisa?”

  “Yep, I see absolutely no point beating about the bush with what I like.”

  “Might also be worth having Azusa take a look at you,” Mira added, doing her best not to openly laugh at her new friend’s glowing cheeks. “She’s Sophie’s apprentice, a real talent already. Kind of hyper and a bit clumsy, but she’ll also design for free to gain experience.”

  “Good idea, it’s worth having custom-made outfits, makes you stand out from the crowd,” Lisa said. “Anyway, back to what I was saying, being an idol is like…” She paused to ‘um’ and ‘ah’ for a moment as she worked out the best way to explain this to a new girl like Isla. “Okay, at its simplest you can think of it like a framework. The basis on which to build other things. With me so far?”

  Isla made an ‘okay’ symbol. “Yep.”

  “Right. So this framework opens up new avenues for you, new disciplines, new paths, whatever you want to call them. Like me? I’m into music and audio production, largely electronic stuff. So I’m building those things on top of my idol framework, using connections I’ve made in the business to further those interests.”

  “And I’m both a model and producer, so I focus myself heavily on jobs that involve runway walking and modelling,” Mira said.

  Isla’s face lit up. “You’re a producer?”

  Mira gave an almost imperceptible nod. “I am. I coordinate outfits, set up meetings and events, deal with agencies… basically helping other idols to be their best. There’s more to it than just that, but we can get into specifics later if you’re interested.”

  “You mentioned pure idols, right?” Lisa said, finding her thread. “By doing that you’ll focus on variety shows, live stage events, singing, dancing… basically just being yourself. Never underestimate the power of personality, Isla, it can be the best weapon in your arsenal.”

  “Using your own personality is advised, but it’s also possible to build a new one,” Mira said.

  “Well, let’s not confuse her with character idols for now,” Lisa said, chuckling.

  Mira indicated with a brief hand wave that this was probably a good idea.

  “In any case, an idol’s fans want to see more of her, both public and private,” Lisa said. “The different personae she wears, to use the term you mentioned. And tapping into the goodwill of your followers is a great way to get a leg up on other interests.”

  Anise piped up again. “I said to Isla earlier that Luna started out as a pure idol, but she does much more than that now.”

  Lisa pointed at her. “Yep.” She changed focus to Isla. “So you liked her? What was it about her that took your fancy?”

  “Everything! She’s so pretty and her eyes shone like the moon and she’s got an amazing body and that gorgeous dark hair and…” Isla stopped and let out a brief cough. “I’d love to see her live one day, I’m sure those billboard holograms don’t do her justice.”

  Lisa chuckled at Isla’s steamed up expression. “Seems you’ve got a bit of a crush! Though to be fair, pretty much everyone fancies Luna. As a pure idol, she used her personality and looks to build a loyal following of fans, then leveraged that success to break into movies, TV work, even playing a couple of sports at close to competitive levels. She’s crazy dedicated. You’ll need to put one-hundred-and-twenty percent in just to snap at her heels.”

  “I might’ve underestimated what being an idol involved…” Isla muttered.

  “There’s more to it than merely making people smile, though that’s also important,” Lisa said, turning unusually serious. “For every idol who succeeds, a dozen more fail, and hundreds more than that don’t even get the chance. Being an idol means being the best there is. Mum wouldn’t have admitted you entry if she didn’t see something in you. Something I can see as well, incidentally. You just need to find it and make it shine.”

  Anise slipped an arm around her best friend’s waist. “You understand now, though, right?”

  “Much better than I did before we left Mars. I think I owe all three of you an apology, I wasn’t taking this as seriously as I should’ve been.” Isla looked mildly downcast, ashamed of accepting a position at what was plainly a prestigious academy-cum-agency, while having effectively no idea as to the level of commitment required of those who attended.

  Aida was the place to be for anyone with an interest in any of the arts, both old and new; television – sometimes known as stellarvision, thanks to being transmitted across the stars – music, movies, idols, stage shows, Aida had them all. A whole planet dedicated to entertainment in all its various guises, supplying talent to the entirety of the human realm across a dozen planets and hundreds of outposts and colonies. Isla understood now that she had been silly to underestimate a place like that.

  “You don’t need to feel bad about it,” Lisa said. “Not everyone knows what they want to do with their life, and sometimes it requires a bit of a kick up the ass to figure that out. I’m always available for a bit of butt kicking, by the way. And potentially other things involving your butt, just putting that out there.”

  Isla managed a smile despite her cheeks steaming like those antique kettles she had once seen. “I’ll bear that in mind, Lisa, thanks. Other than Luna, what sort of competition am I looking at?” Figuring herself to be way behind Anise already, she needed to play catch-up.

  A marginally evil grin appeared on Lisa’s lips. “Competition? Intense and more or less non-stop. Don’t worry too much about girls who aren’t doing what you are doing, but you also shouldn’t ignore them. Idols develop new interests and talents over time, and one of those you ignored could end up doing something you’re engaged in now. Finding a niche is a good way to stay on top, and simply working harder than everyone else works, too.”

  “You can also team up with potential rivals, that’s a perfectly valid tactic,” Mira said. “Mostly people are happy to have a friend or rival to train with. By constantly challenging each other, you’ll both be pushed to new heights.”

  “Don’t let your guard down, though,” Lisa said. “Oh sure, people are friendly and polite, and most of the time everyone is really sporting about the whole thing. But make no mistake, either of you, you’ll be competing at the very highest levels with top talent from a dozen worlds. Aida and the academy here simply allow you a useful head start, they don’t guarantee success. That’s on your heads.”

  “I said to Anise earlier that there’s a lot to take in and learn. Pretty sure that might be the understatement of the year,” Isla said, her brows furrowing.

  “Now you know why you both have a mentor for the next week,” Mira said.

  Jumping off the bed, Lisa stretched, then beamed at her new friends. “Righto, we should get going and let you settle in properly. Any problems or questions, give us a call.”

  Mira joined her and they exited, wishing their brand new friends – and potentially rivals – a pleasant evening.

  Meanwhile, Anise had some difficulties thinking straight. “The way Lisa’s hair sparkles as she walks… aaah…”

  “Shall I set idolgasm alert level to max?” Isla said, a half-smile on her lips.

  Anise snapped back to reality with a discrete cough. “No, that’s okay, thanks.”

  These enthusiastic outbursts of Anise’s always amused Isla. Her best friend’s predilection for perving over idols – though Anise would probably call it research – resulted in her regularly entering the misty-eyed state she had termed idolgasming.

  Returning to her own room, Anise waved and closed the connecting door, wanting a little privacy for a time. Isla knew better than to ask why she wanted some privacy for a time; she had seen how her friend looked at Lisa, after all.

  The rest of the evening was spent between putting things away and occasionally sitting together to chat about their direction from here on out, before getting an early night in hopes of combatting the worst effects of the inevitable hyperlag.

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