By the Light of a Simulated Moon
We were still chuckling when Cristlyn's voice came through my PIM. “Jimmy, are you there?”
“Yeah, we're here.” I said, setting down my ice cream. “No sign of any damage in the living quarters.”
“Good. I just wanted to let you know that according to my estimates, the scan will take at least a day.”
“A day?!” Arc said, “The scanners at the Center can cover half the country in less than an hour! What's the hold up?”
“We're doing a much deeper scan with the Yaevin station. It's going to take longer if you want thorough results.”
I wasn't bothered; at this point, as dark as it was to consider, if the dragon had wanted to eat Sera, it would be far too late to do anything about it. If, as we suspected, the dragon was merely holed up somewhere in Wenapaj with the princess, we'd know it once the scan went through.
Cristlyn said, “You are more than welcome to stay here in the meantime. I have plenty of room, after all.”
I glanced at the others, who nodded in agreement. “We'll take you up on that, thank you. It's been a long day, and I think we could all use a good night's rest.”
Arc was on his feet in an instant. “I'm gonna go for a swim!”
“Shouldn't you wait thirty minutes before-” I stopped as the door closed behind Arc. Sighing, I said, “Never mind. I think I'll just head to bed, myself.”
“Go ahead, sir.” Terry said, rising as I did. “I'd like to look around a little more, if that's all right.”
“Sure thing. Good night, everyone.”
Casey and Mick looked at each other.
“Ice cream binge?” Mick suggested.
Casey scoffed and said, “Bring it on, tin can!”
Shaking my head, I headed for the exit with Terry, pausing to call back, “Just make sure you save something for breakfast.”
“No promises!” They called back in unison. Shaking my head, I left them to it.
Terry headed for the storage area for another look while I walked back to the living quarters. I don't know what he was wanting to check out, but it must not have taken long; I hadn't even chosen a room yet when I heard him call out, “Jimmy! Uh, sir! Can I have a moment?”
“Sure.” I said. “What's up?”
“Sir, I've been meaning to ask you for a while. Assuming we are able to rescue the princess, are you going to take Iniagus up on the reward?”
“Reward?” I had to think a moment to remember what he was talking about. “Oh, right: one of her hands in marriage.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
I chuckled. “Something Iniagus said. Sera's a lovely woman. I'd be lying if I didn't say the idea of marriage to her wasn't at least a little appealing, but …”
“But what, sir?”
I sighed. “Sera already has someone; she told me as much herself. To force her to marry me when she loves another just wouldn't be right. Besides, the cumulative time I've spent with Sera amounts to about five and a half minutes; what kind of a basis for a relationship is that?”
“And just how long have you spent with this mystery girl of yours, sir?” Terry said. To my surprise, his voice was almost teasing.
I grinned at him. “Are you sassing me, Terry?”
He chuckled. “Of course not, sir. I'm merely curious.”
I pulled the device Terra had dropped from my pack. As before, it didn't activate, but I really didn't expect it to at that point. “It's strange … it couldn't be more than an hour, but it feels like it's been longer. You know how sometimes you start dreaming, and you're certain it's part of a dream you've had before, only to wake up and realize that it wasn't? Only I haven't woken up; her memory is still there, almost like she's somehow hiding in my thoughts.”
Terry didn't say a word. Blushing, I said, “I know it's crazy, and I'd be lying if I wasn't just a bit worried about my mental state. Still, I can't help but think I'd feel a lot worse without her … even if she is just in my mind.”
After a long moment of silence, Terry said, “May I see that, sir?”
“Huh? Oh, right. Sure.” I handed it to him and said, “Be careful with it, okay? I know you people don't believe me, but it is a weapon.”
After watching him prod the device with his gauntlet-covered hands for a few moments, I realized I was starting to drift off.
“You go ahead and play around with it for the night.” I told him, suppressing a yawn, “I'm going to get some sleep.”
“Of course. Pleasant dreams, Jimmy. Er, sir.”
I took the next room on my right, only a few doors down from the sun room. It was as bland as all the others, but it had a large bed. At that moment, that was all I really cared about.
Just before I drifted off, I found myself wondering about the Saybaro. I had only been gone for a few days, but I was ready to get back and sit on my bridge while the stream trickled between my toes.
That night, however, I didn't dream myself back home; I dreamed I was walking around the Genovis facility with a Galden woman who was very pretty, but unfamiliar.
Still, in that strange way that we can possess knowledge only in the realm of dreams, we seemed to be old friends. We spoke at length, mostly good-natured bickering and the sort of flirting two people who know each other well enough feel comfortable doing. We played some kind of game on the tables in the lounge, and ate a meal in the dining hall.
We eventually went to the lake area, where Casey, Arc, and Mick were playing with a large inflatable ball. Plush One's form was visible through the clear plastic, trapped within the beach ball. Even more inexplicable was Terry, who was standing in the lake in full armor. He just stood there with a grimace as the water lapped around his shoulders.
The woman pushed me toward the lake, but I grabbed her arm as I fell and pulled her with me. The moment we hit the water, I woke up with a start.
I sat up and rested my arms on my knees, trying to hold on to the rapidly fading dream. Narrator Number One has been quoted as saying 'Dreams are the mind's way of perceiving reality'. If that was true, what in the name of the Creator was I perceiving?
Shaking my head, I started to go back to sleep when the lake popped into my mind. Terry, Arc, and Casey were probably asleep and Mick was probably recharging or doing whatever it was he did at night, meaning I could slip to the pool for a quick swim without worrying about swimwear.
Grabbing a perfectly folded towel from the dresser, I quickly disrobed and wrapped the towel around my waist. After listening at the door for a moment, I left my room and moved quietly to the lake room.
About halfway there, I heard a voice behind me say, “What are you doing up, Jimmy?”
I spun to see Mick looking at me with a quizzical expression.
“Ah, Mick.” I said, feeling the heat rush to my cheeks, “I was just going for a little swim.”
“Without a bathing suit?” To my surprise (and relief), he let out a good-natured laugh. “I'm only teasing you, Jimmy. You'd hardly be the first skinny dipper taking advantage of the sun room. In any case, Casey's out cold, Terry and Arc sleep like rocks, and I'm going to see Cristlyn; apparently, she's got an upgrade for me too.”
“Really?” I said, “What's the upgrade?”
“Don't know yet. My guess is that it's something to do with my communication systems. I'll let you know all about it in the morning, if you want.”
“Thanks, Mick.” I said, patting his arm with the hand that wasn't holding the towel around my naked waist.
“Have a pleasant swim.” He said as he continued past me.
The lake room was lit only by the light of a simulation of the moon Traysia and the lights of the floating robots lined up against the side of the lake. I wondered if it was linked to the actual time of day, or if it was on its own time cycle.
I knelt down by the water and ran my hand through it; it was cool now, likely in some sort of night-mode, but still felt fantastic. After a quick glance around, I removed my towel, and slid into the lake. The cool water lapped against my skin soothingly as I swam out into the middle of the pool.
As I drifted through the waters of the lake and stared up at the simulated stars, my mind turned to the matter of the Glyche. Why had they left their facilities in nearly perfect condition? Why was everything except the cryo-freezers in the kitchen area completely clean and ready for habitation? Why did they abandon their homes?
The sound of the lake room's door sliding open cut my musings short. I pushed myself against the far side of the lake and watched silently as a familiar figure stepped into the room.
Terra tentatively approached the edge of the pool, wearing nothing more than a towel. After running her hands through the water, presumably to test it, she let her towel fall in a clump on the ground and gently lowered her naked body into the lake.
Feeling mischievous, I slowly sank beneath the water. Careful not to make any sounds or sudden movements, I swam behind her as she waded out into the middle of the lake.
Once in position, rose from the water right behind her and put my arms around her stomach.
She nearly jumped clear out of the water. Spinning in my grasp (but not, I noted, pulling away), she said, “Jimmy! You scared the Nocturnes out of me!”
“You know,” I said, running my hand through her hair, “if you're really trying to convince me you're not a hallucination, appearing in the middle of a hidden Glyche facility doesn't exactly help your case.”
“Are you disappointed?”
I smiled at her. “No.”
“Then what does it matter if I'm real or not?” She asked, her mouth tantalizingly close to my own. “Now, where did we leave-”
I kissed her before she could finish. She slowly wrapped her arms around my neck, her hands rubbing the back of my head and pressing me closer to her. We were both breathless when we released.
“Jimmy.” She said, a faint blush visible beneath the pale fur of her cheeks. “Do you really still think I'm just a hallucination?”
I stared back at her, feeling both her wet fur and a sense of anxiety I recognized as not mine, but hers. “I'm still not sure. I don't think so, but like you said, that's kinda the point. Still, the time I spend with you feels no more surreal than anything else I've done lately.”
I kissed her again before adding, “And I've still got your dagger.”
“What?” Her eyes widened again, only for her to close her eyes and let her head fall to my chest as she sighed. “I left it at the hotel. Real smart, Terra.”
“Terry thinks it's just a toy, but I'm betting it only works with you, perhaps a genetic safety locking mechanism or a mental verification subroutine?”
“Gineran stream-sensor.” She said, sounding impressed. “You say Terry has it?”
“Yeah. He's the one wearing all the armor. A bit formal at times, but he's trustworthy.”
She let out a giggle before quickly covering her mouth. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“It's nothing. Tell you what.” She said, slipping her arms around my neck again. “When I leave, I'll take the opportunity to sneak into his room and get it back. Then you'll definitely know, right?”
She moved to kiss me again, but I stopped her. “Why not stay?” I asked. “You don't have to hide from my friends, and we could definitely use the help. We've spent so little time together; I'd like to change that.”
She bit her lip, her gaze slipping from mine. “I … I can't Jimmy. I'm sorry, I just … I'm not …”
Feeling her anxiety once again grow, I kissed her again and rubbed her cheek. “It's okay. If you're not comfortable-”
“I am!” She blushed again and said, “I'm comfortable with you, Jimmy. I'd have to be, considering …” Her gaze lowered briefly, her cheeks red. I blushed as well; it was hard not to stare at her body.
Still blushing, she toyed with my hair and said, “Let's not talk about the others tonight, okay? Tonight, it's just you and me … so ask away.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable with me, not even a little. I want to learn more about you, and I know you want to know more about me as well, so how about this; a question for a question.”
“You want to talk?” I asked, surprised.
She blushed again, her fingers gently moving a lock of my blonde hair out of my eyes. “I want to drag you to the nearest bedroom and complete what we started at the lake, and I know part of you wants the same thing. That’s not good enough; I want all of you, so I’ll try and behave myself for the moment.”
Part of me wanted to argue that she was wrong, but I realized the truth almost immediately; part of me wanted to argue, but another part of me was bothered by how fast I’d grown close to this woman I barely knew. Even that part wasn’t pushing against the current that seemed to be sweeping me toward her; it wanted to fill in the gaps and silence its reservations.
She moved into the shallow end of the lake and sat on one of several smooth stones that formed an underwater stair of sorts. As I sat down beside her, she said, “So what do you want to know?”
“Well,” I said, “where are you from? Are you a native Wenapajan, or did you immigrate too?”
Chuckling, she said, “I'm a native. My dad's native too, though mom's from Longshore.”
“Really? How did they meet?” I asked.
“He was just a rookie in the Royal Guard accompanying King Iniagus on a diplomatic mission, and mom was part of the Kynse border patrol. They were both accompanying King Iniagus when he was kidnapped.” She blushed. “Ironically, they were flirting when the rest of the group was under attack. By the time they realized there was a problem, the King had been kidnapped. It took them months to rescue him, during which time they fell in love and eventually completed their bond. A year later I was born.”
“Mom worked for Iniagus for a long time, but eventually went back home. She and dad are still together, though; he visits her as often as his position allows … well, usually.”
“Do I know your father?”
“Perhaps.” She said, moving closer to me. “But I thought you were going to ask questions about me.”
“Right.” I said, blushing.
“What about you?” She asked.
“I thought you knew everything about me.”
“Humor me.” She said, toying with my ear in a manner most distracting.
“Well, I was born in Ronisgald; we moved to Rimstak when I was young, where my parents … well, you know.”
“Yes.” She said, a look of sadness falling over her face. “I saw your memories. I know it’s not really helpful to hear, but I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
Feeling uncomfortable at my final memories of my parents, I coughed and said, “Yes, well … afterwards, I was taken in by Uncle Ann. She ended up raising me until I was thirteen.”
She let out a chuckle. “Which explains why you’re so polite. You were raised as a Rimstakken.”
“I can speak decent Rimstakken.” I told her, “But not as good as a native. Uncle Ann never forced the issue; she used a universal translator at home … which is where the ‘uncle’ thing came into play, by the way. She’s female, but there's an issue with her Universal Translator that mistranslates the word 'Aunt'.”
“What's it translate into?” Terra asked.
“I don't know,” I said, “but it got me spanked twice.”
She giggled at this. “Poor Jimmy.”
I smiled at her. “She was a good guardian. I miss her.”
“Oh? When was the last time you saw her?”
When I didn’t answer, she said, “You … you haven’t spoken with her since then?”
“Not since leaving Rimstak, no.” I said, a feeling of shame coming over me. “We had an argument. It was stupid; it always was, but I said some things that I regret. We both did, I’d imagine. I left that night.”
Smiling to banish the unpleasant memories, I said, “That’s when I came here, and became part of the Immigration Employment Initiative.”
“Wait,” Terra said, cutting me short, “You’ve had no contact with Uncle Ann for thirteen years?”
My shame deepened. “Well, she sends me a letter every now and then. Asks me how I’m doing, tells me about her latest inventions, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, so you’ve written back to her.”
When I didn’t respond, she said, “Not one letter? In thirteen years? Jimmy.”
“I know, I know.” I said, my shame made all the worse with the disapproving look on Terra’s face. “I’ve tried; I sit down every now and then and start to write a letter, but what can I say after thirteen years? I don’t even know where to begin.”
I looked away, unable to face her disappointment. After a few moments, however, she said, “It’s been seven years for me.”
“What?” I asked.
“It’s been seven years since I’ve spoken to my mother.” Now it was Terra who wouldn’t meet my gaze. “We had a fight too. When she went back to Longshore, she wanted me to go with her and my brother, but I wanted to stay in the palace with dad. I don’t regret it; I wouldn’t be one of the Queen’s Shadows now without my father’s training and support. Still, at the time, Mom wasn’t happy with me. I’ve mended things with my brother, but … well, I’ve wanted to open up to her again, to reconnect, but after all this time, I just don’t know what to say.”
After a few moments of silence, I put my hand over hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. She stared at me for a long moment before slowly moving to kiss me. Just before our lips met, however, the door to the sun room slid open. We froze as Casey walked into the room, a dazed look on her face as she approached the lake.
Her eyes half-closed, Casey slid out of her clothes until all she was wearing was a red bra and pair of panties. Still either ignoring or unaware of us, she waded into the lake.
Terra caught my eye and nodded toward the door. We slipped out of the lake and hurried away as quietly as we could. I don't think it mattered; Casey didn't so much as glance our way.
We hurried through the hallways, Terra pulling my by the hand until we reached my room. Our towels were still beside the lake, but there were more in the bathroom. As we dried off, my gaze fell on Terra; her still damp fur, the gentle curves of her body, and her tear-shaped puffy tail.
She caught me looking at her and grinned. “C'mere, you!”
She tackled me on the bed, her fingers tickling me with an almost unnatural knowledge of my most ticklish spots. I had to stop myself from shrieking with laughter and waking up the others. Eventually, I managed to slip from her grasp and mount a counterattack that ended with me pinning her to the bed.
We stared at each other, both out of breath, for a long moment. Slowly, I moved my face close to hers and kissed her. She returned the kiss, pulling my body closer to hers. I couldn't think properly; bushido, streaming, my team, the dragon, all of that was gone in an instant. There was only an overwhelming urge to make her feel good, to make her happy, to … complete something I couldn't quite put to words. She felt it too, the desire that had overwhelmed my own sensibilities … which simply added to my confusion when she suddenly stiffened and pushed me away. Her cheeks red, she slid from under me and stood up, her eyes on the door.
“Terra?” I said, taking her hand before she could move away.
She turned to face me, a look I could only describe as anger on her face. Shame ran through me moments later, not all of it my own.
“I'm sorry.” I said, letting her hand go. “I didn't mean to-”
To my relief, she blushed and shook her head. Sitting down on the side of the bed, she said, “It's not you, Jimmy. I'm not mad at you. If anything, you've shown remarkable restraint considering …”
She put a hand to the side of my face. “Answer me this; do you love me?”
“Yes.” I said, only to find myself startled at the certainty in my own voice.
I liked her, certainly; our last conversation certainly made me feel closer to her, and there was no denying that I found her attractive, but love? I had genuine feelings for her, but it was too soon to go as far as saying I loved her … and yet, I did. I felt I knew her better than I actually did. The more my attention dwelled on it, the more I felt disconnected from whatever drew me to her with such intensity.
She knew. Just looking in her eyes, I could tell she somehow heard the thoughts that had just run through my mind.
“He was right.” She said, “I should have asked you. I should’ve explained it. I should have given you a choice.”
“I don't understand.” I said. “What choice didn't you give me?”
Her lip trembled as she met my gaze. I thought she was about to run, but to my surprise, she put her hand on mine, and rubbed it against her cheek, her soft purple eyes shining with tears.
Before I could ask what was wrong, she slipped her arms around my chest and moved to kiss me. Just before our lips met, she whispered, “I'm sorry … wake up, Jimmy.”