StarCrossed Chapter 14
Mystician Empire. Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Utopia.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 17. Time: 6:45 P.M., Freespace Time.
The airlock door slid open, and Thyme and Masan were surprised to find a banner strewn across the opposite wall of the Endless's main hall. It read "Congratulations!!" in big pink letters. Thyme smiled tiredly; he was exhausted from the news interviews he'd had to give today after it was publicly announced that Thyme Oregano had been found. Obviously Candy had been following the news, and had set up this banner to celebrate his recognition.
Indeed, a moment later Candy herself appeared in the hall, wearing one of the expensive and low-cut dresses she had bought in some of the nicer parts of Utopia. "Congratulations!" she cheered, and drew Thyme in for a hug. After a moment, she released him and bent over to hug a rather flustered Masan as well.
"I heard that the tests proved you were Thyme," she enthused, "so I made reservations at a restaurant. I bought some nice clothes for you and Masan to wear, and I put them on your beds. The reservation is for 7:30, so get ready!" And she skipped off before they could reply, with a little squeal of excitement.
Thyme and Masan glanced at each other wearily, shrugged, and walked off to their individual room. As Thyme entered his room, he saw the new outfit Candy had bought him and cringed. Modern fashions rubbed him the wrong way for some reason, and the embroidery on the back of the new jacket was no exception. Still, it was the same shade of blue as his current jacket. His train of thought was interrupted by a yawn.
"Tiamat," he called. When the computer indicated that it was listening, he continued, "I'm going to relax for a minute. If I fall asleep, wake me up at 7:10, okay?" The computer assented, and Thyme reclined on the bed.
Day:19. Time: 2:20 P.M.
Thyme's eyes opened. "Bluh," he articulated.
With effort he managed to rise to a sitting position. He was in bed, unclothed, and his mouth tasted as if someone had emptied a dustpan into it. He looked around, saw his clothes on a chair, along with the new clothes Candy had bought him. On the other chair sat Candy, wearing her work overalls now rather than the dress. She was asleep.
"Tia... mat," slurred Thyme, "how long have I... been out?"
"Forty-three hours and forty-one minutes, Captain Thyme. I attempted to awaken you as per your orders, but you would not wake. I called Ms. Corana in hopes that she could awaken you instead. She could not."
Thyme shook his head slightly. "Has she been in my room the whole time?"
"No, Captain Thyme. Since you fell asleep, she and Masan have been taking turns watching over you."
Thyme nodded to himself, and rose from the bed... with some effort. To his surprise, he found that the gnawing hunger he usually felt after sleeping was absent, or at least lessened. A plate on the floor indicated that perhaps Candy or Masan had awakened him enough to feed him.
He stretched. He felt stronger than he had in a week... but it had taken him almost two days to get enough rest to feel normal. Just more evidence of his genetic damage, he supposed. Would he require more and more sleep just to function? Perhaps he wouldn't die of a heart attack or injury; maybe he'd just go to sleep one night, and keep sleeping forever.
He hobbled over to one of the chairs and began to try to dress himself. He managed to get his pants halfway up before he noticed Candy watching him. With as much dignity as he could muster, he finished donning the pants. It occurred to him then that somebody had taken off his clothes while he slept, and it probably had not been Masan.
"How'd dinner go?" Thyme asked... well, croaked. His throat was dryer than dry.
Candy shrugged. "We canceled when we couldn't wake you up."
Thyme sat back on the bed, his shirt forgotten on the chair. "Sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"From what Masan tells me, I don't blame you."
Thyme winced. "Masan told you?"
Candy didn't immediately reply. Instead she toyed with a screwdriver sticking out of her pocket. "So, what do you have planned now?"
Surprised by the abrupt change of subject, Thyme considered. "Well, the Movement is having some real trouble in the Iron Sector. They want me to go and lend support with my ship and my name."
"I see," Candy replied. "And Masan will be going with you?"
The conversation came to an abrupt halt. Thyme slowly realized that Candy was waiting for something. In a moment, he thought he knew what it was.
"You know," he said, his tone casual, "the ship really isn't in shape for battle. We'll need a good mechanic to get it into fighting condition." He smiled. "Preferably one that looks good in overalls."
Candy smiled at the compliment, but it quickly faded. She averted her eyes and clasped her hands. "Thyme... as long as I can remember, I've wanted to go up into space, to travel to other planets. And now that I'm here... it's the same. It's just like Terrenus VII.
"I hoped that maybe Hyg would be better. Without the Empire around, Hyg's supposed to be some sort of paradise. But it's just as shitty as any planet in the Empire. What's the point in fighting if nothing's going to get better?"
"I don't know about Terrenus VII, but I'll agree that Hyg's pretty bad. From what I hear, there are a lot of planets in the Empire that just get ignored, and fall apart from neglect." Thyme sighed. "And Hyg doesn't seem to be much better. But the Movement is more than just Hyg. The Movement is a lot of people who are dedicated to taking down the Empire and replacing it with... I don't know, something. We've got to take down Asellus. We can consider what to replace her with afterward." He didn't mention that he might die of old age by that time.
Candy smiled slightly. "You're right, you know... about the ship. It couldn't fight a kitten right now. I'll do what I can before we leave... When do we leave?"
"They said to go as quickly as possible. Considering that we can get to the Iron Sector in an hour or two, I figured it wouldn't hurt if we waited a day or two. They gave us some money for parts, but not enough to overhaul the ship."
Candy nodded. "Two days should give me time to get some stuff done. Good."
She and Thyme stood, and she turned to leave. Thyme stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "Candy, one thing. I don't like needles." Candy stared at him, surprised. He continued, "If you're coming along, I suggest you get rid of any you may have in your room." His tone left no doubt as to his meaning.
Candy's expression tightened. "What makes you think I'm coming along?"
Thyme smiled slightly. "You don't have to come, of course. You can stay here if you want. But if you believe in a better future, and if you want to do your part to see it happen, you'll come along." She didn't react. He smiled. "Besides, I may need you to help me take these pants back off."
Candy finally smiled. "I was wondering if you'd ever make a move. What brought on such directness?"
"It seems I don't have as much time as I thought. I can't afford to waste it."
Candy nodded. "I've got work to do now. Maybe I'll help you with those pants after we leave Hyg." With a wink, she turned and left.
After she was gone, Tiamat asked Thyme if he needed Masan to help with his pants. Thyme declined.
Day: 20. Time: 9:15 A.M.
The Council doors flew open, revealing a solitary figure, still wearing her prison uniform. She stalked into the hall as if intending to pick a fight with whomever got in her way. Her first words to the gathered Councillors did little to dispel this impression.
"Somebody in this room set me up," she announced.
After a few moments of surprised silence, one man rose from his seat. "Well, Councillor Havergal. It is a pleasure to see you. If I may ask where you have been...?"
"Look at the uniform, Flyn," she replied angrily, walking up to the podium. "I've been in a MysPol ship, under lock and key, on the way to Mysticia. If it wasn't for several well-hidden Movement members and fortuitous timing, I wouldn't be here now."
A Councilman, one Jarved Hol, stood. "I'm horrified, Councillor Havergal. Had we known where you were, we would have put every effort into finding and rescuing you, you can be certain."
"Somebody did know where I was, Hol," Havergal replied. "MysPol was waiting for me at that Greystation. Somebody told them I would be there. And nobody knew I was scheduled to meet a Dominion envoy except for the people in this room."
Jerol Flyn, the Second Councillor, stood and approached Havergal. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "I swear, Sarien, that I will find whoever was responsible for your capture, whether it be someone in this room, or..." He indicated other possibilities with a displeased shrug.
Havergal nodded. But she didn't take her eyes off of him.
Time: 2:45 P.M.
Sitting on a bench in a dilapidated public park, Tartingill sighed. "You know, Malachi, as a Tax Collector, I've traveled the length of the Empire. And as I travel, I've noticed a pattern. The further out you get from Facinaturu, the worse the worlds are. Some are miniature dictatorships, some purely chaotic." He shook his head. "Seeing so many planets ignored, I guess I can understand why people might want to change things. But this place is no better than any planet I've been to... except maybe Terrenus VII."
"Hyg showed promise," Malachi replied, sitting next to Tartingill. Idly he scattered some bread crumbs on the grass for a few wandering birds.
"You think so?" He looked around, seeing the run-down buildings nearby... and the well-maintained ones off in the distance. There was clearly a drastic separation between rich and poor here, and the poor seemed to comprise a far greater percentage of the population. Still...
Tartingill, a Mystic, sat on a park bench next to Malachi, a Human. And nobody gave them a second glance. On a nearby path he saw a man and woman, holding hands, one Human, one Mystic. This was a sort of freedom one could not find on Mysticia, or anywhere in the Empire: the freedom to associate with whomever one cared to associate.
"Maybe it does show promise," he conceded. They sat in silence for a moment, until Tartingill ventured, "I wonder how Sarien's doing?"
"Councillor Havergal was very well," Malachi replied. "She marched into the hall and demanded an explanation for her capture."
"She can be a tough woman," Tartingill agreed. "Still, she was nice enough to give us that reward. My half should keep me fed for months. What will you do with yours?"
"I paid a man with it to keep my ship for me while I was to be gone."
"Gone?" Tartingill asked, no longer bothered by the past tense. "Where are you going without your ship?"
Tartingill turned. "Candy?"
"And so another page was written," said Malachi quietly.
Time: 4:50 P.M.
"Oh, Gill," Candy said, "It sounds like you've had it as tough as I have."
Tartingill cleared his throat nervously, staring into his coffee. He and Candy were sitting in her room, both on chairs. The room served as her bedroom as well, which made him a bit nervous. However, he doubted that she even noticed the impropriety of having a man in her bedroom; Tartingill was, after all, Tartingill.
"Well," Tartingill mumbled, "I'm sorry about that."
Candy looked surprised. "Oh, Gill, don't blame yourself. Crys was going to get caught eventually. Besides, it all worked out. I got off the planet, after all. And I got to meet Thyme and Masan, who've been very nice to me."
Tartingill nearly raised an inquisitive eyebrow about Thyme and Masan, but instead asked what he felt to be the more pressing question: "Where's Crystal?"
Candy frowned slightly. "Crystal left about three weeks ago. I don't know where she went."
"That's awful!" Thyme exclaimed. "She should not have left you like that."
Candy shook her head. "No, Gill, I think she had to go. I don't think she ever told you this, but she's an amnesiac."
"You mean she forgot you?"
"No, silly. She can remember everything for the past two years, but nothing before that. She doesn't know where she lost her arm and eye. She doesn't even know where she's from."
"That's horrible. But what does that have to do with her leaving?"
"I think... I think she went to find her past." She looked up, as if seeing the sky through the ship's hull. "And I think she hoped I'd find my future."
Tartingill nodded. "Have you?"
"Maybe," she said. Suddenly her eyes began to tear up. She abruptly leaned forward and hugged him. "Will you come with me? Will you help me find what I'm supposed to do with my life?"
Tartingill was surprised at first by the request, and then by what it meant. She was asking him for help. He, Tartingill, who had no job or appreciable skills. He, who had never been in control of his own life. The one time he'd made a choice, it had cost this woman, his friend, her way of life. Now she was giving him another choice. He was struck profoundly.
It was his choice to make.
He was free.
Time: 4:59 P.M.
"So," Thyme said idly to the man standing with him in the ship's main hall. "You friends of Candy?"
"I had not met her before," the man replied without actually looking at Thyme. "She knew Tartingill."
Thyme nodded. "I see." This seemed to elicit no response. "Well... what are you doing on Hyg?"
"We had just rescued the First Councillor, Sarien Havergal."
Thyme whistled. "You two must be pretty well-known members of the Movement."
"We were not members of the Movement. We were in the right place at the right time."
"That sounds too good to be true."
Again, the conversation seemed to lag. "Um..." Thyme began, but really couldn't follow it up.
"When were you planning to leave for the Iron Sector?"
Thyme frowned. "How did you know about that? Did Candy tell you?" No answer. "Who are you?"
The man turned and made eye contact, just for a moment. It was enough to make Thyme's breath stop for a moment. "I was Malachi," the man replied emotionlessly.
"What are you?"
"A farseer. Your present was my past."
Thyme was confused. "That doesn't help me out. What does a farseer see?"
"I saw what must be, Thyme Oregano. I saw the last pages of your book."
"You can... see the future?" A nod. Thyme considered this. "How long am I going to live, then?"
"You would live long enough to see your sister again," the man replied quietly.
Thyme's eyes widened. "What else can you tell me?"
"Many things," replied Malachi. "But it was now time for you to make a decision."
Before Thyme could ask what he meant, the Mystic, Tartingill, stepped out of Candy's room. Thyme almost scowled at him. It wasn't that he disliked the man; he just had trouble with Mystics in general, and he was slightly bothered at the enthusiasm Candy had shown when seeing Tartingill again. "Jealousy" was a bit strong for what he felt, but not by much.
"Captain Thyme," began the Mystic with what seemed a quiet determination, "I would like to accompany you on your mission."
Thyme looked at Tartingill as if he had sprouted a horn. "Are you some sort of tactical expert or something?"
The Mystic shook his head. "No, Captain. I'm about as tough as I look. But I'm Candy's friend, and she needs a friend right now." He lifted a little pouch. "Especially if she's going to be throwing out these needles."
Thyme took the pouch without looking inside. "You're asking to go into a war zone. You know that?" A nod. Thyme considered. He turned to Malachi. "And you?"
The man shrugged. "My place was with Tartingill."
Thyme considered. "I know I'm going to regret this. We're leaving tomorrow. Be here or don't; it's up to you."
"Thank you, Captain," said Tartingill. "I think I'll take some of my reward money and buy some last minute supplies with Candy." And he re-entered her room.
Thyme glanced at Malachi. The bland, expressionless man nodded. Thyme thought it might be approval.
Greyspace. Florentine Greystation.
Day: 21. Time: 3:34, Facinaturu Mean Time.
"Oh, it's so good to finally have some good food to eat," Rastaban enthused around a mouthful of some delicacy native to Mysticia. "I mean, Human food's well and good, but nothing compares to Mystician food."
He was seated at a table with Vonraid and Crystal. Vonraid did not eat; the sight of Dashor Sal eating often bothered other humanoids, as it involved vomiting acid on the food and sucking up the melted mass. Crystal ate, but she didn't share Rastaban's enthusiasm. When asked what she thought of the meal, she honestly replied that it tasted "like chicken".
Of course, after the ship's rations, even chicken would have been very much appreciated, Crystal thought. She wasn't exactly a gourmet, but recently her sense of taste was becoming as sensitive as her sense of smell. The taste of salt was rapidly becoming permanent in her mouth, because of those rations. It struck her as strange that with all the high-tech present in the Empire, no cheaper substitute had been found for food preservation than a heavy dose of salt.
They had come to this Greystation to meet one of Rastaban's contacts. Rastaban had not told Crystal this contact's name, of course, or what their business was. They were bodyguards, not business associates. All they had to do was stand by Rastaban during the transaction and look dangerous. The Mystic didn't expect any trouble from this contact, but it never hurt to be safe. Besides, bodyguards were a status symbol among smugglers.
Rastaban finished his meal and wiped his mouth delicately, a gesture which read like a hand-written signature, proclaiming him to be of noble birth. Given his seemingly Human appearance, the gesture was even more out of place.
"Very well," he announced, dropping a few credits on the table for the meal. "Let us go. We mustn't be late."
He rose, and the three left the small restaurant. They walked down one of the halls which circled the Greystation. Eventually, at about four o'clock, they halted before a nondescript door. Rastaban identified himself over the intercom by the door, and it opened into a rather nice apartment. The three of them entered.
They were greeted by a man with short black hair swept back from his face. He wore dark, stylish clothes. Crystal took one look at him and immediately disliked him. He had the sort of face that smirked no matter what his expression was, and he continually darted glances at her chest as if trying to see through her black t-shirt, but she'd dealt with people like him before. She couldn't identify why she disliked him so much, except perhaps to think that he reminded her of someone she didn't remember. He smelled... oily, to her. He actually wore a very fitting cologne, but Crystal's nose never lied, these days.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Rastaban," announced the man in an odd accent, smirking. "I see you've got a new bodyguard."
"And I see you've still got all of yours," replied the Mystic.
Indeed, there were at least five gathered unobtrusively behind the man. He looked back at them and shrugged, as if they were no more than furniture. "They lack the appeal of your..." He cut off suddenly, staring at Crystal.
At first, she dismissed his stare as lecherous; after all, she was used to inappropriate stares, even with short hair. But as he continued staring, she realized he had been stunned by something. Something about her. She frowned, but remained silent.
"Drissom?" Rastaban called. "Drissom, what's wrong?"
The man, Drissom, shook his head and managed to restore his smirk. "I apologize, my friend. She looks a great deal like a girl I once knew."
Rastaban chuckled. "I doubt that the resemblance is more than skin deep," he replied. "Crystal here is very unique."
Drissom's eye twitched, very slightly. "So was she." He cleared his throat. "Actually, Rastaban, I'm feeling a little under the weather. I'll have Terrence here accompany you to complete our transaction." He gestured, and a man who was presumably Terrence stepped forward and bowed very slightly.
Rastaban, not wanting to show that the statement threw him off balance, bowed slightly as well. "Of course. Come with me, Terrence." Vonraid led the way through the door, followed by Rastaban and Terrence. Crystal stopped in the doorway, and looked back at Drissom.
She stared at him for a moment, and he stared back. She looked into his eyes. What surprised her was not the darkness in his eyes, but the fear. Fear of her. Did he know her?
She wanted to stay and interrogate the man, but she had a job to do. She left to follow Rastaban. She'd come back later.
Time: 4:04 P.M.
"Out! Get out!" Drissom growled, and his bodyguards complied, leaving the room. Drissom sat down on the comfortable and stylish couch. With his chin balanced on one hand whose elbow rested on his knee, Drissom stared at the door through which the girl had left.
Again he tried to compare her to his memory. One arm, that was accurate. Her hair was shorter. Drissom had only seen Janus' younger daughter briefly, but... this girl was almost exactly like Schala, Janus' older daughter. Even their hair, violet with streaks of blonde, pink and blue, looked the same. And the look she had given him... She was almost as cold as Schala herself.
He stood and walked to the bedroom, barely giving the door time to get out of his way. Seeing a girl asleep on his bed, he reached over and hauled her out. He threw her clothes at her and shoved her out of the room before sitting at his communication console. He placed his right thumb and ring finger on the control panel, and connection was made almost immediately.
On the screen before him was a handsome enough man, with dark hair. Any pleasantness had been burned out of him long ago, though. He absently smoked on a cigarette. "What's up, Drissom?" asked Adom.
Drissom's habitual smirk was almost completely submerged. "I saw her. The Elosian girl. Janus' daughter."
"No, the other one."
Adom took a long drag from his cigarette. "Does she have the metal arm yet?" When Drissom shook his head, Adom continued, "I don't think you can kill her yet. But keep an eye on her. Make sure she stays in Empire space. I don't want her killing me again."
"I'll have my men handle it."
"Your men? Oh no, Drissom, you watch her yourself. Find some way to follow her. Without her noticing, of course."
Drissom shook his head miserably. "She knows something's up. Send someone she won't recognize, like Ledune. Or Brandt. He's here in the Empire, isn't he?"
"I'm not sure where Brandt is. But he's dealing with the Orphans right now. That's his job. Your job is to follow the girl and make sure she stays in the Empire." He paused. "But if you can kill her within the next year or so, then by all means do so. It may not make sense chronologically, but I'd rather the young me not die if possible. Out." And the screen shut off.
Drissom slumped in his chair. He sent a message to Terrence via ear receiver to plant a bug in Rastaban's ship if possible, then threw the microphone on the floor. He stood and walked to the bedroom door. It opened to reveal the girl, still standing in his living room, now fully dressed.
"I don't leave 'til I get my money," the woman stated with some hostility.
Drissom stared at her for a minute before grabbing her arm and pulling her back into the bedroom. He had some stress to relieve. And then he had a call to make.
Time: 5:20 P.M.
"Crystal," called Rastaban as the ship began to move away from the dock, "where are you from?"
"Why do you ask?" replied Crystal, still ruminating over the smuggler's reaction to her as she stacked crates of "cargo."
"Well, it's just that I noticed that your accent is very similar to Drissom's."
Crystal looked up from her task. "Really?"
"Yes. You both have a tendency to emphasize the first syllables in words. You both have a sort of bouncing quality to your speech, though yours is somewhat more noticeable."
"I've only been speaking Mystician for two years," Crystal replied, getting back to work.
"Well, that's actually rather impressive. Where are you from originally?" He didn't get a response. Annoyed, he walked out of the cargo bay, where Vonraid was standing at attention. "Get the ship ready to go," he ordered.
Mystician Empire. Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Utopia.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 21. Time: 6:45 P.M., Freespace Time
"All right, Tiamat, how are the systems looking?"
"All systems are in working order, Captain Thyme," replied the computer.
"That includes the weaponry and defense shields Candy installed?"
"Yes, Captain Thyme."
"First Mate Masan, are you ready for liftoff?"
Masan nodded, albeit a bit nervously.
Thyme pressed the intercom button. "And how are our three civilian shipmates?"
"Ready to go, Captain," replied Candy, with a smile in her voice.
"I was prepared," answered the Human, Malachi.
"I'm... ready," put in Tartingill, the Mystic. And, before he took his finger off the intercom button, "How did I let Candy talk me into..."
Thyme smiled. The two were a strange pair, but they seemed to be good people. Besides, he wanted to hear more of Malachi's predictions; they had the ring of truth, or at least the ring of what he wanted to hear. He could put up with Tartingill.
"Alright, Tiamat. Take off." The ship rose from the planet's surface smoothly, and in a moment they were in orbit. "Take us to the Iron Sector," Thyme ordered.
Mystician Empire. Space.
Time: 6:50 P.M., Freespace Time
"Captain Ildon," called the computer.
"I am reading gravitic fluxuations. All readings indicate that it is the Endless."
Ildon looked up, his attention riveted. "Where?"
"Readings indicate that the ship is entering a wormhole in the vicinity of Hyg."
"Of course," rasped Acid. "Let's go."
"Wait," commanded Ildon. "Jericho, where are they going?"
"Examining readings... They appear to be heading for the Iron Sector."
Rose, who happened to be on the bridge at the time (though Ildon would have preferred her to be elsewhere), gasped. "The Iron Sector? But isn't that a warzone?"
"Yes," replied Ildon quietly. "It's also where Prent was sent." He frowned. "We'll need to send a message to Prent, letting him know that Oregano is on his way."
"What are we waiting for?" demanded Acid. "Let's go!"
Ildon shook his head. "We'd just get in the way. If we stay here, Prent will have less trouble finding Oregano's gravitic signature. No, we'll send the message, then dock at a nearby planet. Bat, where's the nearest planet?"
The demi-human cocked his head as if listening, which he was. The ship's sensors were hooked up to his ears, allowing him to use the sensors like his own sonar. "Heading 21506, Captain. Records indicate that its name is Uvidas."
Ildon nodded. "Alright, then. Set course for Uvidas."
"Old wounds split when old enemies meet."
-Dashor Sal Proverb