I continue to plug away at NaNoWriMo this month, despite having contracted a case of flu. The great thing about the flu is that it’s relieved me of all responsibilities for everything and given me plenty of time to write. I’m bedbound and a little loopy on cough syrup, but the word count is soaring. My husband says I’m milking it. Well, okay, maybe a little.
By now, you’ve surely noticed that my blogging presence has dwindled, but I will be back to into the full swing of things in a very short while as November gallops to a close. I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and happily offer the conclusion of my short story, Ghost Ship.
If you missed the first 3 installments and are interested, you can download the entire thing in one fell swoop HERE . Otherwise, I offer you the links to the previous posts.
Without further ado: Part 4 (Final)
Ghost Ship (Part 4)
“Will you toss another log on the fire?” Juliette asks. Quinn gazes at her from the mantel where he sips his Artemisia, his face aglow in the warm light. She laughs at the wonder in his eyes and rises to join him. “You Earthlings are so bound by your artificial environment; you retain no memories of ordinary planetary life.”
“I understand fire,” he says, an indignant smirk on his face as he rests his goblet on the mantel. “I’ve just never tended one.” He picks up a log and awkwardly places it within the hearth, careful not to burn his fingers.
“Now use the poker to shift the wood and coals beneath,” she instructs. “That will shake off the ash suffocating the flames.” He picks up the iron poker, studies the contraption’s hooked end, and stabs at the wood.
The flames leap to life, and he smiles as he turns to her. With his fingers, he traces the tails of falling stars that curl and shift in her arms even as he touches them. She looks up into his dark eyes and threads her fingers in his black hair, drawing his forehead to rest against hers. She loves these humans so effortlessly, so completely, their entire beings suited to her need for connection. She is symbiotic, incapable of living in solitude, as though they embody her sustenance, her breath, the lifeblood of her being.
They are capable of immense love, devotion that consumes, that ignites the cells and nerves of their bodies as it radiates in limitless light. Yet, all the while, their incredible power lies entangled with fragile innocence, the naiveté of a new species with an insatiable urge to explore boundaries and test their wills. Their love is veiled with fear, and in that pairing, she beholds the poignancy that fills her with such hope and sadness.
“I haven’t eaten anything like that before,” he says. “It was real, wasn’t it? Real food.”
The galaxy beneath her skin glitters as she laughs, her face lifted for a kiss. “Your mind lingers on food?”
“Everything, Juliette. I’m mesmerized, enchanted by you and your world. I could stay here forever, for the rest of my life.” He picks her up easily, and she wraps her legs around his waist, the sheer panels of her silk shift, leaving her legs bared. Her hands clasp behind his neck as he carries her up the narrow stair and sinks to the edge of her bed. With a smile, he reclines, her slender body straddling his.
“Your captain no longer wishes to erase me?” she asks, leaning over him, her quicksilver hair falling forward into a molten pool by his head.
The peace in his face falters. “I wouldn’t say that,” he admits. “But I have no intention of losing you. I can’t. I love you.”
“Do you trust me?” she asks.
“I love you. I trust you completely.” He draws her down, his lips to her neck and chest. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” she replies, without a choice, the betrayal never guaranteed.
On the bed of gray fur, she engages in a dance of souls, offering him the sensuous experience of flesh that Earthlings so desire. She is responsive, radiating, probing the networks of his physical body with tendrils of light and energy. Subtle ripples of electricity activate the neurons in his skin, pulse with his blood, and breach the barriers of his brain. She surges through his thoughts, leaving his mind open, present, without the limitations wrought by fear. He is so terribly thirsty for love that she streams it into him, his soul expanding, flooding first the room, then blasting through the tower windows in a torrent of bliss. He is enraptured, uncontained, and borderless, one with the entire galaxy. She dances in him, thriving in his power, enriched by his love, her essence pure white light.
A shift in his presence draws her into her body, waking her. The sheer webbing draped from the smooth branches billows as the door closes. On the windowsill, the candle has burned low, wax puddling and dripping in a long, bubbled strand down the wall. She rises and treads silently down the staircase, the light in her opalescent body darkening as she recognizes once again the looming end.
He stands by the hearth, the ruby coals casting crimson shadows across his naked chest. In his palm, he holds the box, its lid already removed and resting on the mantel. His eyes dart up as he senses her presence, an expression of guilt or agony contorting his face. “I’m not betraying you,” he insists, desperately, stepping away from her. “I’m saving you.”
“I beg you,” she whispers. “Don’t remove it. You don’t understand what you do; you don’t understand what you risk. Please, Quinn. Trust me, I beg you.” She slowly approaches him, her hand reaching for the box.
His eyes shift to the clock, trying to discern the time, to make the intricate conversions. He retreats from her reach, backing toward the wall and the port. “We’re going to purge the virus from the ship,” he explains. “But I have a friend who’ll clean your data-crystal and give it back to me.”
“No. You don’t understand,” she implores him, following after him. “I’m not a virus. You need me. Please, I’ll tell you everything I know. I’ll tell you the truth.”
Her words scarcely seem to register, his mind closed to all but his desperation. “I love you, Juliette. I have orders, but I won’t do anything to harm you. I love you.” He glances uselessly toward the clock face and then looks through the port. When she takes another careful step, his fingers reach into the box, the warning stark on his face.
“Quinn, wait.” Her hands up, she retreats and sits on the chaise, calming the swirling light of her skin, the color muting to a soft blue. His tension eases and she breathes with him.
“What do you mean, you’ll tell me the truth?” he asks quietly, his eyes on the ark’s rotating rings.
“I love you, Quinn.” She smiles, her face softening. “I love you all and plead for the lives of every soul on this ship. I’m not a ghost, Quinn. I’m not a holo,” she whispers. “You’re—”
Outside, the port-lights blink out. Quinn startles, fear rife in his eyes as he plucks the gem from the slot.
Box and crystal clatter to the marble floor.
Utterly alone, Juliette sits in silence for what seems an eternity. Slowly her form relaxes into its alien shape, a luminous mass of dancing light, a prism without hard edges, enclosed in an ethereal skin. Her castle is unchanged, candlelit, rich in detail, a sensory paradise. And devoid of all life but hers. She rises from the chaise and moves fluidly, rippling like water to the port. Outside the galaxy glimmers like diamond dust on black silk, and in the dim light of distant suns, she can make out the ragged edge of one broken ring on a dead ship.
She flows toward the data-crystal, examining it and finding what she expects, a faint crack through its center, the world inside irreparably corrupted. Two centuries ago, she discovered the interstellar ark of corpses, her own ship damaged by the same spraying debris of a white dwarf gone supernova. Phasing her command module into the holocell took mere moments, but accessing the ark’s memory, making repairs, and encapsulating the data took more than twenty-four Earthling years. She didn’t have any data-crystals large enough and improvised, using sixty teardrop crystals from the chandelier she found in the ship’s amphitheater. They serve, but far from perfectly—each works only once.
She sighs and smiles, human gestures she’s no longer free of, among other habits collected over time. She resumes her human shape, better for climbing on the chair that she drags to a spot below the chandelier. From the hearth, she retrieves the fireplace poker, and then standing on the seat, she reaches up to hook and retrieve a crystal, one of five large teardrops remaining.
With the poker returned to the hearthstone, she picks up the ivory box, relieved to find it intact. She walks to the port, and with trembling fingers, inserts the crystal in the slot. Before her eyes, the slowly rotating rings reappear, their pearls of light sweeping slowly through a dark void. With a sigh of relief, she quickly returns the box to the mantel and pours two crystal goblets of Artemisia.
The portal chimes and glides open. Outside, in the corridor, light-nodes glow softly on the tan walls and the ventilation system hums. A pair of wide-eyed crewmen in blues, gape at her with chins hanging. Between them stands a handsome young man, tall and broad-shouldered with sparkling blue eyes and a long mane of chestnut hair.
A smile crosses her lips as her heart leaps ahead. In the center of the vaulted room, in her sheer silk shift, she lifts the goblets and offers one.
The captain steps into the room and waves a hand across the sensor, the door clipping the noses of the gawking crewmen as it closes. “You’re not exactly what I expect to find when investigating a virus.” He accepts the goblet.
“Captain Caspar Chevall at your service.”
This short story was my contribution to Five Elements Anthology, a collection of stories written by members of my writer’s critique group. Each story had to include 5 elements: a ghost, an alien, a spaceship, a conflict with a boss, and a fireplace poker. If you want to read more… the ebook is available on Amazon for $0.99. All proceeds benefit Books for Kids, a children’s literacy program sponsored by Willamette Writers.