Her journey home…
Her skin was warming, a faint glow growing from within. It was her time to go. Billy knew the signs and choked back a sob, by morning their time together would be over.
Gently, he kissed her forehead and smiled at her peaceful face. Then shrugging off offers of help, he lifted her limp body, [>“No, I gave my word,”<] he sniffed. [>“No other hand, since her father’s, has touched my Melealia. Not since we were wed, when he gave me her hand. I promised him and I promised her.”<] He turned to her father, he nodded, Billy nodded back.
Then, cradling her close to his chest, he carried his beloved Melealia out of their cottage and up the hill to the ancient circle, where he gently laid her at the foot of the Passing Stone.
Lovingly, he smoothed her hair and rested her head on a pillow of flowers, tilting her face towards the southwest—to the left of the setting sun—the way they had come, the way they would all return. She looked so peaceful.
Her cheeks coloured from the glow within. Billy opened his mind and pushed out his thoughts, hoping beyond hope to capture the last flicker of her being. But there was nothing, she was gone, and her body would soon join her.
His father filled and passed him a cup, which Billy raised to the heavens, and with a faltering voice, toasted his love’s onward journey.
“Fr. …rom the stars we came. To…the” he stumbled, “stars we return.” The pain in his voice was palpable, his eyes awash, and with his head bowed in grief he sat down beside her, took her hands in his and waited for her departure.
It would be a long night. She had passed only twelve hours before. But he knew that with the rise of the new sun, it would be over. And his darling Melealia would be no more.
* * *
Endecca — 1 — JD
Tuesday, August 11 – The office of General Raef Jaxton …
“COLONEL!” The tone was clipped and abrupt. But then the sergeant altered his stance. He was talking to an officer, after all, and not just any officer; he was just a sergeant. The NCO hesitated, then added, “Er… sorry Sir, there’s going to be a delay of about fifteen minutes, I’m afraid. General Jaxton is running late.”
Jez nodded and the other man went back into the conference room, pulling the door closed behind him. Jez felt the carpet fibres crushing beneath the sergeant’s boots as he strode across the room beyond. Then the click of an opening door, the jabber of nervous chatter and another voice saying, “More abrupt next time, please!” then it added, “Keep it officious, Sergeant.” Jez then heard a second voice. It was the general, his manner less curt than the other. “I’ll buzz you Richie,” he said. Then the door to the general’s office closed, and the voices became silent once more.
[-“What’s another fifteen minutes,”-] Jez thought, [-“on top of an hour?”-].
He had arrived a good ten minutes early for his nine o’clock meeting only to be informed by the puzzled desk orderly, ‘It’s always been scheduled for ten, Sir.’ And now the time had slipped again.
Colonel Jez’iiah Devii’rahl, of the Deep Space Fleet, had been summoned like an errant schoolboy, to a meeting with the general. No reason had been given, and to the best of his knowledge, he was not overdue on anything. He was working on a report and should have been at home doing that right now. A new version of an old signal had been received a few weeks ago, and the general had asked Jez for an opinion. But that report wasn’t due until a week on Tuesday. But the general had called, and Raef Jaxton being an exceptionally good, and long-time friend, Jez had obeyed.
This wasn’t like Raef, though. He was a stickler who abhorred lateness, either by himself or by others, hence Jez’s early arrival. An extension to the set hour, even allowing for a misunderstanding of times, was not the way the general behaved. “He would make a point of apologising, either in person or by hand-written note. He certainly wouldn’t hide behind his driver.”
The overheard snippet, though, puzzled him, and he turned a few thoughts over, [-“Richie’s not comfortable. His body language was awkward, and ‘keep it officious!’ What in ‘the mejj’ was that all about?”-].
Fifteen minutes came… and went. Jez checked his watch against the clock on the wall.
“Hmmm, this ain’t like Raef at all?”
Sixteen minutes came… and they went, too. Jez was getting concerned now. Perhaps he should have made that report, even though it wasn’t due until next week. [-“Did I get the day wrong, was it supposed to be in last Tuesday? No, can’t be, I didn’t get it until Wednesday.”-] The waiting, though, was raising doubts.
Seventeen minutes came … then Jez heard, or felt, a faint buzz. A distant door opened. There were footsteps and dragging chairs, carpet fibres crushed. Suddenly, the door to the Conference Room burst open. Richie must have tiptoed to the door; Jez hadn’t felt his footfalls at all.
“NOW Colonel!” Sergeant Richie Dell snapped.
[-“Ah,”-] thought Jez [-“now that was officious!”-].
There were three tables; a top table and two sides forming a squared-off horseshoe, and in the middle of the horseshoe was a table he presumed was meant for him, and it had a backless chair.
[-“What sort of game is this?”-] he wondered.
Jez hung back, waiting for instructions. He was uncomfortable, and that chair was designed to keep him that way. This was definitely a situation out of his comfort zone, which was clearly the plan. But why?
There were six people seated, and each one thought-inhibiting, so he could only make a visual appraisal.
On his left was a man in a suit and a uniformed man wearing the insignia of a colonel of the Intel Corps, which Jez found odd. There weren’t many of that rank in Intel. Jez had been around a bit, and knew most who held versions of his rank, and this guy’s face didn’t fit.
The general sat at the centre of the top table. He was leaning across and discussing something with the man in the colonel’s uniform. To the general’s right, Jez’s left, there was a young woman dressed as a lieutenant of Intel, but she didn’t look right either. He couldn’t say why, though. He just wasn’t happy with what he saw. She had an air that suggested a higher rank than the shoulder flashes she wore, whilst the Intel colonel just didn’t look right as an officer at all. His hands were callused and there was dirt under the nails. He looked excited too, as if he were off on a big adventure, and he was sweating. The officer on the other side of the general, that was a face he did know, Major Anne Derham from Personnel & Resource. She looked uneasy too and wouldn’t meet his gaze. She was doing her best to keep her eyes on her paperwork. On the right flank of the horseshoe there was a captain with the lapel Beacon & Lightning insignia of Cipher & Komms, and he looked right. The seat beside the captain was empty.
“Sit down,” the colonel snapped. He was a staff officer and although they both had the same commission, this man’s rank, because he was on the general’s staff, was a notch higher than Jez. So, Jez did as he was told and removed his coat for comfort. But there were no coat hooks, and the other colonel’s patience was wearing thin. So, with no chair back to hang his coat, he neatly folded it and put it on the floor under the table. He had been in the room now for several minutes and still the general was ignoring him.
[>“Raef?”<] he pulsed across the mindPlain. But the general was blocking.
This was not like the man with whom he had been a friend for over twenty years.
He still didn’t know what the meeting was about, everyone else had paperwork, his table had none, and the set-up of tables and chairs suggested a Court Martial.
[-“This is weird?”-] he thought.
Then a grating chair and a movement on the edge of his eyeline prompted Jez to turn. Someone must have followed him in, which surprised him. There had been no one else in the corridor, and he had been there for quite some time, he would have noticed.
[-“Huh, Richie?”-] Jez considered this, smiled and nodded, [-“Balance.”-] and to his left the man in the suit jerked from the upright and feverishly jotted a note on his pad.
And still there was no recognition from the general.
Whilst the suit-man scribbled, Jez studied the starkly attired room. Several of the classic Praes~Eedan advertising posters decorated the walls…
[-“Curious?”-] he wondered.
…and two large pictures of the AtomSpheres. They were huge, at least eight by eight. The one to the left was a copy of the original advertising poster of two hundred and fifty years ago, and even though it left Jez cold, the artwork was still classic. The other was utterly insensitive. Well, considering the date, they were all distasteful, but that one especially so. It was a montage of the events leading up to the Spher’rios disaster with the date and time emblazoned across the foot of the canvas and etched into the covering glass was a faint watermark of the ‘boy on the rope’. The nightclub logo.
[-“This has to be a wind up. Are these guys for real?”-] Once again, the man in the suit scratched a note on his pad. [-“That’s twice!”-] Jez mused. [-“Is someone on a fishing mission? Never mind, I will let him or her fish a little more. This room, though, it doesn’t work for me. I don’t remember any pictures last time I was in here. When was it?”-] and he thought back to the last time he was here. Jez stayed away from the base as much as possible, so it would have been a special event. [-“Officers’ conference, last fall. Why commercial pictures, though? And why the Atom? Why now? Odd.”-] The entire room felt like a stage.
At last, the general turned to face him but there was still no recognition, no eye contact, Jaxton simply sorted his notes into three neat groups, steepled his fingers and looked straight through him.
[-“Three neat piles?”-] Jez looked at each of the other’s, [-“They all have three neat piles, except…?”-] and realisation dawned, [-“That’s it. They all have scripts. Richie was an afterthought. Instead of balancing things up, they’ve tipped the balance. Clever, but not clever enough.”-] and to his left he heard the scratchy pen and felt the rapid retreat of a clumsy mindProbe. [-“And props. And haha, that’s three.”-] He knew by now who it was, and who it wouldn’t be. It certainly wouldn’t be Raef or Major Derham, or Richie. He knew them of old and knew they didn’t have the gene. For the time being, he would leave his mind open and see what else he could catch.
A flash of movement caught his eye, and mirrored in the picture glass, he saw the suit-man nod.
General Jaxton was the first to speak. “We’ll have your report now, Colonel Devii’rahl.”
[-“Actors and director, plus Richie the extra.”-]
“It’s not due until next Tuesday, General.” Jez was polite but blunt and he dispensed with using, Sir, too. This whole charade felt personal, so he answered the title and not its status. “I don’t have a report for you today… General!” He spat the word. Jez, too, could be curt and officious.
There was a frantic shuffling of papers. His answer had caught them on the hop. The general was off-balance too, this wasn’t the expected rehearsed reply, and his stumbled retort was most definitely an ad-lib. “EXPLAIN THAT… please,” but he ran out of steam and to hide his confusion he busily sorted his papers again.
The suit-man scribbled—’Scratch, scratch, scratch’.
And the man in the suit echoed [>“Four? What’s four?”<].
Jez smiled at his baffled question, [-“Got you.”-] and he dropped into a deeper and unreadable level of thought, [-“Just one more little man.”-]. His anger, though, was boiling, and his patience finally gave way. Rather than play their game, he called to his inner self [>“Come on Tomii, let’s get ’em!”<] and went on the offensive.
“No report today, Raef. I doubt there’s little need for one, either. Because you know full well what’s in that signal! You say you’ve had the thing for three weeks? Three months more like. Or is it three years? Or longer?” and he glared at the man directly opposite, eyes blazing. “For goodness’ sake the fleet’s got a whole Corps for doing that sort of thing. That man there,” he pointed to the captain on his right, “his gang. What about getting in the professionals? Why ask me, I’m a talented amateur, at best?”
Then the man with grubby hands rallied to the general’s flag and joined battle.
“How dare you speak to General Jaxton in that manner, it’s…it’s err” he stalled.
[-“Lost your place little man?”-] and in the reflection Jez saw the suit-man motioning with his hands, but the costumed colonel missed the cue and ploughed on with his onslaught. Jez ignored him and rounded on the general.
“You know me, Raef, know my past! Why are you doing this? Why would you want to put me through that hell again? What’s it all for Raef? Why, Raef? Why?”
“Colonel, I demand that you apologise to General Jaxton and address him in the proper manner,” the man in the colonel’s uniform continued.
Jez ignored him. “Come on, Raef, why?”
But the general had no room to respond because of the ranting idiot to his right. Then Jez noted the vaguest twitch in the lieutenant’s upper body, and the pseudo-colonel ceased. Jez inwardly smiled.
When the general finally answered, his words were measured and slow as he controlled the tremor in his voice.
“I asked you to report on that signal because I value your opinion. I expected to see that report at this meeting. Not, when it—” He paused, he had just noticed a diary entry in his own hand [-“‘signal report–Tuesday’. Oh!”-]. Jaxton continued, although a little more hesitantly now. “You, Sir, are a soldier, and I am not in the habit of changing my plans because of the tender feelings of one of my officers. I will, of course, overlook this, because I have the highest regard for you and your family bu—”
Jez bridled at the mention of ‘family’ and his heart stepped up a beat. “Family!” he barked, rising out of his seat and grasping the desk. “Family! How dare you? Highest regard, is that all they mean to you? Is that how little you put on the honour of being my daughter’s godfather? Regard!”
Major Derham shot back in her chair, eyebrows raised, this was news to her, and she quickly thumbed through her notes.
“If you did indeed have any regard for my family, you wouldn’t be subjecting me to this. And them to the trauma it will unleash. No General, there won’t be a report until the report is due, next Tuesday.”
“… t I err,” and Jaxton stopped and looked down at the desk, shaking his head from side to side. Jez thought he saw a tear.
An uncomfortable silence followed, broken only by the feverish scribbling of the suit-man. [-“Five yes, gotcha. Uh oh, steady Tomii, there’s another scribbler? Softer this one, a pencil, better paper.”-] He tried to pinpoint the writer, but a grunt distracted him, and before he could home in on the new note taker, the pseudo-colonel returned to the fray rising from his seat.
“Colonel Devii’rahl, I—”
But Jez was wearying of the game and adopted a skill beyond the ability of all but a very few, certainly beyond this lot. He went into a state of ‘Heightened Sensory Awareness’—or as they’d called it as children a mindBlast—a state of mind that only a Homid could achieve. In a heartbeat he could increase the speed of his senses a hundred-fold. HSA was an ability quite common amongst the Homid peoples, but mindBlasting, especially the magnitude he was about to unleash, was unusual and even someone of superior fitness could only manage a few seconds, but that would be enough.
The actor in the field-colonel’s uniform continued, unaware, “… in “ Jez Devii’rahl ignored him and blasted.
Jez went on fast-forward… whilst everyone else in the room had hit the pause button. [-“Now then, who’s doing what?”-] His reactions were so fast that now, in the space of a single second, he could tap into the thoughts of each member of the panel, while his own thought output became only a faintly audible hiss.
[-“Suit-man? Yep, he’s one writer,”-] Jez nodded as the pen juddered painfully across the page.
[-“That twit? Acting badly, he’s out of here!”-] he noted as he glanced at the man’s grubby hands.
[-“Raef—embarrassed. Yeah, you ought to be.”-] his friend had disappointed him.
[-“Nowhere near as embarrassed as Richie Dell, poor bugger. Time for him to go, I think. Major Derham too, neither properly briefed. Typical of the Fleet.”-]
[-“What about Cipher & Komms? He’s okay. Nothing sinister there.”-]
[-“That just leaves The Lady.”-]
Momentarily, his thoughts stumbled. Something in her face triggered a murmur from the past, [-“?”-].