StarCrossed Chapter 13
Greyspace. Big Joe's Spacestation.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day:12. Time: 5:24 P.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
Tartingill stared wistfully at the plate on the table before him. Supposedly it was chicken... In reality, it was the worst meat substitute he'd ever had the misfortune of placing in his mouth.
It had been a month, now... Almost a month, anyway, since he'd left Terrenus VII. A little less than a month since he had returned to Mysticia; since he had been fired. He'd performed poorly, he was told. He had not collected enough money for the Empire. He was even suspected of skimming off the top. Not that that would have been such a bad thing, if he had been able to get results. But he had failed, and he had been fired. His family had magnanimously offered to stand by him while he was unemployed... as long as they didn't have to support him financially.
There was surprisingly little opportunity for new employment on Mysticia. Those who worked for the Empire had their names put into a file, which chronicled their successes... and failures. According to that file, he had been fired for "incompetence and suspected thievery." Given that all potential employers had access to this file, it was unsurprising that his interviewers had respectfully turned him down.
And then Tartingill's family came through for him. They were involved in a good deal of trade, and had need of a pilot to ferry cargo. It was simple work, but Tartingill needed the money. Besides, he wasn't really qualified for anything else.
Currently he was in a Greystation, en route to some planet that he had never heard of. It was not where he would have chosen to be, but Tartingill had long ago realized that he had little choice in the direction his life took. It was almost as if someone had planned out Tartingill's life for him long ago, and never bothered to ask his opinion.
And it was on that thought that Tartingill realized he was no longer alone at the table. There was a man sitting across from him, looking at nothing in particular. He seemed to be Human, with brown hair. There wasn't anything particularly interesting about his appearance; he had medium-length hair, an unremarkable face, and a rather drab outfit a few years out of date. Even his expression was... expressionless.
Tartingill looked at the man, surprised to find him sitting there. He cleared his throat, trying to catch his unexpected guest's attention. The man didn't react. He simply continued to stare slightly to the left of Tartingill's head.
Confused, Tartingill turned to see what this stranger was looking at. There was a table full of rather seedy-looking men, but he didn't think that they were what he was staring at. He looked back at the man. Still staring. He cleared his throat again.
Now that the looking and throat-clearing was done, Tartingill turned to the third option in his repertoire: he turned slightly so that he was clearly facing away from the man. He wanted it to be unambiguously obvious that he was ignoring this stranger.
And so he ignored him. And ignored him. He ignored the man more forcefully than he had ignored anybody in his life.
A glance showed that the man still sat there.
Tartingill began to feel that he was running out of options. He picked up a fork, but couldn't bring himself to eat with that man not staring at him. Irritated, he slammed the fork down on the table, and rose from his seat.
"You did not leave yet," said the man in a curiously... detached voice. Surprised, Tartingill looked down at the stranger. The man hadn't looked up, nor did he have any expression on his face. Tartingill began to doubt that the voice had come from him, until the stranger continued, "You would have missed an important part."
Tartingill looked around just to make sure there was nobody else to whom the man might be speaking. "Um... excuse me?"
"If you didn't watch this next part, you would not have understood the rest."
"I don't understand you," Tartingill replied. "I'm afraid I must be going."
"If you didn't stay and watch, you would never have found the one-armed woman."
"Why would I want to find..." Tartingill paused. "Wait, you know Crystal?"
"She had many names," the man replied, still without changing expression or even looking up. "McKenna was but a garment she wore."
Tartingill sat down. "How do you know her? Who are you?"
The stranger finally looked up at Tartingill, and Tartingill found himself dropping heavily into the chair. Those eyes... Tartingill was not a poetic man, but he would have compared the experience of meeting the stranger's gaze with being hit between the eyes with a hammer of liquid fire. The man's eyes were a tame brown color, but there was power behind that gaze, a sort of burning... determination? Anger?
"I was Malachi," the stranger said quietly. "And I would not meet her until later. I had always known her, just as I had always known him. As I had always known you, Tartingill."
His eyes lowered to avoid the man's gaze, Tartingill shook his head. "I've never met you in my life. I don't know you, and I don't understand what you're talking about." He sighed. "Besides, I don't want to see Crystal again, anyway. I doubt she likes me very much right now, and I hardly need to be associating with criminals."
Malachi's expression and tone didn't change. "None of that mattered. By this point, it was too late to change the way things had to be." He pointed at one of the doors. "You were to pay attention to this."
A sudden explosion rocked the station, blowing the doors of the restaurant inward. Tartingill immediately ducked under his table as energy blasts streamed through the doorway. A moment later, three armed men backed in through the entrance, firing back at an unseen enemy. They ducked around the edge of the doorway to take cover from the constant blasts assailing them.
Tartingill looked around wildly, terrified. It was then that he realized that Malachi was still sitting in his chair, as if there weren't blasts of energy flying every which way. He reached up and pulled the man under the table with him.
"What's going on?" Tartingill shouted over the sounds of energy tearing through the air.
"This is when they freed her," Malachi replied quietly. Strangely, his voice carried easily over the noise. He pointed, and Tartingill's gaze followed his finger to a woman. She was hand-cuffed and kneeling on the floor. By the way the three armed men were stationed with their backs to her, it seemed as if they were protecting her.
It was then that something clattered to the ground. One of the three armed men shouted, and another grabbed the woman and bodily threw her-
Tartingill shielded his face with one arm as the grenade exploded and threw the men off their feet. He cautiously lowered his arm to find the woman only a few feet from him, a cut on her forehead bloodying her face. Two of the armed men were down, and the third was barely standing, though he was still firing through the doorway. Whoever had thrown that grenade was apparently still being cautious, as they hadn't tried to advance into Tartingill's view. They were probably planning to come into the restaurant through one of the other entrances.
Tartingill was afraid. Judging by this woman's bonds, she was a prisoner of MysPol. He had sympathy for her, knowing that MysPol could be corrupt. He found himself feeling some outrage at MysPol for daring to throw a grenade into a public restaurant. Obviously, these three men had tried to rescue her. She had to be someone important, then. Tartingill knew it would be in his best interest to simply stay under the table and hope he wasn't caught in the crossfire.
The woman turned then, and time seemed to slow. She had long black hair, this woman. She was a Human, perhaps in her early forties, but still attractive. Their eyes met. She had blue eyes. Fear-filled eyes.
"Oh, hell," Tartingill muttered to himself, and crawled out from under the table. He helped her to her feet. "Come with me," he shouted, and she hesitated only a moment before nodding. He ran to the restaurant's other exit, pulling her with him. Off to one side, he saw the last remaining armed man look over at them, then continue to fire. He was going to hold MysPol at that entrance.
Tartingill and the woman burst through the door and ran down the hall. Tartingill had expected the bound woman to slow him down, but either through fear or through natural speed she kept pace with him. They passed several turns, each leading to different areas of the Greystation. Tartingill was aiming for his ship.
They made a left turn and found themselves standing before three men in MysPol uniforms, armed with Peacemakers, MysPol's favorite weapons. They looked surprised to see Tartingill and the woman, however, while Tartingill had expected to see them sooner or later. He used the element of surprise to raise his palm toward them and shout something incoherent. His hand flashed with light, blinding the officers. They all raised their weapons, though, and Tartingill decided to retreat.
As he ran back the way he had come with the now-partially-blinded woman, it occurred to him that those officers blocked the only way to his ship. This was why, when he spotted Malachi walking along another hallway, he turned to follow. Malachi moved so slowly, however, that Tartingill actually grabbed his arm with his free hand and pulled the strange man along with him.
"Where's your ship?" he asked desperately.
"It was docked at the seventh hall on the left," Malachi replied calmly.
Tartingill nodded and ran on, making the requisite turn just as he heard MysPol behind them. The three came to the airlock and quickly passed through it into the ship. Tartingill forcibly pushed Malachi in what he hoped to be the direction of the cockpit. "Get us out of here!" he shouted.
The cabin in which they stood held three comfortable-looking chairs, and by the time Tartingill and the woman had collapsed on two of them, the ship was already undocking. In moments they were moving at full speed, and a few moments later Tartingill felt the familiar tingle accompanied by a ship's passage through a darkgate. They were in darkspace now, regular space, and MysPol would have little to no chance of finding them any time soon. Shouting distance in Greyspace translated to light minutes in real space.
"Thank you," the woman said suddenly, interrupting Tartingill's collapse into exhaustion. He looked up, having almost forgotten she was there. She had no expression on her face, but her tone was grateful.
Tartingill tried to reply, but at that moment it occurred to him what he had just done. His mouth seemed to freeze halfway to forming a word. He stayed like that.
The woman gave him a strange look, but realized he wouldn't be saying anything anytime soon.
A few minutes later, Malachi stepped into the well-decorated cabin. "We were safe here," he said in his perfectly calm voice. He didn't make eye contact with either the Mystic nor the woman. "This was helpful," he continued, holding up a small metal rod. The woman immediately recognized it, because she brought her cuffed hands closer and allowed him to insert it in the keyhole.
After a moment, the cuffs came undone, and the woman leaned back, rubbing her wrists. "Thank you," she said. "May I ask who you are?"
"I was Malachi," the Human replied, "and he was Tartingill," he said, pointing at the Mystic. Tartingill's face remained frozen.
She looked somewhat confused. "You 'were' Malachi?" When he didn't reply, she indicated Tartingill with a nod of her head. "Will he be alright?"
"He was fine," replied Malachi. "He was just shocked because he hadn't done anything that brave or foolish before."
"How long have you two been in the Movement?" asked the woman.
Tartingill finally managed to recover. "Movement? The Freespace Movement? I have nothing to do with them."
She looked surprised. "Then why did you help me?"
Tartingill almost mentioned her blue eyes, but held back. "Eh... I don't... really know... Why, are you a member of the Movement?"
The woman smiled slightly, the most expression she'd shown so far. "I am Sarien Havergal, first Councilwoman of Hyg. You have the Movement's grati-" She stopped, amazed at Tartingill reaction.
He was laughing. Something had snapped inside him as he realized that he would never understand his life. He would never know what was going on. Whatever the plan was for his life, he had no say in it. The only person who seemed to understand was the complete stranger staring at him expressionlessly with oddly overpowering brown eyes.
Tartingill laughed, and wasn't sure he could stop.
Time: 8:24 P.M.
Tartingill took another swig of brandy, and grimaced at the burn. He wasn't normally a drinker, but he was having trouble dealing with the day's events. No doubt his ship had already been seized by MysPol, and his face had probably been sent out to every station on every world.
He chuckled. "My life's over. And it only took five minutes."
"Your life did not end this day," Malachi said abruptly, surprising Tartingill, who had forgotten that the strange man was even in the cabin with him. "This was when your new life began."
Tartingill frowned. "It's surprising how much that doesn't improve my mood."
"You should not have worried."
"Well, I am worried." He took another drink. "Why do you speak like that, anyway? Do you just not know how to speak in the present tense?"
"The pages of my life have already been written, Tartingill. I spoke as one who has read the end of my book."
"What are you talking about?"
"I was known as a Farseer. Farseers have all been able to see the flow of time."
"Are you saying you can see the future?"
Malachi cocked his head. "I have never known a future... only a past. Your present was but a memory for me."
"So... you knew you'd run into me at that Greystation." Malachi nodded. "And you knew that those Movement members would try to rescue Sarien." Another nod. "And you knew I'd try to rescue her."
Malachi seemed to hesitate. "My book has been written, Tartingill, but yours has not. Some pages were yours to write, not mine."
Tartingill frowned. "So you didn't know what I'd do for sure. Were you hoping I'd rescue her?"
Malachi rose from his seat. "I was tired. It was time for us to sleep."
"Malachi," Tartingill called, and the man turned to glance back at the Mystic. "Why?"
The Farseer had no answer.
Day: 14. Time: 2:03 P.M.
"What is this device that you construct?" the nameless one asked, not looking up from his meditative position. He could hear his fellow bodyguard tinkering on the other side of the room. He currently spoke Mystician; the woman could have conversed with him in his native tongue, but the nameless one really was more comfortable with Mystician.
"It's an arm," she replied absently, without slowing her work.
"A prosthesis?" he asked.
She shook her head. He couldn't see her, but his antennae picked up the subtle sounds of her hair (which was longer than it had been when first they met) shifting. She knew he heard. "No, cybernetic. It will attach to the nerves of my arm, so that it will move almost as well as my own."
He nodded. Biology was not his strong suit, but it sounded reasonable. It also sounded like a painful process, but of course he did not say so; he would not shame her.
"Don't worry," she said, nearly catching him by surprise. "It's safe enough. I think I've done it before. And don't be so surprised. I can read your antennae like a book."
His antennae quivered slightly with amusement. "And the second device?"
"An eye," she replied. "It's smaller, but it's much more intricate. It'll probably take longer than the arm."
"And the third?"
There was silence for a moment, and the nameless one's antennae lowered until they were almost horizontal; an apology for prying.
"It's alright," she replied. "I just didn't know how to respond. I'm not... completely sure what it is. I think it's a weapon. But there's no power source or anything, and I really don't understand how it could work. The internal mechanisms don't even mesh with any sort of technology I've ever seen. Hell, I don't even understand it."
"Why do you build it?"
She hesitated. "I saw it in a dream. I know it's silly, but I saw this blueprint in my sleep, and when I woke up, it was as clear in my mind as day. I wrote it up before it faded. I can't help but feel like something's missing, though."
The nameless one nodded. "There is a saying among the Dashor Sal. 'Truth speaks in dreams.' If there is something missing, you will find it."
"Kindness is its own wisdom," she replied, quoting another Dashor Sal proverb in its original wording. The nameless one's antennae laid back along his head; he was blushing. He unconsciously adjusted his scarf, the one article of clothing that he or most Dashor Sal wore. It covered his mouth, the only Dashor Sal organ not normally covered by carapace.
She worked in silence for a few minutes longer, then sighed. "All right, I won't keep you waiting any longer. Let's go."
The nameless one rose smoothly and they left the room.
Time: 2:24 P.M.
They stood facing eachother, the Dashor Sai and the human woman. They were in a room, fifteen feet by fifteen feet, usually used to hold cargo. However, the Blue Star currently held no cargo (illegal or otherwise), and so the room was open for use. It was preferable to their own, smaller rooms.
Neither of them stood straight, of course; the woman bounced on the balls of her feet, her knees bent slightly, and the Dashor Sai squatted, ready to dodge or pounce. His two shoulder appendages moved back and forth, as if prepared to stab with their sharp tips.
She made the first move, leaping forward faster than most humans could see, throwing a left hook. He was used to her speed, however, and jumped to her right... the side where she had no arm. His right shoulder appendage, longer than his "arm," swept up to strike her face.
Her punch brought her into a spinning duck, bringing her head below his attack and simultaneously allowing her to throw her leg out in a sweep, knocking his lower appendage out from under him. Using the weight of his other appendages, he regained his balance quickly, allowing him to leap back and away from her rising uppercut.
She immediately turned the uppercut into a side kick, which he blocked with both of his upper-left appendages. Such was the force of the kick, however, that he was knocked backward, his back smacking into a wall.
He leapt straight up to avoid a second kick, and grabbed onto the wall behind him. His "fingers" and "toes" secreted a sticky substance, allowing him to grasp the sheer wall. Meanwhile, his shoulder appendages both stabbed downward. She fluidly dodged one and grabbed the other. With a grunt, she pulled him from the wall and threw him.
He hit the floor on his feet, unharmed, and turned to leap at her... The heel of her foot was a scant inch from his face, her leg steady as iron. He nodded, and her leg slowly lowered.
"You were faster today," the nameless one said.
"I'm stronger than you are," she replied, "but you read me like a book last time. This time I knew I'd need to use my speed."
His head turned slightly, as if he was trying to bring one of his giant eyes closer to her. "You were fluid, as well. You moved like quicksilver," he told her. "Fluid but strong."
"Quicksilver," he affirmed. The word seemed to echo in the empty room.
Day: 15. Time: 9:24 A.M.
Rastaban entered the nameless one's room. "Vonraid," he said, glancing over his shoulder, "You speak to McKenna more than I do. Why is she walking around the ship without a shirt on?"
"It is Dashor Sal tradition," came the reply. "A new name must remain uncovered for one day." Of course, Dashor Sal rarely wore any clothing beyond the scarf, but since their carapace and wings normally covered the only part of their back soft enough to tattoo, Dashor Sal with new names spent the day with their wings spread. This served the dual purposes of showing the name and drawing attention to whoever had earned it. From her reaction, the nameless one imagined that removing part of her clothing would draw attention similarly.
"A new name? You mean that word tattooed on her back? Where did she get it, anyway?"
"I gave it to her. She has earned it."
"What does it say, anyway? She didn't stick around long enough for me to read it."
The nameless one was unsurprised; she had been willing to follow Dashor Sal tradition, but had hesitated more over being bare to the Mystic than the tattoo. "Quicksilver," he replied. "Her name is Quicksilver."
Mystician Empire. Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Utopia.
Day: 17. Time: 1:23 P.M.
Thyme forced himself to stop tapping on the table. The presence of Masan, sitting by him, was not quite comforting enough to alleviate his nervousness.
He was in a boardroom, sitting at a long table with Masan and two other men. One looked like Thyme himself, or at least like Thyme had looked three centuries ago, with dark hair, a handsome face, and a heart-breaking smile, though he was currently taking a drag from a cigarette. The other was tall and blond, with a smile that made Thyme want to hit him. Both were claimants to the name of Thyme Oregano.
The door slid open, and all inside looked up as three men entered. The first was a scientist, Dr. Holden, or Hodgkin or something like that. Thyme could not remember, which was strange considering that the man held information possibly vital to the fate of the Freespace Movement. Tucked beneath his arm was a large yellow folder.
The second man to enter was one Jerol Flyn, Second Councillor of Hyg's Council of Twenty. Since Councilwoman Havergal's recent disappearance, he had temporarily taken over as head of the Council. He was well-liked, and had done well despite a plague of recent troubles in Utopia. His brown hair was cut just so, and his expression was confident.
The third was the man Thyme would have preferred to remain elsewhere. He was Comfrey Oregano, the man whose genes might have held the proof of Thyme's identity. And from the minute he had first seen them, the three claimants who had not given up, he had immediately supported the blond man. Comfrey himself was tall and blond, though not as impressive-looking as the man he supported. No doubt he approved of a Thyme that looked like a more heroic version of himself.
Flyn and Comfrey sat down (Flyn on his own and Comfrey by the blond claimant), while the scientist remained standing. He placed his folder on the table without looking inside and cleared his throat. Everyone else waited expectantly. "We have finished the testing. This man," he said, pointing at the blond man next to Comfrey, "has by far the closest genetic makeup to Mr. Oregano's."
Thyme was stunned. He couldn't believe it. Comfrey began to congratulate "Thyme," announcing that he would single-handedly save the Movement. Masan seemed as surprised as Thyme himself. The dark-haired man seemed strangely impassive.
The scientist cleared his throat, interrupting Comfrey's congratulations. "However, it has come to our attention that this man is so closely related to Mr. Oregano that he could not possibly be an ancestor from 300 years ago. We suspect that he is, in fact, a cousin of Mr. Oregano's."
There was silence. Comfrey and his claimant of choice were stunned. Judging by Flyn's expression, Comfrey, being a member of the Freespace Military, was due for a possible court martial.
"So," said the other claimant, "it's down to the two of us, then, eh?" He sounded unfazed.
The scientist frowned. "The results are inconclusive. You, sir, have absolutely no relation to Mr. Oregano." He turned to Thyme... the real one. "You, however, have far too much genetic damage to determine any relation or lack thereof."
Thyme blinked, surprised. "Genetic damage? What do you mean?"
"Frankly, we've never seen anything quite like it." He seemed curious. "Your DNA is breaking down. Normally, this results in the aging process, but yours is unraveling so fast I'm surprised we can't hear your cells humming. Your metabolism has subsequently jumped, and you're aging at a highly accelerated rate."
"How accelerated?" Thyme could feel Masan's hand on his shoulder.
"You will probably die of old age within a year," replied the scientist quietly.
For a moment, Thyme was struck speechless. "The cryostasis," he managed finally. "It must have been the freezing." He considered this, then his eyes widened. "Masan! Masan was frozen, too! Will he be alright?"
The scientist frowned. "I'm not sure... An alien's physiology should be different from yours. I suppose we could run tests..."
Masan shook his head. "We'd know by now. I feel healthy as ever. Right, Thyme?"
Thyme nodded, with a reassuring smile.
"Well," said Flyn, speaking up for the first time, "I believe we have our answer. As you said, Professor, we've never seen anything like his genes, but we've never seen anyone frozen for so long either." He smiled. "Besides, his first concern was for the Finori. I believe we have found our rebel." He rose. "Mr. Oregano, I will notify the military of your presence. Someone will be in touch with you soon. I shall take my leave."
The others followed his example, leaving Thyme and Masan in the room alone. Thyme stared after them, a thoughtful expression on his face. It took him a while to realize Masan was calling his name.
"Do you think I'm... okay, Thyme?" His voice was anxious.
"Don't worry, Masan," replied Thyme, gently punching Masan's shoulder. "Like you said, we'd know by now if something was wrong. They let you out more often than me, remember? Plus, you've always been strong."
Masan smiled. "Well... this day wasn't all bad. At least Councilman Flyn supports us."
Thyme chuckled. "Councilman Flyn knew that I was the best choice. If no real Thyme had shown up in more than a month, then he had to choose the one with the most likely story. And with news of my freedom, he knew the Movement needed someone to be me."
"I guess you're right. As long he supports us, right?" He paused, saw that Thyme was frowning. "What's wrong?"
"He called you a Finori, Masan."
"So? That's what Thanatos called me, right?"
"Masan, has anyone else ever called you a Finori? Has anybody in the Empire known what you are?" His frown deepened. "The only other person that's known was Thanatos. And I don't trust either of them."
Time: 4:28 P.M.
Jerol Flyn sat at his desk, his expression calm. He was silent, though, and had been silent for ten minutes. The dark-haired man who had claimed to be Thyme Oregano only hours ago knew better than to speak up. When Flyn was thinking, he didn't want to be interrupted.
"Do you know what a Finori is?" Flyn asked abruptly.
The dark-haired man shook his head. "Nope. Didn't you say something about it back there?"
Flyn's expression tightened. "Yes. Yes, I did." He leaned back. "Thyme Oregano is going off to war. And you are going, too."
"Crystal... Malachi... Ransom... Was I caught in their whirlpool? Or were
they caught up in mine?"
-The Tartingill Manifesto