Saturday, October 06, 2007

Star Shadows

Chapter Two

His body was cramped but he kept his place. When he was a boy he fit easily into the space. Now that he was supposed to be a man…
“When are you going to start acting like a man Zander?” His father yelled at him in his anger after they landed from their silent trip back from the coral.
“When are you going to start treating me like one?” Zander yelled back, his own frustration pouring forth in an uncontrollable eruption. It was the first time in his life that he raised his voice to his father. He then stalked off into the tunnels, shaking with shock and rage, leaving Boone and Elle to face the lecture that was sure to follow.
If only he knew why they weren’t allowed to leave the villa. If only he knew what it was his parents were so afraid of.
If only he knew why he was so…lacking…in their eyes.
In all the years of listening, he never found out any of the answers to his questions. And every morning he woke, feeling as if every day of his life was one big question.
What were they protecting them from? What dangers lay waiting for them? What were they preparing them for? What was it he was supposed to be able to do?
He kept his ear pressed against the thin sheet of metal that was part of the ventilation system. He had discovered quite by accident that he could hear everything said in his father’s study by just lying in the small niche off one of the main tunnels and keeping his ear pressed to the vent. It was one of his favorite hiding places when he, Elle and Boone played seeker in the tunnels. There was a slight curve to it so it was easy for him to disappear. Now he was as long as the alcove and had to pull his legs up so they wouldn’t hang out for everyone to see.
He felt somewhat guilty for leaving Elle and Boone to face the punishment that was sure to come.
And he also wondered if Boone would even stick around for it. He knew his friend had great respect for their father but he was a second year at Academy. Shouldn’t that mean that he was now part of the adult world?
Boone’s father certainly treated him as one. Ruben was with his father when they found them and had flown them back to the villa without a word to his own son. Zander knew them well enough to know that there probably wouldn’t be a lecture. Ruben treated his son with respect. He treated him as if he knew something. And Boone had earned his father’s respect. He excelled at Academy although in private he said he hated the constrictions. He had piloted ships all over the galaxy with either his father or his uncle Stefan at his side. He had seen things Zander could only imagine. He had been places Zander could only dream about. Boone was allowed to experience life.
That was another thing he heard when he hid in the tunnels. His father and Ruben talking late into the night about the past, about the present, about the future. They talked about their adventures. They talked about their families. They even talked about the unknown threat, wondering about it, if it were still there, what they would do if and when it happened.
It was from these talks that he learned that apparently he was supposed to take over the reins of government someday. He knew everything there was to know about Oasis. His grandfather, Michael was one of his teachers. He knew there had been a war and his parents had saved their planet from being taken over by another planet. He knew his father had instituted a thing called Democracy that let the people elect their own leaders. And those elected had a say in the governing of the planet, and if there was ever a tie, the deciding vote was cast by his father, known to Oasis as the Sovereign Nicholas.
Yet he, Prince Alexander of Oasis, had never been past the coral.
His weapons training and fighting skills were the best. He could even beat his father, sometimes, when they sparred and he and Boone had long ago quit taking their practice battles seriously because they always ended up in a tie.
But he was tired of shooting at targets and training in the large room that took up the entire top floor of the villa.
He had spent untold time in simulators learning how to fly every craft there was.
Yet he had never done anything more than pilot small ships around the Crater Lake.
Perhaps the bigger question about his life shouldn’t be what or why but when? When would he be considered a man and thus privy to all this unknown and unspeakable information that controlled every aspect of his life?
What was taking them so long to get to the study? So far he had heard nothing, although he knew his father was below. He could hear him pacing as his boots went back and forth on the smooth stone of the floor to the softer tread of the large rug woven by Boone’s mother Tess.
“How did it go?” he finally heard his father, Shaun speak.
“The usual,” his mother, Lilly replied. “Why can’t we go there? Why are we being punished?”
“They aren’t being punished,” his father said. “They’re being protected.”
“Do you ever think that perhaps we’ve protected them too much?” he heard his mother ask.
Yes. Yes. Yes…Zander wanted to scream the words, but he also wanted to hear more of what his parents had to say.
“I remember how it was for you,” Shaun said. His voice sound muffled and Zander could easily imagine his father holding his mother in his arms. She brought that out in a man. The willingness to protect and to sacrifice.“When we met, it was if you bore the weight of the universe on your shoulders.”
“Because I had my duties and responsibilities laid out before me as soon as I was able to walk and talk.”
“Your childhood wasn’t happy.”
“No. It wasn’t.” His mother sighed and Zander wondered what made her childhood so sad? Was it because her mother died giving birth to her? His grandfather adored her as he did his grandchildren. She spoke again. “But ignorance isn’t bliss either. Don’t you remember how frustrated you were when you were trying to figure out what was going on inside your mind?”
What are they talking about? Zander’s ears ached with the thought that he might finally find something out. He’d never heard his parents speak so specifically about the past before.
“Two extremes,” his father said. “Perhaps we should have found the middle ground.”
“Perhaps,” Lilly said. Zander smiled in his privacy. His mother possessed a great talent for diplomacy that was sorely lacking in his father. “It’s a bit late for regrets in that matter. And we have something else to worry about now.”
“Boone and Elle.”
“What about them?”
“Haven’t you noticed that he’s in love with her?”
Zander buried his face in his arm and allowed himself a silent laugh at his father’s complete discomposure.
“How do you know?” Shaun was finally able to ask.
“I looked at them,” Lilly said. “He’s always loved her but now, since he’s been gone, he wants her.”
“You looked inside?”
“I didn’t have to Shaun. It’s obvious.”
“And when you say wants her…”
“I’m saying that he’s just like his father. And just like you.”
The vent echoed with the sound of something shattering against it, along with a string of words that Zander knew well, but would never dare say in the presence of his parents.
“Do you think they’ve…”
“No. But I think it won’t be long until something happens.”
“But they’re so young…”
“He’s the same age I was when I met you.”
“I’ll kill him,” Shaun said.
Lilly laughed. “No you won’t. You’ll give Elle time to figure out how she feels about him.”
“Damn,” Shaun said.
“You act like this is a bad thing,” Lilly said. “Who better for Elle than Boone?”
“I just never thought…Damn.”
“You just can’t stand to think about her with any man.”
Zander was pretty sure he didn’t want to think about it either. Elle and Boone…doing things.
Another part of his education that was thorough but also frustrating. He knew all about sex. He knew all about procreation. He even knew what it felt like to wake up in the mornings in an embarrassing predicament.
Especially when he had the dreams…
“Zander,” Elle whispered. “What are you doing?”
Zander jerked as Elle stuck her head into the space next to his legs. His head crashed against the top of the tunnel and he saw stars and felt something wet and sticky flow from his temple.
“Do you mind?” he whispered angrily as he touched his fingers to his temple and then looked at the blood that stained his hand.
“Sorry,” Elle said. “Are you hurt?”
“Bleeding to death,” he said sullenly and turned back to the vent.
“Move over,” Elle said and wiggled her way in beside him.
“Go away,” Zander hissed.
“What is your problem?” Elle whispered back as she slid in beside him. The quarters were close and she continually jabbed him with her elbow so he’d make room. She looked at the wound on his head. “Ouch,” she said. “You’re bleeding.”
“Thanks for noticing and asking,” Zander whispered forcefully. “I’m surprised you just didn’t look in my head and find out what my problem was. Besides the blood that is. Which is all your fault.”
“Zander,” Elle started then stopped as he quickly moved his hand over her mouth.
“They are going to hear us,” he mouthed and pointed down.
Elle froze into place and tilted her head towards the vent. Sure enough, voices could be heard.
“Where are we?” She asked inside Zander’s mind.
“Over father’s office.”
“So we are agreed?” Lilly asked.
“Great, you made me miss something.”
“Are they talking about us?”
“More like you and Boone.”
“I just want them to be happy,” Lilly continued. “But I also would like to keep them young a bit longer. And safe.”
“All that worry…over nothing really,” Shaun said.
“Zander?” His mother’s question. Always the question.
Here it came again. The disappointment. If only he knew what it was they expected of him. What exactly was it that he was supposed to be able to do? Be like Elle? Read people’s minds? See in the dark? Slam doors and make things fly across rooms?
“They wouldn’t believe us even if we told them,” Lilly said. “They’d still take him if they had a chance.”
“Who are they talking about?” Elle asked in his mind.
Zander shrugged. All the years of listening and he still didn’t know the answer. He didn’t feel guilty about it either. He wasn’t doing anything that Elle couldn’t or wouldn’t do. He was just doing it in a different way.
“Physically,” Shaun said. “He’s amazing. I have no doubt that he could protect himself. And he’s only going to get stronger, quicker, as he matures.”
“Not against the Circe,” Lilly said. “Even with the mind training…”
Elle grabbed Zander’s arm.
“What are the Circe?”
“I don’t know.” It was the first time he had ever heard his parents mention the word.
“Even after all this time, I find it hard to believe that he can’t do it,” Shaun said. “Could he be that stubborn? Could he be hiding it, even from you?”
“He could be that stubborn,” Lilly said. “After all he is your son…”
Shaun laughed.
“And he has shown signs,” Lilly continued.
“But he was so small.”
“And he was right,” Lilly said. “At least the one time. I guess we’ll never know about the other.”
“What are they talking about?”
Zander ignored her. He didn’t want to miss anything that his parents said.
“It was so obscure, how could we even know?” Shaun said.
“I wondered about that myself,” Lilly said. “Until he did the same thing with Ruben. For some reason he knew he was in danger.”
“When has Ruben not been in danger,” Shaun laughed.
“Since he married Tess,” Lilly answered. “But you still have to admit that it had to be more than a coincidence.”
“If only there’d been more…signs…”
“I don’t know. I wish I did. But I don’t.”
It was strange to hear his mother admit it. The silence from below made his realize how strange. He didn’t have to be in the room to know that his parents were worrying over something. If only he knew what it was? If only he knew what it was they were protecting them from.
They heard a knock on the door and then Ruben’s voice. “Well I’ve beaten my son into a bloody mass. Do you need any help with yours?”
“I haven’t seen Zander since he stormed off,” Shaun said.
“Boone thinks you should tell them,” Ruben said. “He thinks it’s not fair that he knows and they don’t.”
“That’s your fault,” Shaun said. “I’m just amazed that he’s kept it from them.
“Boone gave his word Shaun,” Ruben said quietly.
“I meant Elle,” Shaun said quickly. “She could have found out, even by mistake. His mind is strong.”
“Yes it is.”
“I knew he knew something. I saw that he was blocking.”
“He let you in?”
“Do you love him?”
Elle didn’t answer. Instead she squirmed her way out of the tunnel.
“Coward.” Zander threw after her. He turned to listen again but heard the sound of the door closing below. They had left the study. Zander pushed his way out and ran after Elle.
“Wait,” he said. He wiped at the blood on his face and was surprised that the gash didn’t hurt. It had throbbed when he first did it but he had forgotten the pain when he was listening to his parents talk.
“I don’t want to talk about it right now Zander,” Elle said when he caught up to her. “I’m still trying to figure things out.”
“Where is Boone?”
“Ruben sent him to get Tess and Zoey at the vineyard and bring them back. Apparently they didn’t know he was home from Academy.”
“You mean he came here first?”
“He really does love you.”
“I know. But he’s had something to compare it with. He’s met a lot of girls.”
Elle made a face. “How do I know if I love Boone or if it’s just because he’s the only boy I’ve ever known? Don’t I need something to compare it with?”
“At least you know someone else besides me. You’re the only girl I’ve ever seen, besides the servants and they’re all old.”
“Thanks,” Elle said. “I think.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know,” she agreed. “And I don’t know. Aren’t you tired of not knowing?”
Their feet followed a familiar path along a dark tunnel that led to an opening that overlooked the lake and the hidden landing bay. From there they would be able to see Boone return.
And it was the one place they were allowed to go that they felt a bit of freedom.
“Maybe there is one thing we could know,” Zander said as they walked out into the afternoon sun. The light dazzled the water until it was a pure silver and they both blinked against the brightness after being in the tunnels.
“What do you mean?”
“Mother said I knew Ruben was in danger when I was little.”
“As in you showed some of the psychic abilities.” Elle said. “I don’t remember it happening. I just remember Ruben coming back with Tess, Boone, and Ky and saying that you were really the one who saved his life.”
“Ky.” Zander said, recalling the huge newf that had been Boone’s shadow for years. Ky had died of old age the summer before Boone went to Academy. It was surely a good thing he died then. He would have died of loneliness had Boone left him behind.
“Boone’s misses him.”
“I know. I miss him too,” Zander said. “But mother also said there was another time.”
“And you want me to help you remember it.”
“You can, can’t you?”
“I’ve never done it.”
“But you know how.”
“Yes. I know how.”
“Then do it.”
Elle chewed on her lip for a moment as she looked out over the lake. Zander saw a vision of their mother doing the same thing. She did look just like their mother, who was still young and beautiful.
Too bad he wasn’t more like their father. He looked like him but he wasn’t like him. Maybe he would have been trusted with some knowledge, the way Boone had been.
And just maybe it was time he figured some stuff out on his own.
“Sit down,” Elle said. “And make sure you open your mind.”
They sat down facing each other with their ankles propped on their knees in the meditation position that their mother had taught them. As one they closed their eyes and took a deep breath, clearing their minds of any errant thoughts that would interrupt Elle’s concentration.
“Are you ready?” She didn’t have to ask permission. She could have just looked.
Elle placed her fingertips on Zander’s temple and then just as suddenly jerked them away.
“Zander,” she said. “Where did the blood come from?’
“From my head. I hit it when you snuck up on me.”
“Where’s the cut?”
Zander touched his fingertips to his temple. The blood was dry on his cheek but he felt no cut. He wet his fingers with his tongue and scrubbed against the blood.
“There’s nothing there,” Elle said. She searched the dark locks of his hair. “Nothing. It’s gone.”
“You mean it healed?”
“Or disappeared. What do you think?”
“I don’t know.” He rubbed his temple again, wondering if he possibly could have imagined it.
The blood was still there, cracking on his cheek.
“Has this ever happened before?”
“Maybe. I don’t remember.”
“Well either it has or it hasn’t.”
“Or maybe it’s just not important enough to think about.” He was irritated. It seemed to be a permanent condition for him. “How quick to you heal?”
“I’ve never been hurt like that. I don’t know.”
Elle had missed most of the scrapes and falls that he had when they were young. She was born with a natural grace. Zander tried to recall the last time he’d been injured.
“I remember falling down sometimes, scraping my knees. Maybe I do heal fast.”
“It’s strange,” Elle said. She seemed worried.
“Don’t worry about it,” Zander said. “You can catalog all my injuries while your inside.”
“We should tell them,” Elle said. “Maybe it’s a sign of something.”
“Like what? Your son is more of a disappointment than you thought?”
“Zander. They are not disappointed in you. They just don’t understand why I can do things and you can’t.”
“Says the daughter who can do anything.”
“It you’re going to be a gank then I’m not going to help you.” Elle jumped to her feet and stalked to the entrance to the tunnels.
“Elle wait.” Zander went after her. “I’m sorry. Please help. You’re the only one I can trust.”
He felt as if he were looking in a mirror when he stared earnestly into her eyes. They were identical in shape, in color, even down to the dark shade of their lashes. It was confusing sometimes, to look into her eyes. He felt as if he were almost looking inside himself.
And then he realized that she could look inside of him and the frustration would come forth again.
There had been a time, when they were small when it didn’t matter what she could do and he couldn’t. They shared everything through her powers. But then their bodies had changed and with that their attitudes and they started keeping secrets from each other.
He needed to make sure that Elle didn’t see the dreams.
“We need to hurry,” Elle said as she stared back at him. “They might think we ran off again.”
Zander nodded and they moved back to their positions.
“If there’s someplace you don’t want me to go, just tell me,” she said.
Resentment flared that she even knew that he kept secrets but he quickly tamped it down, using the litany that their mother had taught them.
I’m ready…
Elle’s fingers touched his temples and he felt her slide into his mind with a gentleness that he never truly noticed before.
It was almost comforting.
“Our memories are shared Zander.”
“Not all of them. Not my…”
“I have dreams too. Relax.”
Zander willed his worries and frustrations into submission. He felt the warmth of the sunshine on the side of his face. He felt the heat radiating from the stone cliff they sat on. He felt the kiss of the breeze as it whipped across the lake. He heard the sigh of the trees that grew miraculously from fissures and cracks in the mountainside.
His life opened before him as if he were watching a dige, except that it moved backwards, as if he were winding up a ball of the thread that Tess used in her weavings.
Backwards they went until they were children, small, and innocent, comforted just by being with their parents. They were adored.
Suddenly he wasn’t with his parents or his sister. He was with Ruben. He was piloting his ship and was under attack. He saw the blasts that rocked the ship. He felt the panic. Sheer terror overcame him as the ship careened towards the ground and crashed.
Was it a memory of his? Or was it something he imagined from listening to the stories that were told about Ruben’s adventures. Boone had seen the crash. Was it one of his memories mixed up with his own?
“You saw it Zander. Boone saw it coming, but you saw it as if you were there, inside the ship.”
“There’s more.”
He saw himself once again as a small boy, playing with a brightly color starship on a plush rug. Elle was beside him with one of her beloved dolls. His father and grandfather were inside, discussing the politics of the planet. His mother and Ruben were on the balcony and his mother was searching Ruben’s memories, exactly the way Elle was searching his.
Suddenly his mind saw a dark and dreary place. Not like the tunnels that they walked with their father as he encouraged them to try to see in the dark.
This place was dim, dingy, and dirty. There were bars and there were chains. The only light came from a torch that tried gallantly to fight back the darkness.
Three women were gathered around a narrow plank attached to a wall. Two of the women were dressed in dark robes and wore strange poufy hats that were decorated with beads and crystals. The third woman was dressed in simple clothes and held a lay on the plank in a ragged and bloody gown and she was pleading with the other three.
“Give me my baby,” she cried. “Please.”
The other women ignored her. They looked at a baby that cried loudly in protest against the arms that held her as the mother cried out.
“What color are her eyes,” one woman asked. She seemed older than the others. Much older.
The woman holding the baby moved the child around so that the torch light reflected in her eyes.
“Dark,” she said. “Violet.”
“tisk,” the older woman said. “I thought perhaps we might be on to something with the breeding. Her father did have the blood line, even if he is a rebel.” The woman gathered her robes and turned away from the crying baby.
“What about the mother?” the woman holding the baby asked. “She needs a healer.”
The younger woman paused at the entrance to the cell. “Let her die,” she said. “She has been tainted by the rebels and is of no further use to us.”
The women left. The one holding the child looked with sympathy down on the woman who was bleeding to death before her eyes. “At least your daughter will live,” she said. “We will find a place for her to serve.”
“No,” the woman cried weakly. “Please,” and then she sighed. “Sagan.”
The child screamed as her mother’s life faded away and as she screamed Zander felt her pain and he screamed also.
His eyes flew open. He was lying on his side and his hands were clenched against his face as if he were battling something inside. Something trying to get out. Elle held onto him and he realized that he was extremely close to the edge of the cliff.
“What was it?” she asked. “What did you see?”
He pushed himself backwards until he rested against the solid foundation of the mountain.
Elle’s eyes were on him, intently serious as if she were searching for a wound.
“Didn’t you see it?” His heart pounded in his chest. He felt as if he had just run a race. And his life had been the prize.
“No. It was if a door closed. But I felt something…sadness…terror…then you started screaming. What was it?”
“A baby. I saw a baby. There were women. The baby’s mother died.”
“That’s it?”
“The baby was a girl,” he added. “What do you think it means?”
Violet eyes.
“I don’t know.” Elle chewed on her lip again. “Maybe Mother can see it.”
“I don’t want her inside my head. I don’t want either of them inside my head.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
He climbed to his feet. Why did he feel so weak? “Boone’s back,” he said, pointing towards the sky.
Elle reached up and he took her hand, pulling her to her feet. They stood on the cliff, side by side, as they watched the sleek craft circle the crater and then come in, skimming over the water until it reached the landing bay below.
“Let’s go see how much trouble we’re in,” he said and they turned into the tunnels as one.

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