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Earth date, May 23, 2025:
Major Karen O'Reilly, of the Allied Nations of Earth Space Agency (ANESA), crested a boulder strewn knoll on the Titan moon. She stopped to glance over her shoulder at the hulking remains of the Shimuran flagship, Xaviour. The main body of the ship lay in a deep crater, half buried in rusty-orange sand. Karen averted her gaze and forced the plethora of memories from her mind.
No use. Vivid, colorful images and the angelic face of her star-sister, Zara, flashed through her brain, niggling, nagging and plaguing her like a ghost come back to haunt her.
"I know you're in trouble," Karen muttered under her breath. "Where are you, what has happened?"
"Major, do you need assistance," FAI, the artificially intelligent computer from the starship, Earth Angel, asked.
Karen slapped her hand against the calm pad of her space suit. "No. Everything is a-okay."
"Affirmative, but who were you talking to?"
There were times when she resented the AI's ability to see and hear everything, and this was one of them. Karen smacked the com link again. "Don't disturb me again."
Garbled static blasted through her headset followed by blessed silence.
Setting her sights on the six white grave markers, Karen trudged down the hillside and stopped before six mounds of rock. She cleared away the loose debris and knelt before the first grave. Something mysterious and unexplainable kept drawing her here. Too bad she couldn't read the runes that identified the Shimuran buried beneath. The only clue she had was the gold pendant hooked over the head stone. Its presence indicated an elevated position within the Shimuran Starship Command (SSC). Hecould be Zara's father, or his first officer. She'd never know. Whoever he was, he was certainly in no position to help.
Damn! She was so bloody frustrated. None of her colleagues understood, nor could she even explain the anxiety that had been building in her for months. What happened to Stardust? David and Zara should have returned by now.
Karen pressed her hand against the chest plate of her space suit, but the tight ball of fire in the middle of her chest wouldn't go away. "Sir," she queried aloud to the unknown grave. "I'm worried about Zara and David. Stardust hasn't returned, and I fear they are in trouble again."
It felt good to voice her concerns aloud, but dead silence was her answer. She would broach the subject with ANESA Command when she returned to Earth.
The lunar winds picked up, and a single whirling dervish took shape. The dusty orange funnel shimmered, and glistened in the pale sunlight, mesmerizing her with its unnatural movement. It picked up speed and headed in her direction. The pain in Karen's chest increased. She gasped for breath and tried to move out of the way, but her feet wouldn't listen. The swirling sand took on the vague outline of a man. Her ears popped and a painful buzzing filled her head.
"You have in your possession something that belongs to me," the ghost of Admiral Sedric Rimon declared. He reached through Karen's spacesuit and grasped the crystal ornament hanging around her neck. "I have come to claim it, and enlist your aid."
A foreign energy invaded Karen's body, creating a tingling sensation that sucked the strength from her body. Lightheaded and woozy, she backed out of his reach but the being followed, engulfing her in a malevolent vortex that lifted her off the ground. Karen closed her eyes, and choked back a wave of nausea as her world spun madly around.
"Forgive me," Sedric whispered as he bonded with Karen's life-force.
The deviant wind died down. Karen fell to the ground and quickly returned to her feet, ready to run should the sandman reappear. He didn't. An unnatural quiet invaded her psyche, and she looked around in alarm. No sign of the whirling dervish remained except the dust, settling about her feet. It cleared, revealing a space-suited body crumpled over the grave.
Shock, disbelief and fear churned in the pit of her stomach.
Karen held out her hand, and screamed. Her gloves were gone, replaced by ghostly appendages. She looked at the transparent fingers and hands, then followed the vague outline of an arm to a barely discernable shoulder where her own should have been. Unable to reconcile what she was seeing, she knelt down to take a closer look at the body lying prostrate at her feet. Her own sightless, green eyes stared lifelessly back. She gasped in horror: "No! This can't be happening!" She slammed her vaporous fist against the com pad. "FAI, come in!"
The computer didn't respond.
Both her trainees were beyond the knoll, exploring Xavier's wreckage. "Robert," she yelled.
No answer. She fought the panic and hollered again, "Keith!"
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't engage the com link. Her hand passed through the suit and the cadaver until her arm sunk elbow deep in the rusty-orange rocks. Terror crept into her soul like a cold wind, freezing the hideous image of the sand demon in her mind.
Karen closed her eyes, counted to ten then opened them again.
A twinkle of gold drew her eye to the alien medallion. It sparkled with an eerie light, demanding her undivided attention. Karen crawled closer and snatched it from the headstone. It came away, feeling cold, solid, and reassuringly real in the palm of her translucent hand. Unable to accept the reality of her situation, she yelled for help, and cringed at the horrid racket. Her voice sounded like the howl of a banshee forewarning some impending doom--a warning that came far too late to help. "Oh God, please help. I'm too young to die!"
In answer to her heartfelt plea, Karen's spirit began moving. Not back to her body, but off the ground. She grasped for the nearest boulder but couldn't get a grip. Unable to stop the upward momentum, she floated through Titan's murky environment, and into the star-studded cosmos. She could do naught but watch as her space suited body became a tiny white speck that eventually vanished from sight.
Thump, thump ... thump, thump.... A strong surge of energy radiated through her spirit. It kick started her heart, and wrapped her in a cocoon of wellbeing. Breathtaking awe replaced her earlier trepidation. Death appeared to be a doorway to a glittering afterlife, one that removed all earthly shackles and biological rules--one that set her blissfully free of the men who plagued her life with bigotry, injustice, ambition and greed.
No longer scared of her bodiless state, Karen soaked in the cosmic ambiance. Saturn's rings, once dull brown, grey and yellow now glimmered brightly, reflecting a radiant energy that pulsed to the same life sustaining beat that thrummed through her heart. Her palm tingled.
She glanced down to see the pendant still entwined in her fingers. Why? How could it have crossed over with her into the spirit realm? She focused on the tingling current, and sucked in a mouthful of spatial dust when her spirit shot forward. Stars, moons and planets turned into streaks of color as her velocity increased.
Karen exhaled. A lungful of cosmic vapor shrouded her in a cloud of sparkles. The tiny particles bounced off her specter, giving definition to her ghostly form. The awesome sight filled her with unbridled excitement and devastating grief. T'was the alpha and omega. Not an end, but a new beginning instead. She gave into the tumult of emotions and embraced the glory of the cosmos. It swirled around her, inundating her with its powerful presence. Suddenly the speed of her travels increased and the universe exploded into bursts of brilliant color, streaked with a luminous white light set against a velvety black background.
What a rush, a heady sensation that placated her wild side.
She cried out in frustration when her spirit came to an abrupt halt, ending her sojourn in space all too soon. Saturn, Titan and the familiar planets of the Milky Way were gone, replaced by a cluster of tangerine moons. No pearly white gates or imposing deity waited behind a desk to impose punishment for any misdeeds she inflicted during her lifetime. There was only an endless horizon dotted with lights. One was brighter than all the rest, and it was moving towards her.
The light grew larger, it's shape more defined. Smooth, fluid lines that resembled a mourning dove with its wings folded back. A starship!
Karen longed to be aboard, within the familiar surroundings again.
In the blink of an eye she was onboard.
Clear musical notes from a crystal flute resonated richly throughout the vessel. In a daze, Karen followed the haunting melody to the bridge and located a solitary man sitting at the helm. His music tugged at Karen's heart, causing her eyes to burn with unshed tears. Empathizing with his sadness, she placed her hand on his shoulder, discovering to her surprise warm, solid flesh beneath her fingers.
The being jerked away then looked up with startled brown eyes--eyes that had no whites.
Warmth infused her whole being. He was Shimuran. She scrutinized every detail of his handsome image. Muscles bulged in his arms as he pushed up from the pilot's chair to tower over her. Tall, strong and regal, just like a mythical god. Slim fitting black pants hugged his hips, contrasting vividly with well developed, honey colored abdominal muscles.
If she were granted one last wish, it would be to run her hands across his smooth, muscular chest. Feel his warmth ... oh God, if it isn't too much to ask, experience life once more?
Karen looked up at his attractive face. Golden sparks danced in the depths of his soft brown eyes, like stars set adrift in space. His shocked expression turned to one of wonder. In slow motion, he raised his arm and plucked the medallion from her quivering fingers.
Sparks of energy emanated from him. They vibrated her to the very core of her being.
The Shimuran opened his hand to scrutinize the runes carved on the surface of the medallion. His eyes glazed, his shoulders slouched and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
Evidently her presence had caused him pain. She hated being the bearer of bad news, so she wrapped her celestial arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. "Shhh," she cooed, wishing with all her heart she could alleviate his anguish. She listened to the rapid beating of his heart, felt the warmth of his skin against her cheek and cursed her luck. How could fate be so cruel, to tease her with a man such as this? Life was so unfair. Heck, death was even worse. She waited too long, and now she couldn't even act upon this overwhelming attraction.
A deep, sexy moan erupted from the Shimuran's chest. He stepped away, breaking the soul rendering moment. He serenaded her in a husky baritone voice that she didn't understand then slipped the heavy gold chain over his head.
Karen reached out and touched it once more. The tingling vibrations increased in voltage, this time shocking her painfully before flinging her into space again. Darkness descended on her senses, and a painful knot wrenched her heart. She knew, without understanding why or what, but something of great importance had just been stolen from her.
An explosion of shimmering golden light illuminated the heavens, preceding the arrival of a golden winged angel. With a wave of her hand, time came to an abrupt halt. "Sedric," Arianna exclaimed. "You should be ashamed of yourself!"
The ghost of Admiral Sedric Rimon cowered behind Karen's unmoving specter.
"Sedric! You can't hide from me, or my Father. He sees and hears everything." Arianna removed Karen's spirit from his clutch and enfolded her within a loving embrace. "You violated the Shimuran belief system and code of ethics by executing my charge!"
"I did not kill her. I only borrowed her life force to reach my son," Sedric said defiantly. "It was you who broke your promise to me. You left me stranded on that Spirit forsaken alien moon! For six annums I waited, but you didn't come back. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands."
"You were forbidden to interfere!"
"And you said I could watch as the prophecy unfolded."
"Sedric, Sedric, Sedric. You are a mere ghost and are no longer in charge. There is a time and a place for all things, but you have overstepped your bounds. Your selfish actions have created a rift in time and space which cannot be undone. Return to your son, but do not interfere again!"
Sedric vanished from sight.
Arianna returned Karen to the Titan moon, reunited her spirit with her mortal body, and bestowed upon her the breath of life. "Awake my child. Your destiny is at hand." With the flap of her wings, she restored time to its rightful schedule and stood watch over Karen until she was rescued by the crew of her ship.
Commodore Caradoc Rimon flopped into the pilot's chair and sucked in a deep breath. He clenched his teeth and tried to ignore the electrified hum of his body. What in the fiery blazes of Zorn just happened?
Unable to force his hormones into submission, he closed his eyes and recalled every detail of the seemingly innocent but tender encounter. His frustrated body remembered every curvaceous inch of the spirited being who had hugged him so affectionately, but those physical impressions were at odds with his visual recollections. He saw nothing but the familiar deck of the bridge. Therefore, she could not, did not, exist except in his mind.
If that were the case, how did his father's medallion get here?
Caradoc opened his eyes and looked upon the pendant in question. It looked real. Clenching his fist the disc dug into his palm, providing eloquent proof of divine intervention. It literally appeared out of thin air within moments of loosing the signal to Xaviour's homing beacon.
Opening his fist, Caradoc scrutinized the medallion. It was the genuine insignia of leadership belonging to his father, Admiral Sedric Rimon. He never took it off. The medallion was a permanent fixture around his neck as were the two gold bands affixed to his wrists. Its presence here confirmed what he already suspected: Xaviour crashed, and his father was dead.
But why, after six annums of searching, did the medallion come into his possession now?
Tears blurred his sight as he ran a finger lovingly across the inscription. A survivor painstakingly engraved the date of his passing in the obscure language of Shimura. Someone who paid attention to detail, and that someone had to be his surrogate sister, Zara. She had been flying escort to Xaviour.
Zara was still missing, but she must still be alive.
Caradoc shot to his feet and strode to the viewport. He panned the alien starscape with new hope in his heart. Zara was out there, somewhere. He'd check every moon, planet, rock and chunk of space debris until he found her.
"Father, I don't know how or why you sent this, but I do know you had a hand in it." Caradoc placed the medallion around his neck then bowed his head in prayer. "I hope you've finally found peace. Please give mom and Serena a hug for me."
"I can't do that son," Sedric responded from the spirit realm, remaining silent to Caradoc's ear. "Your mother greeted me, then abruptly thrust me from the Eternal Valley with a message that your sister still lives. You must solve the mystery of Napier's destruction and discover the whereabouts of the survivors. Then, and only then, will I be able to rest in peace."
Caradoc touched the pendant. For some reason he felt his father's presence, intangible, yet reassuringly close to his heart. He returned to his seat, picked up his flute and began playing again. An ancient love song came unbidden to mind as his lips breathed life into the twelve chambered crystal instrument. The song depicted two star-crossed lovers. Solomon Rimon, a prophet and ancient descendant who claimed to have fallen in love with an angelic being. Their love was said to know no bounds, capable of bridging the universe and even transcending death itself. Unlike most legends, this one didn't end happily-ever-after. Solomon simply vanished. Most Shimurans believed that his spirited lover stole him away. Other's claimed he wandered into the jungles of Shimura and succumbed to a broken heart. Whatever the case, it was their pure, untainted love and Solomon's journals that founded the Shimuran belief system.
He stopped playing.
Until today, he considered it just a fanciful story. Spirited beings and unusual attractions, he chuckled nervously. Heat surged through his veins as he pondered the encounter again. She was small, but there was no denying the affect her shapely body had on his equilibrium. Maybe she was an angel, sent by the Spirit to help him through his darkest hour. If that were so, he would be damned to an eternity in Zorn because his response to her ethereal embrace was anything but innocent. It bordered on erotic.