StarCrossed Chapter 9
Mystician Empire. Hyg Solar-System. Hyg. Utopia City.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 5. Day: 30. Time: 5:24 P.M., Freespace Time
Crystal was sitting at a bar, casually sipping a beer. She didn't like the taste of beer, and alcohol didn't have much effect on her for some reason, but she wasn't drinking for enjoyment. She was waiting. She had been waiting for twenty minutes, before she saw a man walk in the door. Without looking at her, he sat down on the stool next to her and ordered some imported drink.
She set down her drink and casually turned toward him. Very quietly she murmured, "If you don't stop following me around, Mystic, I may get angry."
The man's eyes opened as round as teacups, but his voice, when it came out, was fluid and perfectly enunciated. "What do you mean, Madame? I'm no Mystic!" And he gestured at himself as if to remind her visually. His shabby purple attire might have once been fine; no longer. He was of average height, with long brown hair drawn back in a small ponytail, a soft, thin face dominated by a straight nose, and pale skin. In no way did he look anything but Human. Except...
Crys raised her hand and reached for his face. The man looked wary, but he didn't lean away. Slowly, she ran a finger along his jawline, down to his chin, and dropped her hand. She shook her head. "No stubble."
The man immediately put a hand to his own cheek, his expression irritable. "Damn! I keep forgetting about that facial hair so many of you Humans have." He dropped his hand. "Well, I suppose there's no point in secrecy any more. You're correct. I am not a Human. I'm a Mystic, and my name is Rastaban." He waited to see what response that elicited.
An expression of awe failed to appear on Crystal's face. "Apathy" may have been a more accurate term for her particular expression. "Okay, Rastaban. Why have you been following me?"
Rastaban's eyebrow's dropped, his expression stern. "Now, see here. Don't you know who I am?" Before Crys could tell him how much she cared, he went on, "I was once advisor to Lady Asellus herself. You must have heard of me."
Crystal smiled. "So you're that Mystic traitor I heard about in the news last year. No wonder you're disguised as a Human."
Rastaban scowled. "You're quite droll." His expression became long-suffering. "Yes, it was I that was so mistreated after my years of faithful service. That was when I first glimpsed the injustices of the Empire."
Crystal turned slightly on her stool so that she could lean back against the bar. "Listen, I don't really give a damn about your past. What I want to know is, why have you been following me for two weeks?"
Rastaban looked hurt. "You've known I was following you the whole time? Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"Answer the question." She began to tap her fingers on the bar. Her face betrayed no impatience, but Rastaban got the idea.
"Alright," the Mystic agreed with a sigh. "I've been following you to see if you get into any more confrontations, like the one you had with those ruffians two weeks ago."
"Why? You like to watch fights?"
"No, but I appreciate skill where I find it, and you, my dear, have skill." He leaned toward her. "I am in need of your services."
Crystal glanced at him again, her good eye hooded with suspicion. "What services?"
"Nothing that will offend your proprieties, I assure you," he quickly responded. "I require a bodyguard."
Crystal considered this. "Why? I'm sure your magic is easily powerful enough to deal with anyone who tries to bother you."
Rastaban smiled. "I thank you for the compliment, but as I'm sure you're aware, magic isn't everything. I'm not very powerful physically, as you can see." He gestured at his own light body, and continued, "And there are some places where magic becomes all but unusable... say, when one is being hunted by Mystics. You follow my drift, I presume?"
"I follow it. And what's your occupation, where you'll be needing someone to protect you?"
The Mystic sat up straighter with an unconscious pride. "It is my pleasure to be responsible for the distribution of supplies to those who seek freedom." He smiled slightly, a dark look in his eyes. "At the expense of Asellus."
"A smuggler, then." Crystal absorbed that. She looked into her half-full beer mug. It didn't hold much appeal though, since she hadn't been able to get drunk in six months, no matter how much she drank. Just another one of the odd changes she'd been going through.
Crystal focused her mind back on the subject at hand. "Bodyguard to a smuggler, eh? I'll have to think about it." She put down a coin (the currency on Hyg) for her beer and stood. Rastaban hastily stood, so as not to have her tower over him. It was a waste; she was still a good three inches taller than he. "Give me an hour to decide," she told him.
"You can have as long as you want," Rastaban replied, but she was already on her way out the door.
"One hour," she called back.
Time: 5:45 P.M.
The Endless' airlock slid open, and Crystal stepped into the hallway. The lights were on, of course. T-260 would not have allowed her to stumble through the dark. Not that it would have bothered her if every light was off. She could see like a cat in the dark.
Now, though the hall was silent. Thyme and Candy were no doubt out. Thyme had been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to sign up for the Freespace Navy based on his reputation. These attempts were the only times when Candy did not accompany him. But neither of them were here now, at any rate.
The door to her cabin, located near the back of the ship, opened without her having to say anything, of course. She entered the room and sat on her bed. Beside her was her bag, the same bag she'd brought from Terrenus VII. Fully packed. She'd opened it only to change clothes, and no more. From the moment she'd arrived on Hyg, she'd known that she would soon be leaving. She'd just been waiting for an excuse.
Even now she... hesitated. For almost two years, she'd been with Candy, acted as a big sister to her. Now, though, Crystal knew they had to separate, to get their lives in order. It was for the best. She knew this, but it was still difficult.
"So, you're finally ready to go, huh?"
Crystal turned to see Masan standing in her open doorway. It was a measure of her worry that she hadn't noticed him until now. He continued, "I've been wondering when you'd get around to it."
Crystal slid over so that Masan could set next to her on the bed. "Am I that predictable?" she asked.
Masan sat. "A bit. Thyme and Candy would have noticed too, if they weren't so wrapped up in their own troubles."
Crystal nodded. "Ah, well. Life's not easy for anyone."
"Crys, I'm gonna... well, you know..."
"I know what you mean," Crystal finished for him. She rubbed his bald head. "I'm gonna miss you, too."
"Somehow I..." He cleared his throat. "Somehow I... know you."
"I know, Masan. I know." Crystal nodded, and put an arm around his neck. In return, he put an arm around her waist. She let him. Presumably, an alien (or whatever he was) didn't get many such chances. "But I have a feeling this isn't the end, Masan. We'll meet again."
Masan leaned against her shoulder. "You're right. This isn't the end. It's just the beginning." Abruptly he pulled away from her and stood. "Goodbye, Crys. Say hello to Ransom for me." Then, looking slightly confused, he left. The door shut behind him.
Crystal stared after him for some time. Ransom? Or was it "Rakin"? That sounded familiar, somehow. Masan had seemed confused when he said it. She considered going after him, but he had said goodbye, and she respected that.
There was nothing left to do now but change into her old outfit. Somehow, the camo pants and black t-shirt were significant. She'd been wearing them when she first awoke, so long ago, and she'd kept them ever since. It was her traveling outfit, and a link to her missing past.
She left her room then, and walked down the now-silent hall. She came to the air-lock, and almost ran into the door before she realized that it wasn't opening automatically. She looked up (an automatic response) as she addressed the ship's computer. "T?"
After a short, but noticeable pause, the computer replied, "You are leaving?"
"Will you be back?"
There was another pause. "Captain Thyme enjoys your company."
Crystal chuckled. "He has Candy and Masan and you. He'll be fine."
"I have found your company to be beneficial as well."
Crystal placed a hand on one of the walls, as close as she could come to placing a hand on T-260 itself. "I've enjoyed meeting you, too, T. But I've got to go."
"For what reason?"
"I must find myself."
The door opened with a hiss, and Crystal left.
Time: 6:43 P.M.
Rastaban was slightly nervous. First, he didn't care for this tavern. Second, he didn't like waiting in this tavern for an hour. Third, he still didn't know whether the woman was going to return. He glanced at a clock up on the wall. It had squiggly hands, presumably to represent blurred vision, but he was still able to read it, more or less. It had been more than an hour.
With a sigh, he rose from his stool and left a few coins. He walked out of the tavern, downcast. And he had been so hopeful that the woman would agree. Part of it was that she was such a capable fighter. The other part was that he wanted a companion. Vonraid wasn't very companionable, and he had nothing in common with Rastaban. Space could get very lonely. He didn't have much hope that the woman would find him physically attractive, but simple conversation would be wonderful after so much silence.
He wandered through the city, unable to summon any disdain for the poor conditions around him. Truth be told, Rastaban's condition was little better than these humans who thronged the streets. He had originally joined the Freespace Movement for purposes of revenge, but a short time on Hyg had changed his views. Any government bad enough to make people want to live here had to be horrible.
Rastaban was surprised to find himself standing before his ship, the Blue Star, a nice generic name that arouse no suspicion. It was, of course, blue, and large enough to hold substantial cargo. The living quarters consisted of three rooms, though only two were in use right now, of course. He beheld it with a sense of resignation. It looked like he was in for another long trip with a lot of reading.
"Are we ready to go or not?" a voice asked from behind him.
Time: 6:53 P.M.
Alone in his room, the nameless one meditated. He rarely had such chances; the ship was not automated, and it was his duty to pilot it. This suited him well, since, like all Dashor Sal, he had an intuitive grasp of mathematics.
The Dashor Sal were a unique species, by any standards. For one, they were one of only four intelligent insectoid species discovered anywhere in the Galaxy, and the other three insectoid species all had hive mentalities; only the Queens were capable of conversation, and that was limited.
In comparison, the Dashor Sal were highly intelligent, and possessed a civilization. The society of the Dashor Sal was admittedly less advanced than that of other species, but Makhin (their homeworld) was too harsh to allow more than slow sociological development. Indeed, the species' name meant "Children of the Storm," in honor of the three great storms that constantly wandered the planet's surface.
What had resulted from life on Makhin was a rather militaristic society. The Dashor Sal were not exactly violent, but few Dashor Sal were allowed to become soft. Even now, when only twenty percent of all Dashor Sal still lived on Makhin, no Dashor Sal was ever unprepared for battle. This property, as well as their ability to quickly process mathematical formulas, made them very useful to the Empire, or whoever wished to hire a Dashor Sal.
This was another peculiarity of the Dashor Sal. Many species became part of the Empire or stood against it, though the latter seldom stood for long. The Dashor Sal, however, easily integrated into the society of the Empire without really becoming a part of it. Makhin was, for the most part, left alone. The Dashor Sal were allowed to keep their own fleet and their own scientific discoveries, despite being completely surrounded by Mystician space. Individual Dashor Sal gladly took service under any master who was hiring. The money made little difference to them. In fact, nobody knew why a Dashor Sal turned down one offer or accepted another except the Dashor Sal themselves. Which was the way they wanted it.
The nameless one knew all of this, was able to view the history of his race objectively, as if he himself were not Dashor Sal. Most Dashor Sal were objective (compared to Humans and Mystics, who were often swayed by emotion), but he knew himself to be especially so, since he was, in actuality, an outsider. A Nameless One. The term itself, "Vonraid," was a curse in his native tongue, used to indicate one with no future or past. One in whom Fate had no interest. It was the worst stigma from which a Dashor Sal could suffer.
A chime sounded, high enough in pitch to make one of his antennae twitch in discomfort. "Enter and be welcome," he said in the tongue of the Empire, which was more comfortable to him than his own.
His employer, Rastaban, entered. From his expression, the nameless one supposed that the Mystic must be happy; an upward-curved mouth usually indicated as much. Behind the Mystic came a female, presumably Human. She looked physically fit, though not terribly powerful. The nameless one knew better than judge by appearance alone, though.
"Vonraid," Rastaban addressed the nameless one, "I'd like you to meet... Crystal McKenna, was it? She will be my second bodyguard."
The nameless one unfolded his lower appendages from his meditative position and rose. He nodded to the woman, a simple formality to which she responded in kind. "May you be welcome, Crystal McKenna. I am Vonraid."
She stared at him for a moment before responding. She raised a hand to cover her eyes as if refusing to see his shame and let out a series of clicks and whistles: the closest a Human tongue could come to emulating the language of the Dashor Sal. "May your honors outweigh your shame."
The nameless one was so deeply touched by this ceremonial, but rarely used, statement that he clasped his hands (or the appendages that Humans would call hands) and bowed his head. "Not yet," he replied, "But still I fight." His head rose to see her. "Your wounds honor you."
She glanced at her missing arm. "To be woundless would be a greater honor."
The nameless one's antennae waggled. It was the equivalent of Human laughter. "As you say. I look forward to serving along with you."
She turned then, and left, and Rastaban hurried after her.
Time: 7:05 P.M.
"McKenna, I didn't know you could speak Dashor Sal." Rastaban sounded almost indignant as they stood out in the hall.
Crystal shrugged. "There's a lot about me you don't know." She didn't tell him that she hadn't known she could speak Dashor Sal either. Had she known the language before she lost her memory? Or had she... She couldn't think of a good "or."
Rastaban looked momentarily annoyed. "Well, anyway, I suppose that means you two will be getting along well enough."
Since no other information seemed forthcoming, Rastaban opened another door, directly across the hall from Vonraid's room. Crystal followed him in. It was a medium-sized room, big enough to live in, though sparsely decorated. Crystal glanced over it, and was not displeased.
"You'll be staying here, of course," Rastaban told her. "I hope you see no problems."
Crystal dropped her bag on the floor. "None." She drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the ship. She had been able to find it easily without any directions; it smelled like Rastaban, with a hint of the Dashor Sal. That was, of course, how she'd known that Rastaban was following her all that time. After passing him two or three times, she'd come to recognize his scent.
"Would you like to discuss your payment?" Rastaban did not seem uncomfortable at the prospect of discussing money. He obviously felt that he had enough to cover whatever she could reasonably ask. "Let me see... How about... 3,000 credits per month? With free room and board."
Crystal pursed her lips. "Three thousand is more than enough. But I have another request."
Rastaban frowned. "I think my offer was generous enough considering the cost of food. What would you suggest?"
Crystal waved her hand negligently. "I don't want more money. I want supplies."
"Soldering iron. Wires. Silicon chips. Other stuff. I ask for something, you find it. Keep an account of what I owe you and deduct it from my salary if you want."
Rastaban was dumbfounded. "But... why? I could easily give you the money. You can spend it or save it as you desire."
"You're a smuggler. You know where to find supplies, and how to get them cheaply. I don't. Besides, you can give me what you owe me at the end of my service, if it makes you feel better."
"Why do you want these supplies?"
Crystal looked down at her hand, and then at what was left of her other arm. "Because I've got things to build."
Time: 8:42 P.M.
Thyme awoke without feeling refreshed.
It wasn't that he didn't sleep well. He slept very soundly. Perhaps too soundly. "Like the dead," was how Candy had put it. But he didn't remember having dreams. He would lie down in bed and wake up hours later, with no sense of any time passing in between. It was as if he hadn't slept at all. Which was strange, compared to the centuries of ice, of endlessly dreaming until reality seemed a fantasy. He hadn't dreamed since he'd awakened in the arms of the orderlies at the prison.
He was also hungry. Now, and always. Even after just waking up, he felt as if he'd just run a marathon and needed to eat just to avoid collapsing. He'd gained about thirty pounds, but he'd eaten enough food over the past two weeks to gain a hundred. He mostly ate when nobody was around, though. He didn't want anybody to worry.
He was worried. What was wrong with him? He'd been emaciated after being frozen, because he'd still aged slightly, even in suspended animation. But that was no reason for his continuing hunger. Unless cryogenics had side-effects nobody knew about. Nobody had ever been frozen for as long as he, Thyme, had. Were these side-effects of the cryogenics? And if so, how long would they last? And were there more side-effects to come?
All of these questions bothered Thyme, especially since he had no answers. There were no doctors on Hyg who would have the slightest clue. Even T-260, as knowledgeable as he was, could offer no answers; the computer was not programmed with much information about the human body, and none about cryogenics.
He looked around, too tired for the moment to stand. Candy was not here, he knew, because there was no music coming from her room. Doubtless she was out trying to find a bright spot in the dark morass that was Utopia. Thyme didn't really approve of her wandering through the city alone (he had seen signs of a fight on Crystal's clothes on their first night on this planet), but he couldn't stop her. Besides, she carried a gun on her at all times; a habit she'd picked up on Terrenus VII. When she was sober, she had a pretty good aim.
What worried him were the times when she wasn't sober, which were far too often for his tastes. Thyme liked Candy, but her habits were a bit... extravagant. Thyme liked a good drink as well as the next guy, but Candy downed alcohol like water. At times she seemed almost frantic to escape reality. The marks on her arm had not gone unnoticed, either; Thyme recognized the signs of a hypodermic needle. Her escapist nature seemed strange in comparison to her incessantly bubbly personality, which often brought Thyme out of his cocoon of fear and doubt.
Those two were becoming bigger parts of his life, Thyme thought: fear and doubt. Fear for his sister. Doubt about whether he could still make a difference as a rebel. Fear that he might go to sleep and never wake up. Doubt about his new comrades. At times, he thought that he might start a relationship with Candy, but she was distant in so many ways. Thyme found it easier to relate to Crystal, even though the woman barely spoke. At least she said what she meant. Thyme had the impression that a great deal of what Candy said was what she thought others wanted to hear.
Finally, Thyme managed to gather enough energy to rise to his feet. There were no mirrors in the cabin, for which Thyme was grateful. He had a feeling that he didn't look so good. He managed to pull on his clothes, which made him feel better. He'd finally replaced that awful silvery jumpsuit with something presentable. Now he had a white shirt, a simple navy blue jacket, matching pants, and leather boots. His belt held a sword on one side and a blaster on the other. The jacket and pants were cut in almost the same style that had been in fashion back when he was frozen. Wearing them, he felt as if he was finally coming back to life.
As he donned his belt, he slid the sword an inch out of its sheath, checking to make sure the blade was clear of the scabbard. It was a saber, light but sharp, and Thyme knew its use well. He had been taught by the greatest swordsman Mysticia had ever known, Gen. True, Thyme himself was nowhere near Gen's skill, and a sword was not much use in a space battle, but Thyme prided himself on what sword skills he did have.
Now that he was dressed, Thyme considered going to the Towers. The Towers were the power center from which the entire Freespace Movement was controlled. He'd gone there hoping to be accepted into the Freespace Navy, based on the power of his name. He hadn't asked to be assigned a high rank in the Navy; just to be allowed to lend the power of his ship, and the inspiring power of his name. He wasn't being conceited; he knew that people would be inspired to have such a famous rebel fighting alongside them.
The problem was, nobody believed he was a famous rebel. It was easy to simply claim that he was Thyme Oregano. Apparently, word of his escape had gotten around, and the Movement got several such claims a day. After all, knowledge of Thyme's life was so common that anyone could find out everything about him they wanted to know.
They had finally decided on a solution to prove or disprove all of the claimants. It was common knowledge that Thyme Oregano had had an illegitimate son (common knowledge to everyone but Thyme himself; the boy had been born after his capture to a woman he only vaguely remembered). This son, (who called himself Sage Oregano) survived and had descendants, one of whom was alive to this day. This descendant, Comfrey Oregano, had followed the rebellious ways of his ancestor and joined the Freespace Movement. It had been decided to call Comfrey back from wherever he was stationed and check for genetic similarities between him and the claimants.
There was no telling when Comfrey would arrive on Hyg. Until then, Thyme (and the other claimants) had no choice but to wait. Supposedly, the man could arrive on any day, but Thyme found himself too exhausted to get out and check. Besides, Thyme didn't have to worry about the other claimants getting their proof while he was resting; he was the real thing. Most of the claimants probably wouldn't even show up for the genetic testing. Not the smart ones, anyway.
Having decided to stay in the ship, Thyme went to check on Masan. Strangely, the young alien wasn't there. Usually he was here in the ship, working out. This didn't exactly worry Thyme (he trusted Masan to look after himself more than he trusted Candy), but it did annoy him. This identification business had been taking up most of his time, recently, and he hadn't had much time to hang out with Masan. He'd been hoping to have lunch (or dinner? What time was it?) with the younger freedom fighter.
"T," Thyme called as he wearily sat on the bed. He still hadn't recovered from his "rest." "Do you know where Masan went?"
"No, Captain Thyme," T-260 responded in his usual, calm voice. "He left approximately twenty-two minutes ago. He did not tell me his destination."
Thyme frowned. "Okay. What about Candy and Crystal?"
"Candy has gone outfit shopping."
Thyme shook his head. Of course. Candy and Crystal's savings were supporting them all, but Candy never seemed to realize they were on a severely limited budget. Still... she'd probably buy something very attractive, which was okay with Thyme. Besides, it was her own money.
"What about Crystal?"
"She has left."
"You know where she went, T?"
"No, Captain Thyme."
"Guess I'll see her later."
There was a hesitation, then: "I do not think so, Captain Thyme."
Thyme looked up. T-260 wasn't overhead, of course, but it was so natural to look up when speaking to a disembodied voice. "What do you mean, T?"
"She has said that she will not be returning."
"That was what she indicated."
Thyme was slightly dazed. "But... why?"
"She said she had to find herself."
Thyme absorbed that. "I see."
The silence was interrupted by, surprisingly, T-260. "Captain Thyme, what did her statement indicate? How may one find oneself?"
Thyme turned so that he could lie on the bed. "Sometimes, T, people are missing something inside. They feel... incomplete. People try to fill that hole in different ways. Crystal has apparently chosen to go on a journey."
"Must one be a person to feel incomplete?"
"What do you mean?"
There was a significant pause, almost as if the computer was trying to consider the correct words to use. "I was created for a certain purpose. However, my memory banks were damaged, and by the time you had found me, I no longer knew what my original programming was. I knew only that I was a ship's computer, and that I required a Captain."
Thyme chuckled. "And I was the first person you saw." He sobered. "So, you want to know what your programming is?"
"Yes, Captain Thyme. Not only would I... deem myself complete, but my original identity might be important to present circumstances. I am powerful, but it might be wise to discover if there is anything in my programming that might be... dangerous."
"Dangerous? I can't believe that about you."
There was another pause. "Captain Thyme, one other piece of information remained in my memory banks of which I have not told you. I had a mission to track down and destroy another computer known as the RB3 model. I did so when you were still a child, but no other data has resurfaced from my memory banks. If I had one mission hidden in my memory, I may have others. And if that mission was a mission of destruction, these other potential missions may involve destruction."
Thyme nodded. "And you're concerned that one of those missions may pop up and override my orders."
"Such an event may even result in harm to you, Captain Thyme, and I would avoid that if possible."
"Don't worry, T. There are plenty of places in the Empire with information on computers, and even more in the Dominion. With the WHITE Drive, we can go anywhere. We'll find your history somewhere, or a way to dig it out of your memory."
"Thank you, Captain Thyme. Until then, I shall serve you as always."
Thyme frowned to himself. "You know what, T? I never thought of it before, but you need a name. Any suggestions?"
The computer was silent. The silence lasted for so long that Thyme thought something was wrong, until the calm voice quietly said, "Tiamat."
Thyme smiled. "Very well then. Nice to meet you, Tiamat."
"Thank you, Captain," replied the computer. "Thank you."
"There's a fine line between intelligence and A.I. Sometimes the line blurs, and sometimes it vanishes. Tiamat... was a miracle."