StarCrossed Chapter 7
Mystician Empire. Veran Solar-System. Dali-Veran. Orbit.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 5. Day: 17. Time: 1:27 A.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
Asellus suddenly sat up in bed, her silk bedclothes soaked in sweat. Her breath echoed loudly in the empty cabin, but it wasnt as loud as her own heartbeat. Her blood pounded in her ears, as if trying to escape from the arteries that imprisoned it. Asellus knew from experience that she could do nothing but seek solace in the single, faintly glowing light attached to the ceiling above her bed. It was a bastion of comfort during those times when she felt as if the vast, empty void of space would swallow her whole. She never turned that light off.
Her breathing finally calmed down, and Asellus was able to remember who and where she was: the ruler of the Mystician Empire, aboard her personal spacecraft, the Chateau Beau. She experienced a familiar rage at this dream that constantly haunted her, but it soon passed into tiredness, the tiredness that only increased with time. The tiredness gained from constant battle, external and otherwise.
With a thought, the lights in her bedroom turned on, bright and comforting in their constancy. Another thought turned her opaque windows clear, revealing the majesty of the planet below. It wasnt a particularly pretty planet as planets went, but they all looked beautiful and majestic from above. The sun was just beginning to peek over the planets horizon. The windows automatically darkened slightly, so that no sunlight, unfiltered by any atmosphere, could blind Asellus.
Rubbing her eyes tiredly, Asellus sat up in bed. The silk of her pyjamas stuck to her back uncomfortably, but Asellus fixed that with another simple thought. A slight breeze formed from nowhere and blew down the neck of her pyjamas. The silk billowed outward for a second, then returned to its normal position, no longer attached to her back.
Asellus looked around, trying to get her bearings. The dream, of course, she was used to. But it was usually brought on by stress. What...? Ah, yes, the theft of that ship. Details had been sketchy as of the first report, but Asellus expected that everything had been figured out by now. Knowing that she wouldnt be getting back to sleep tonight, Asellus mentally contacted her ships computer, and told it to make a call. As she waited for the call to go through, Asellus realized that the many pillows, books, and other assorted paraphernalia scattered throughout her bedroom were quietly levitating. Irritated, she stopped it, and the objects fell. She hated manifesting magic when she slept. Regular Mystics never seemed to have that problem.
A chime sounded. Asellus nodded, and suddenly a Mystic was standing in her bedroom. He wasnt really there, of course; Zozma was light-decades away, on Mysticia, in Facinaturu. But the computer of Asellus personal ship was easily complex enough to create an entirely accurate hologram for purposes of communication. Asellus knew that a less-realistic hologram of her sitting in her bed was now in Zozmas room.
As usual, Asellus couldnt help examining Zozma. He was, after all, a very singular Mystic. Zozma was not handsome; his face was too pointed for that, and he had a naturally supercilious expression. On top of that, his skin had a greyish tone to it. His hair was a vivid, wild red that continually looked like a fern with all of its leaves pointing upward. His outfit was what it always had been; a dark, simple athletic uniform with leather boots and bare arms, except for the armbands he wore. In the three centuries she had known him, he had never once worn anything else.
His superior, disdainful expression generally reflected his attitude. Zozma was simply not a pleasant person. He had even given Asellus a great deal of trouble, once, but no longer. Now she didnt fear to appear in front of him, wearing sweat-soaked pyjamas, sitting on a bed. He had nothing but respect and devotion for her. He had no choice. Shed taken that choice from him long ago.
What do you have for me? she asked directly.
Zozma showed no sign of discomfort at being awoken after midnight, and was prompt with his response. He might not have slept at all, on the off chance that Asellus might call. My Lady, we have confirmed the identity of the thief: Thyme Oregano.
Asellus stared at him for a moment. Are you certain?
Quite. He rescued Masan (his little yellow friend), and was attempting to rescue his sister, Ros-
I know who his sister is, Asellus interrupted tersely. Thyme Oregano? Damn everything! Shes my Princess, after all. How did he escape?
We believe he was helped, my Lady.
He must have been, Asellus agreed. He was a good fighter, but cryogenics will sap the strength out of even the mighty rebel. You said that he was attempting to rescue his sister. He didnt succeed, then?
No, my Lady. Two of our Agents managed to keep her on Mysticia.
Thats good, Asellus murmured. And yet they werent able to save the ship.
Unfortunately, my Lady, though they got to the scene of the crime before anyone else, they were still too late. He stopped then, noting that Asellus was thinking. He waited patiently for her next statement.
Asellus considered carefully. Well, regardless of the reason, the ship is lost. Out of the three ships, it is the least important. However, if the Dominion or the Freespace Movement find out about the WHITE Drive... Either one would become far more powerful than they are now. We must get that ship back.
Of course, to catch a WHITE ship, we need another WHITE ship. Not to mention a hell of a captain... Her eyes fastened onto Zozmas. Zozma, call Ildon and Prent. I want them at Facinaturu in two days. She turned away, then back. Oh, and find a good Agent, too. The MIA will be pissed if theyre not represented in this hunt.
Zozma looked thoughtful. The Zero Class Agents are all out on assignment at the moment. However, we have several promising low-rank Agents. Theres a Class One on Mysticia right-.
What about those two Agents that saved my Princess?
Since theyve been exposed to classified information, we decided to send them out of harms way on an assignment out in the boondocks.
Asellus frowned. Out of harms way? Why didnt you simply keep them under quarantine? Zozma was silent, until Asellus finally realized. Oh, its those two. Thats awfully coincidental, isnt it?
Zozma declined to comment, instead saying that he would call Ildon and Prent immediately. Asellus let him get to it. After the Mystic had vanished, Asellus silently commanded her computer to set a course to Mysticia. Then, knowing that she would get no further sleep, she rose from her bed. Her room came to life.
Asellus stared into a full-length mirror as her pyjamas unbuttoned themselves and leapt off of her, seemingly of her own volition. In the mirrors background, her bed quietly made itself, and several outfits floated out her closet to hang in mid-air behind her. She did all of this without really thinking; her magic often fulfilled her whims before she realized she wanted anything. At that moment the shower started in the adjacent bathroom. She ignored it for the moment, continuing to stare into the mirror.
Standing naked before the mirror, Asellus didnt see the body of one who had conquered worlds. She saw instead a twenty-something year old woman, with no concern beyond what the day would bring. Even her hairstyle, cut shoulder-length, with long bangs, was the same.
But of course she hadnt looked like this when she was really twenty years old. When she was really twenty, Asellus arms had not looked so firm, her hips so trim, or her tummy so flat. Nor, of course, had her hair been green. Over the centuries, Asellus had more than once been tempted to dye her hair its original brown. But that, she knew, would only be a denial of what she was.
Asellus longed for those days, when she had no responsibility, no cares, and no blots on her conscience. Oh, to be a simple carefree Human girl again, instead of the centuries-old ruler of all Mystics, and through them an Empire.
The steam floating from her bathroom told her that the shower was hot enough for her. She allowed two of the outfits to float back into her closet, and the third to drape itself across her bed; she would wear that one today. She then entered the bathroom, and lost herself in the shower for over an hour.
Her room continued to tidy itself.
Time: 2:44 A.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
Above, the sun was shining. Above, birds were chirping. Above, weather-beaten statues, the remnants of the once-mighty Magic Kingdom continued to crumble into the dust from which they were created. But nobody inside Thomas Tensers apartment would know that, because there were no windows at all.
In fact, there werent any doors, either. There was only the teleporter (or Telepod, as he had once called it for some reason) recessed into one wall. From that teleporter, he could get to any other room in the massive complex that he called home. It was really an underground bunker, containing a secret Research and Development Lab, where all of the Empires sciences were imagined, planned and created. The Tower of Science was only where all of those sciences were finally used. Thomas worked here because he was a creator, not a user.
Thomas apartment, near the planets surface, was an interesting study. Gadgets of all makes and models filled the room, leaving almost no room for Thomas himself. Little mechanized devices crawled, hopped and hummed. One machine in the corner continually studied Thomas vital signs, testing for malnutrition and sleep deprivation. It constantly tried to point these two deficiencies out to Thomas, who constantly suffered from both, but Thomas constantly ignored it. In one wall, the teleporter sat with its door closed; anyone who wanted to enter Thomas room would have to knock to gain access.
Thomas himself sat alone at a desk directly adjacent to his bed and his refrigerator. Food and sleep were two of the few things that could lure him from his desk, and often those failed as well; his desk had more than one half-eaten pizza crust for adornment. Paper littered the desk: in, on, under, and all around the desk, sheets, rolls, balls and airplanes were strewn in an ever-increasing pile. The cleaning lady was due any day now, Asellus hoped. Without her weekly visits, Asellus did not doubt that Thomas would soon be overrun with his own refuse.
As usual, Thomas was busy. He could have been busy thinking, or he could have been busy arguing with a hologram or (just as likely) himself. Today, though, he was busy drawing. His sure and steady hand constantly skittered across the paper, making a new notation about a particular set of wiring in the blueprint he was creating. Occasionally, hed flip his pencil to use his eraser as a new idea struck him. Mostly, though, he knew what he wanted, and his hand didnt falter.
Asellus watched him as she waited for him to finish. She knew from experience that Thomas simply would not be diverted until he was ready. He had answered her call, but had not yet looked up to see whose hologram was standing in his room. And would not look up until he was ready. She contented herself with watching his hologram from her throne room, back on her ship.
Sparse did not begin to describe Thomas. He was of average height, but he seemed so thin that she didnt see how his body supported his head. Thomas had nearly starved himself to death several times until the refrigerator was installed within arms reach. He worked tirelessly on any project he assigned himself. His brown eyes, strained from the scrutiny of so many designs over the years, required thick glasses. He didnt wear contacts for some reason. His messy blond hair and almost rat-like face belied the fact that his mind was possibly the most brilliant the Empire had ever seen. Asellus was just glad that he was a hologram; the man rarely took the time to bathe.
Finally, Thomas looked up. He saw Asellus, and smiled openly. That boyish smile made Thomas look as if he were in his twenties. He stood up, using his desk as a support. His simple white lab coat hung loosely around his bony body. Asellus did not know if he wore anything underneath. She would not have been surprised if he didnt. Thomas had his own priorities, and social niceties werent on the list.
Hello, Asellus, he greeted her simply. Its a pleasure to see you. You look very pretty today.
Asellus couldnt suppress a slight smile. The hologram that Thomas saw in his room was a super-realistic picture of Asellus, outfitted in very fine and costly attire, seated on her throne, a replica of her real throne back on Mysticia. It did not surprise her that Thomas felt no awe; to him, she was his boss, but not much more. Besides, she had to admit, she probably did look pretty.
Thank you, Thomas. I assume that you havent heard the news. Thomas stared blankly; of course he hadnt heard the news. One of the three sister-ships has been stolen: the Endless.
Darn, replied Thomas, simply.
Asellus tried not to frown. Thomas lack of understanding about the outside world was endearing at times, but quite frustrating at others. I wish to find it and retrieve it. Can you make me a device that-
Oh, the Infinity and Universe can do that, he interrupted. Just tell the computers to activate the gravitic scanners. Theyll pick up the fluctuations of the gravitational fields in whatever area the Endless has been in, assuming theyre within a few light years of eachother. The fluctuations will be detectable for weeks after the Endless has passed through the area. The only problem is that having two WHITE ships so close together will mess up the scans. If you want to increase their effectiveness, separate the Infinity and the Universe. Make sure they know which ship is which, or youll have those two ships chasing eachother across the Empire. He sounded almost bored. He casually reached into his refrigerator and began to rummage through it. Anything else?
Asellus had not expected such an answer, and was upset at herself for that. Of course Thomas would have already figured out how to track a WHITE ship. Thomas wasnt as absent-minded as he seemed at times. So, she asked something else that popped into her head.
Thomas, would you make a WHITE ship for me?
Thomas tried to jerk into a standing position from inside the refrigerator, and bumped his head. When he withdrew from the appliance, his expression was excited. A WHITE ship? Just for you? What would you like?
Asellus considered. I want something fully battle-ready for starters, of course. You know me. Um... That T-Shield you put in the Infinity? I want that, too. Oh, and have you worked out the kinks with WRESS?
Thomas nodded. We think so. The next ship we make should have an improved version. The T-Shield... I can manage that, though well have to make some sacrifices. Plus, youll want lots of guns. You always do. Impulse cannon?
Of course. Missiles, Shield Arrays... Ooh, this is going to be a heck of a ship.
Asellus let Thomas bask in his ideas for a moment before bringing him back to reality. Thomas, do you have any computers that can handle the WHITE Drive left?
Certainly, Thomas replied. Theres Valgus, Jehoshaphat, Technoprophet, though hes a little odd-
What about RB3?
Thomas rambling stopped dead. What?
That core you found a few years back. In the ocean.
Thomas looked away. I... I dont think thats a good idea.
It... Its original programming is too strong. We cant completely erase its old personality-
You didnt erase T-260.
And look what happened. Thomas snapped. Asellus, surprised at being treated in such a manner, let him continue to rant. Against my advice, you all kept T-260's original programming, and now hes gone. Let me guess: Thyme Oregano escaped from prison?
How did you-?
Oh, come on. Its the only thing that makes sense. Only Thyme could steal that ship, because Thyme is the only one that T-260 would listen to without reprogramming. And hell continue to do so until Thymes dead.
And now you want me to use another core with its original programming intact? Sure, RB3 makes T-260 and even Leonard look like simpletons, but we dont even know what its original programming was. All we got were two words: destroy and build. Now, does that-
Quiet! Asellus shouted. Thomas hologram wavered with her anger, and she thought that perhaps her hologram wavered, too. Thomas became still. You will build me a WHITE ship, and you will figure out a way to use RB3. If you dont, I swear Ill-
What? Cry? Youre just a little girl, Asellus.
Asellus words were choked off suddenly. The presence, that foul, oily presence, soon left her mind, but the words remained. ...just a little girl... Ill... Ill fire you, Thomas. she finished quietly.
Thomas, though he looked rebellious, nodded. He kept his eyes on her, though. Did he suspect something? Or did he just worry about Asellus sudden stop? Or did he detect weakness? Was even Thomas Tenser, the harmless, helpless inventor, plotting against her?
Of course he is, Asellus. They all are. Its just you and me. Just you and-
With a sharp gesture (though it wasnt necessary) she dissolved the hologram. Rather than just fading away, as was usual, the hologram simply vanished. Asellus stared fixedly at the opposite wall of her miniature throne-room, trying to achieve peace of mind. She stayed this way for a long time, hearing only silence. Nothing stirred in the room or in her mind. She focused on that silence.
The near-silent whirring of an opening door interrupted her concentration. A young-looking woman entered silently, and stood at the entrance, waiting for Asellus to ask for her information. This woman, like all of the women on the ship except Asellus herself, was a Princess. She was loyal to Asellus to the death. This Princess, like all the others, would serve in any capacity Asellus required: as a maid, as a bodyguard, or as an assassin. And, like all the others, she was pretty and looked to be in her twenties.
This particular Princess was Avenna, #105. She was one of the more attractive Princesses. Her smile was open and honest, and she had dimpled cheeks. Her hair, once blond, was now somewhat pink, and her once-tan skin had gained a pinkish tinge as well. She was waiting patiently in a simple, yet flattering dress that Asellus had bought for her, as she bought all of her Princesses dresses. An image flitted to her mind of the pleasure on Avennas face when she first saw that dress Asellus had watched her try it on, and admired her-
No, she thought.
Yes, you remember, dont you? Shes a pretty one, Avenna. I want to touch her, dont you?
No, Asellus replied mentally. Shut up. Go away.
Shed say yes, if you asked her. I wonder how-
What news? Asellus blurted out, as much to shut the voice up as to get Avenna out of here.
We are in Greyspace, my Lady, and have docked at a Greystation. We should be leaving shortly. Would you like us to get you anything? Avennas smile did not change, but it suddenly seemed suggestive to Asellus. And knowing.
No, Asellus replied. Her fingers were gripping the arms of the throne. She had to stay in control.
She smells like-
Im fine, Asellus continued. You may go.
Avenna bowed and left.
As soon as the door closed behind the Princess, Asellus rushed to her room. In her hurry, she bumped a shoulder against the doorway. The blow nearly knocked her over.
Im coming for you, Asellus.
She dropped to her knees and reached under her bed.
Come on, little girl. Let me out. Let me out.
She found it, and pulled it out from under the bed: a small case. She pressed her thumb onto the appropriate pad, and the case opened, sensitive to her thumb-print. There were twenty-two small vials, all neatly cushioned and preserved. They all contained a translucent, reddish liquid.
I can find Thyme. I can rule the Empire. Youre so tired. Sleep, and let me out.
Asellus fingers were shaking, but she managed to unscrew the cap. Her hands seemed to fight her, but she got the vial to her lips. The bitter fluid trickled out and down her throat.
Ill be back, little girl. I will be free.
And the voice faded.
Asellus lay on the floor of her bedroom, quietly sobbing. Nobody would hear her through the sound-proof walls of the ship, but she stayed quiet nonetheless. This part of her life had to be hidden. Always.
Damn you, Orlouge, she whispered. Stay dead.
Asellan Solar-System. Mysticia. Magic Kingdom Ruins.
Time: 3:24 A.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
Thomas stared at the space where the hologram had been for a long time, chewing on something. He didnt know what it was; hed never cared much for food, and wasnt paying attention to the taste. If he had been able to conveniently get his nutrients intravenously, he would have been happy, but then he wouldnt have been able to go out and build things personally. Quite unacceptable.
Obviously, Asellus problem was accelerating. Once, she had been able to simply shrug it off, or feign a slight headache. Now, whatever her problem was, it struck suddenly and powerfully. If shed asked for his help, he might have been able to direct her to someone who could be of assistance. He regretted that she had not trusted him enough to tell him, but then he doubted that she told anybody.
Regardless of Asellus personal problems, though, her insistence on using RB3 for the new WHITE ship posed a serious problem. Besides the fact that it was insanely dangerous to use an unknown core for any purpose, there was also the destroy imperative. There was also a build imperative embedded in the system, but... If the computer were built into a warship, it could certainly destroy, but it wouldnt be able to build. And he didnt even know what was supposed to be destroyed or built.
Normally, Thomas tried not to think about why he was building certain things. On a few occasions, though, his conscience won out. One of his assignments was work on a duplicate of the Screw, the Pyrrh weapon. Thomas had figured out how to build a Screw long ago, before hed even been given the assignment, but had feigned ignorance. So far, nobody had caught on that he was quietly sabotaging the project, slowing down progress. Everybody thought that he was too busy dreaming to see the real world. But he couldnt possibly let another Screw loose in the Galaxy.
He couldnt put off its creation indefinitely, though, any more than he could put off the creation of this new WHITE ship. It would be built. Thomas could only try to make it as safe as possible, so that as few innocents would die by it as possible. It was at times like these that Thomas really hated himself. Thomas gave a few sharp commands to the computer, and a minute later a girl was standing in his room.
Well, not really a girl. She was a woman, twenty-five Mystician years old to be exact, but her wide, blue eyes and smooth skin, not to mention her petite stature, made her look eighteen. Youthful features ran in the Tenser family; Thomas was thirty-four, but looked to be in his mid-twenties. This young woman was his little sister.
Meredith was, like Thomas, thin and pale. She was, unlike Thomas, tall. She had a sort of languid grace about her, as if she might blow away in a slight breeze. Her face was dominated by her large blue eyes, which were occasionally covered by a tangle of shoulder-length red hair, a rarity among the Humans of the Empire. Her small mouth and nose gave her face something of that ratty look of Thomas below her eyes, but it was ameliorated by her warm smile.
Like Thomas, Meredith was near-sighted. However, she chose to wear contacts (so people could tell the two Tensers apart, she joked, though they looked nothing alike). At the moment, she was wearing a simple demure white nightgown. To Thomas, she looked angelic. As usual.
Thomaaaaaah, she yawned, somewhat spoiling the angelic image. Its really late at night. She spoke in a quiet tone of voice, as if trying not to wake anyone up. She talked like that even in the daytime, though.
Thomas grinned. No windows. I didnt know it was night-time. It could be raining fire for all I know. He sat down on his bed, and Meredith sat down on hers, wherever she (and the bed) really were. The hologram followed her movements. I just wanted to check up on you, Mer.
Meredith put a finger to her lips. Not so loud. Youll wake up Janus.
Thomas blinked. You dont mean...?
Meredith blushed. No, silly. Hes in his own room. He just has sharp ears, thats all.
Thomas chuckled. He sure does. Hows he doing, by the way?
Same as usual, Meredith replied. As grumpy as ever. Sometimes I think that he just has a perpetually sore tooth.
You two havent run into any trouble, have you?
Meredith looked concerned. None that I know of. You heard anything?
Thomas shook his head. Nope. You two are still flying under the radar. Nobodys connected Ignis and Gelidus. Nobody even knows about Berile yet. Meredith didnt look very relieved. Whats wrong? Thomas asked.
I just... feel so awful about Gelidus. If we hadnt gone there-
Hey, Thomas interrupted sharply. Dont you ever blame yourself for that. You had no way of knowing the thing would react like that.
But those poor people...
You saved as many as you could, Thomas assured her. There was nothing more you could have done. Besides, that was six years ago. Youre not going to let it happen next time.
No, I wont, she agreed. She sniffed, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Im going to bed, Thomas. Good night.
The hologram faded.
Thomas sighed. Things were tough all around. He tried to delve back into his work, but found that he couldnt concentrate. He had his computer play music until he fell asleep.
Space. Big Joes Spacestation.
Time: 3:44 A.M., Facinaturu Mean Time
Quiet, commanded a deep voice.
Meredith, sniffling into her pillow, immediately sat up in bed at the word. Though her nightgown was modest in the extreme, she pulled up her covers to further shield herself from scrutiny. She knew that she wasnt very pretty, and thus had a great deal of the modesty that prettier girls only played at.
Janus stood in the doorway, not quite yet in her room. Since Meredith didnt have her contacts in, and since she had been crying, Janus looked somewhat blurry, but she knew his features like a book. He was lean, though not skinny, muscular, though not heavy, and stern, though not unpretty. His skin was a chalk-white beyond pale, and his long blue hair, piercing red eyes, and long, pointed ears made it easy to question his Humanity.
Frankly, Meredith was shocked at his presence. For one thing, he had never once entered her room, or even looked inside as far as she knew. Also, she had never seen him in anything but a full outfit, leaving nothing but his arms and head uncovered. Now, as she donned her nightglasses, she realized that he wore nothing but a loose pair of cotton pants. His chest, bare for the first time in her presence, was well-toned, with scars leaving pale ridges across its otherwise smooth surface.
Be quiet, he commanded again, and her sniffling stopped.
I... I was just... talking to Thomas...
I know. I heard. I do have sharp ears, in more than one sense of the word.
And with that, he seemed to be at a loss. His expression didnt change; it never did. He looked flinty, determined, as if he was about to break through a brick wall with his forehead. Even now, standing in a womans room in only a pair of pants, he looked more grim than embarrassed.
Janus, Meredith began, after a long silence, Im sorry I woke you up. You can go back to-
Its hard, Janus interrupted, as if talking to himself. He looked straight ahead, as if at some point off in the distance. Its hard... when people die because of what you do. Intentionally or not. I know. But if you dont grieve, it... kills something inside of you. I know that too.
But Ive learned this: Were in a war. In a war, people die, often as a direct result of your actions. But grief only interferes on the battlefield. Either get it out of the way quickly, or wait until youve won the war before you grieve.
Meredith nodded. Somehow, that didnt make her feel much better.
Janus turned to go, revealing his scarred back. Had whips done that? But he stopped with his back to her. I feel it too, Meredith, he said quietly. But all I can do now is try to stop it from happening again. Maybe... After were done... After the wars over... After the Lavoids are defeated... Maybe then we can both grieve. And he left.
Meredith stared after him, and finally smiled. She felt better.
The Man of Two Faces, War and Sadness,
He Walked The Precipice Of Madness
-The Magus, Author unknown