This story is still a work in progress. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 4 will be posted when it's completed.

Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Written in the Stars (Stories)

A Life

© 1999 C-Music

Chapter 1

From sleep to wakefulness and back and forth, we move through world after world, through many layers of what it means to be human, on and on throughout our lives, with those we know, friends, family, lovers. One constant, along with ourselves, on our journey, is love...

Little did she know, when her alarm woke her from a well-deserved sleep, that it was about to be one of THOSE mornings. She lay there for a few minutes going over the dream from which she woke, and then sat up and opened the curtains to reveal the day. It was beautiful, as it usually was here. She peered out into the sky, a light blue, with a warm yellow sun. Just the slightest wispy white clouds moved gracefully, high and light. She was glad she chose to stay on this world. This beautiful day out her window only strengthened that feeling. Her favorite reason though, was her employer himself, she mused. Sighing happily, she got up. It was late, yes, she knew that, but all of the meetings and that party, well, she truly felt refreshed.
Her rooms were relatively simple, with a quaint charm, and leaning toward the scholarly. Ever since she was little, she'd always loved to read. Any book she could find was fair game. She particularly loved reading about different cultures, and the pursuits of the mind. The heavy tomes she'd acquired over many years, sat neatly in their shelves with an air of quiet dignity which was irreverently broken by the brightly colored curtains on her window and various childlike trinkets around the room. She liked being a paradox, it suited her just fine. Besides, she was afterall, living proof that these different ideas could live together in harmony.
She smiled to herself as she thought of the previous evening. It was a wonderful event, and fortunately there were no incidents. She needed more nights like that. Perhaps there would be more, if the current initiative kept on as it had. She'd seen the relief in Jamus's eyes over the past year, sure, there had been small infractions, but that was definitely planned for and expected. All and all, we were still moving forward.
She'd loved their time together last night. They weren't always able to share the kind of time either of them would prefer, but then there were times like last night which made up for all of that. He was a beautiful, loving man, deeply passionate and emotional, with a clear, intelligent mind. She loved just looking into his eyes after they made love.
She continued with her morning rituals and happy thoughts, wondering what the day would bring. A while later, she was up and ready, and just looking at herself in the mirror, when she stopped, sensing the approaching visitor. Amused, she waited for his familiar knock, alredy knowing full well who it was. As she went to open the door, she found sure enough, that it was Saral of course (whom she always sensed before he called on her) come to visit. She glanced at him in the doorway for an instant, a stocky, muscular man but with a look of extreme deftness and agility. His hair was sandy, and he wore a simple uniform of similar hue, save the symbol on his left collar in a sea blue.
"Hey sleepy head, and how are we this morning" he said with a childlike smile. His smile was cute enough, but his eyes were what always attracted her attention. They were the most beautiful blue she'd ever seen, deep and intense, twinkling happily and calm. You could get lost in them.
"Just wonderful, Saral, but somehow I don't think that's going to last, is it?" she joked.
"Oh, you're good," he joked back, "but first, you must tell me-"
"About last night," she interrupted, "and Jamus?, sorry, our secret.", she taunted lightly.
"Now come on Sis! everybody knows you and the King-"
She interrupted again," "Now, just because you're my brother, doesn't mean you get to know - everything... -well," she continued, "maybe later... What's up?"
"Well," he said, turning serious, "There's an ambassador from the other continent on his way to visit our dear King this morning, and the Selik have just told us that he's really an assassin... ", he trailed off, as Jori's eyes also became serious.
"So," she said, already knowing, "where do I fit in?"
"The Selik have suggested his death as the safest course of action, and Jamus has reluctantly agreed. So, you my dear, are to accompany two others to deal with this threat."
Frustration and disapointment now visible on her face, "not THIS again!," she said, exasperated, "you'd think they'd learn by now." She hesitated. Sarcasm tingeing her voice, "yeah, well, I guess it comes with the territory..." she continued, looking bothered.
He moved closer, "it's OK, Jor, you'll do fine."
"I know" she said, "but it's just that I hate this part of my job."
"I know, I can feel it, I'm sorry..." he gave her a quick, but warm and supportive hug.
"Thanks, you're a sweetie." she said, "does Jamus want me to meet with him?"
"No, we'll brief you."
"OK, I'll be there in a few minutes." she said, looking over at the mirror. He waved, and was gone.
She always needed to meditate and think for a few minutes before these kinds of things. Saral and she weren't brother and sister by birth, but may as well have been, as they grew up together and shared everything, well, just about everything, she laughed to herself, thinking about the conversation just now. She let her mind reach out and could sense the man because of whom she was now being asked to perform this duty which she hated most. She could see him now, in his room, meditating as his ship cruised, three and a half hours out.

The first thing that struck her, was how young he was. He was attractive, and looked so innocent. The force of her own emotions around his vision caused her to draw back for an instant. "Does he know what he's getting into?" she wondered, as the answer, "yes", came as a tentative unconscious whisper to her conscious mind. "Damn it!, why have they sent someone like him?" she said out loud, "he's just a child!" Her anger and sadness rushed to her brain, and she intentionally relaxed, to calm herself. She had been aware that he had sensed her as well, and to her dismay, that he also knew what she'd known even as Saral told her of the mission, that she would easily be successful, and he would die. "Why did he have to be so aware?, like her, why did he need to know that?" "What a cruel thing", she thought. She watched him for a while, sitting quietly there, she knew he'd only glimpsed her, but that was obviously enough, or, too much, in this case.
His hair was dark, almost black, and he had a beautiful, young face. She looked into his deep brown eyes, through the ether, as they both remained quiet and contemplative. His eyes were thoughtful, piercing, but obviously saddened. "Who are you?" she said out loud, rhetorically. She then, dispelled his image, and focused on the day ahead.
As she went to her table to get her weapon, her thoughts turned to the man she loved, Jamus, her King. She sensed him, she could feel him worrying about her. He knew what she was feeling right now, not by sensing it, but just by knowing her so well. He'd probably make himself sick over this one too, she thought, and sent him some "calm". He wouldn't know it was her, but he'd feel it just the same, and that's what she wanted.
Picking up her weapon, she drew it a little from it's nondescript black scabbard, and stared at the symbol on the blade, close to the hilt. It consisted of three ovals, intertwined symmetrically, with a circle surrounding a triangle in the middle. It was engraved and enameled in black against the silver of the blade itself. It was the symbol of the Varr, the active branch of the Selik, the order to which she and Saral belonged. The weapon, like the symbol, was fairly plain and utilitarian, with a shiny, broad, alloy blade, with a smallish quillions, and simple black hilt. It was light, and sat at her right side easily, completing her formal uniform.
She looked at herself a last time, and quieted and focused her mind once again. She was tall and svelte, her hair, long, straight, and dark, hung evenly at her shoulders and down her back, framing the gentle but defined oval of her face. Her eyes, like those of the man whose life she was about to end, were dark and pensive, but alive and confident. She wore all black, except for the little symbol at her collar, embroidered in white, the same one as that of her weapon. Around her waist, she wore a black sash, to which she now clipped her sword's simple scabbard. Turning, she quietly left the room, to see Saral and the team to discuss plans for their little jaunt this lovely morning.

Chapter 1 - chapter 3 - Written in the Stars (Stories)

Chapter 2

Walking up the paved path toward their small air field, her thoughts were decidedly on their mission and it's logistics. She couldn't help but be amused and not a little irritated however, at the sheer pointlessness she had just come from. Briefings in general were certainly boring but for Saral and she, they could be down right laughable. It's hard to be interested when, at the moment the meeting is called, one already knew the entire plan, what was to be discussed and what was to be decided upon. If they'd just let her go, it could have saved twenty minutes. All amusement aside, this was a grave mission in her opinion, and it weighed very heavily on her heart. The contrast between her earlier mood and the beauty of the early day with what she was now feeling was terribly ironic. She wanted to cry, but kept herself easily in check.
Around her, the late morning sun lit the flower gardens and trees surrounding the small palace, bringing their many colors to life. Though it had many rooms, the palace was not overly extravagant, but uniquely elegant in it's simplicity. The regal air came not from the palace itself, Though it was distinguished enough to set it easily apart from other buildings, but from the way it and the foliage around it coexisted. Several tall deciduous trees flanked it on all sides their branches in Spring greens, reaching skyward. In closer, were many beds of varied wild flowers, in bloom and brightly colored. She loved their many hues and tints, from the deep, intense reds, bright yellows and oranges, fiery in the warm morning sunlight, to the brilliant whites and cool blues and purples. The building itself, was of warm, sand colored brick, with statuary and fountains depicting various trees, vines, and animals. Here and there, throughout the flower beds, ran many winding walkways, some cobbled and others in brightly colored slate. She and Jamus would often stroll amid the flowers in early evening, to talk, take in the beautiful, fragrant summer air and watch the stars in the deep purple of dusk. It was on one of these lovely paths that she walked briskly now. As she looked back over her shoulder, she noticed her two colleagues just leaving the palace. She wondered what took them so long, and then dismissed it, they would catch up.
Her thoughts turned again to the man up there, flying toward them. He'd be just crossing their southern boundary by now. She'd always wondered why the Selik just didn't post a Varr at every checkpoint. "Things like this simply wouldn't happen", she thought to herself, "We'd have the situation figured out and dealt with before they finished their first transmission." She stopped herself. She'd been up that road before, it was pointless. The Selik proper, were implacable in most of their protocols, and that one, was one of them. Their inactivity and remote nature bothered her sometimes. They were however, she felt, the one completely non-corrupt organization which had the ability to improve this world. She brought herself again to the present, "here and now, girl" she said to herself, thinking of the Zen tradition of Earth, which was just beginning to flourish on their continent of Asia. She thought it interesting that its mental practices could be so close to those she'd learned in her OWN training.
She took a moment to glance over her shoulder again as she turned the corner into the Air field. She saw the two of them laughing, "if they only knew" she thought. She was sure they had no idea about the darker side of their mission, and why should they? Part of her envied them, that they wouldn't see this day end in tears. She knew, however, the true importance of her role, and that this, no matter how horrible, was necessary. Not only was it the man she loved whom she was saving but the king of this continent, the one who had the courage to suggest the peace initiative for which he was being targeted now. Many owed their welfare to his forethought and vision.
On the day the initiative was adopted, just over a year ago, the reactions over their planet's two continents were mixed at best. Not only were the two kings involved, subjected to criticism from groups on opposite continents but also from those of their own. There were disagreements on everything from the allocation of natural resources to the preservation of local traditions, such as the "proper" time for a mid-day meal. Despite all this, the overwhelming air was a good one, with many continental leaders in agreement over what was to be in effect, the new government of this world.
Until that point, much of each continent suffered with various social problems mainly due to mismanagement or down right corruption in the use of wealth and resources. Add to this, the pointing of fingers by social groups and the governments of each continent at the other, and it was easy to see both, why the initiative was on one hand badly needed, and on the other greeted with unabashed distrust.
This "new government", though preserving each continent's own higherarchy, was to in effect, unite both governments together under a neutral leadership, thereby allowing some of the wealth and resources of each continent to pass freely back and forth to satisfy the needs of each. The Selik, who had always been consulted by both continental rulers for many generations, were now to be in a position of leadership over both rulers and were responsible for guiding the planet as a whole.
She had no doubt that this latest infraction was simply an attempt by a small-time, underhanded politician to disrupt things for their own agenda, or rather, sarcastically she thought, to get their little bit of fame at the expense of a life either way. Anger welled up. She calmed herself and went on. .
She sensed her lover, and saw him standing alone, lost in thought, his tall silhouette framed against the sky outside his large southern window. She saw his beautiful warm, light brown hair. His clothes were a muted eggshell color, with his royal emblem at his shoulder, in a deep blue. At his waist, he wore a sash of the same blue, from which his silver ceremonial dagger hung, glinting in the morning light. She switched her "position" in the room so she could see his face. Her emotions welled up again. She calmed them. His worry was evident, his face lit by the window's light. She stared into his eyes, blue, with a hint of green. Along with his youth and strength, she saw the emotions that carried him now, worry, caring, love, disappointment and hope. She held him in her mind as she moved.
Then, in her mental vision, she saw a familiar hand touch his shoulder. It was Saral. She felt Jamus's unrest quell somewhat, and was relieved. As she saw the two begin a conversation, she sent "thank you Saral."
"Anytime Sis, come back safely, we'll have the table set and waiting for you." he replied mentally. She felt the warm sense of calm he sent, wash over her.
Pausing a moment, she turned to wave at the two women behind her. One smiled and, returning the gesture, both picked up their pace slightly. Though still some distance away, she could see the two of them a little better now. She'd seen them around from time to time but hadn't been introduced. They both carried small bags, and were in black, similar to her own garb. One was slightly taller than the other, with shoulder-length light brown hair, while the other had darker hair in a shorter style. She knew they weren't Varr but felt their commitment and determination despite their light-hearted manor. Though they hadn't yet met, she liked them already and felt they would do well on this mission. She continued on then, entering the air field.
Ameira Field was quite small, but hosted an interesting hodgepodge of air and space craft of all types and levels of technology. There was everything from silver and white planetary couriers, to an old, beautifully ornate hot air balloon. It was on this that her eyes settled as she walked. It was wonderful. The balloon itself was shaped like a graceful tropical fish, decorated in blues, greens, and purples, almost glowing in the sun. An old man was preparing it for flight. She waved and smiled on her way by. He waved and smiled back as he continued with what he was doing.
She scanned the field for their ship, and noticed Jamus's own craft. It was a medium-sized sleek ship in light blue and white. They enjoyed going up in it together, sometimes on a trip, or sometimes just for an hour or two.
She spotted the craft they were to take today, and started in it's direction. On her way, she passed a woman in a blue flight suit, just finishing wiping down her small black sport craft and beginning her checklist. Her little ship was amazing, sleek, triangular, and shiny black. On the side, in deep purple, it said simply, "SOMA". Though intrigued, she felt her stomach reel at the thought of going up in it. It looked not only very, very fast but extremely maneuverable and she knew, because of that, was also probably quite unstable as well. The woman didn't see her, so she kept on quietly.
She could see it clearly now, at rest in one of the many "vertical-takeoff" spaces, the ship they'd be flying in today. It was an odd craft, and very interesting. From a distance, it looked like a hot air balloon, but the basket, though made of tan wicker, like most, was actually a small ship. The balloon was towering, and shone bright orange against the light blue firmament. As she approached she could make out more detail. She noticed up where the burner usually was, that there was a small cluster of what looked like engines. She'd seen other privately owned pleasure craft that looked similar to this one but she sensed that there was more to it than she was seeing now. The ship's seemingly innocuous look was exactly what they were after. They wouldn't stand out at all in the sky around the small convoy they were to meet this morning. The ship itself, was squarish but its top and botton were tapered quite abruptly at the front and back, making it somewhat more aerodynamic. She could see two doors on the side closest to her, a large sliding panel toward the rear next to a tiny window further back, and a smaller hinged door to the front, which was open. She approached this, and gave a light knock as she called "hello..."
The figure inside the craft turned. "Jori!" she exclaimed, her voice high and surprised. "I haven't seen you since forever!" she continued, walking across the small cockpit, smiling brightly, to greet her familiar but unexpected visitor.
The interior of the craft easily made as strange a picture as the exterior. It looked to be split into two rooms, with a sliding panel separating them. The cockpit was small, with two banks of controls near the front and a large window just above them, which slanted inward until it reached the ceiling. The contrast of the metallic consoles, with their various screens and lit buttons with the surfaces of the room which appeared to be wicker, was surreal. In the center of the little room, was a small rectangular wooden table with two chairs. What she noticed most though, was the crystal vase of beautiful, large red roses in the center of it, their scent filling the small room and relaxing her mind a bit.
"How have you been child?" she continued, touching Jori's hand and gesturing for her to enter. "Mayra! it's wonderful to see you." Jori answered in kind, though somewhat muted with her mood, returning Mayra's smile as she stepped up into the craft. She was about to honestly but vaguely answer her pilot's polite inquiry when Mayra stopped her, her blue eyes fixing Jori knowingly, "It's OK child, I no you can't talk about it."
Mayra was a calm presence, with an air of efficiency. Though considerably older than Jori, she looked quite young, and moved quickly and smoothly with confidence. Her blond hair was short and styled simply, and her smile lit the room. She wore a simple white gauze top and bottom, light and flowing for the season. Jori always enjoyed spending time with her, and now her presence was even more reassuring.
"Let's just say that things aren't going as I'd wished today." she answered solemnly.
"Yes, I can tell" she said, kindness and concern in her eyes. Motioning Jori to one of the chairs at the little table, she continued, "how are you and Jamus doing? it's been so long since I've seen you..."
"Oh, thanks, we're still together and doing very well." she said. She always appreciated Mayra's sense of intelligent discretion and felt comfortable sharing her personal life with her over the years they'd known eachother.
"Wonderful, I always thought you two would make a great couple." Glancing quickly at her checklist, she continued, "So, I hear last nights gathering went well?. No spies or other nasties to deal with?" she inquired. "Not that they'd stand a chance with YOU at his side!" she added mirthfully, looking at Jori.
"You're too kind" she remarked, smiling. "It was quite a relief, I actually had a good time for once."

"That's good child, you both need more occasions like that. For that matter, so do I", she laughed, "I'm sorry I missed it!"

"You certainly have THAT right!", Jori emphasized.
"You know, you sound just like Jailin sometimes, child" Mayra said thoughtfully. "She and I used to talk for hours on end about this sort of thing", she reflected.
Looking at eachother, both were silent. Jori thought of the friend both of them had lost, and touched Mayra's hand gently, across the table. "Thank you Mayra", she said softly.
Mayra smiled, fondness in her eyes, "you're quite welcome child."

She turned, checking three of the view screens, flipping through several external views of her craft.
"How about you, how have YOU been lately?", inquired Jori politely.
"Well, believe it or not, I've actually managed to settle down a bit. I still get a lot of commissions, and fly a lot, but I'm thinking of retiring relatively soon."
Surprised, "Really! you?, not the May I know...", Jori replied.
Mayra walked over to take readings from the other console. "Well, we'll see what happens Jor", she said kindly.

"Who gave you those?" Jori asked, gesturing to the lovely centerpiece.
"Oh, you like them?", Mayra said, her eyes lighting up, "This pilot I know who's had a bit of an interest of late..." she trailed off, smiling.
"Hmmm..." Jori smiled.
Mayra turned, laughing.
"Mayra, are they going to be OK up there?", she asked, gesturing to the position of the flowers.
"Now child!" she humorously retorted, "I've been a pilot for twenty years, and I'll be darned if I'm going to let any little thing happen to those lovely tokens of affection! -besides, they're my lucky roses..." Mayra laughed confidently.
Both were startled as the air shook around them with the sound of the engines of the little black craft Jori'd passed on her way, powering up. They watched the woman taxiing her ship toward the closest runway. Jori could see her silhouette through the dim canopy as she brought it into position for takeoff, it's engines at an idol, venting flame, intense orange next to the perfect black of its hull. She looked at Mayra, it was still quite loud to talk. A second later, Mayra's com system crackled to life. "Ameira Field, this is Soma K-352, leaving, east A. over?" They continued watching the little ship through the cockpit door as the response came, "Soma K-352, this is Ameira Field, clear, east A. Over. " The pilot revved and slowed her engines to check their performance one last time. Then all at once, she powered them again. The sound was unbelievably loud for such a small ship, and they both winced. White hot flame and exhaust flared from the rear of the tiny craft as it shot down the runway and was almost immediately sky bound.
They looked at eachother, as the air around them quieted.
"Somebody's got a deathwish." Jori said, dead-pan, as they both burst into laughter.
It was the first real laughter she'd experienced today, and it felt wonderful, flying in the face of their dark errand.
"Yeah," Mayra replied, calming down a little, "I've seen her around, but don't know her name. She's an amazing pilot. Wild ship huh?"
"Yeah", Jori replied simply.
Mayra turned and looked out of the large window of her craft. "Ah, I think I see your friends coming, make yourself at home." she said, pointing to the passenger compartment. "I'll just finish up my checklist, and we'll be off-", she stopped, taking a rose from the vase. She smiled, "here Hon, have this, for luck." She handed Jori one perfect bloom.
"Thank you very much, Mayra." she replied quietly, as they exchanged smiles.
Passing through the sliding door to the rear of the cockpit, Jori stepped down into the passenger compartment. It was larger than the room she'd just come from, and looked quite comfortable. She saw the sliding panel she'd noticed from the outside of the craft. Just aft of which was the small window with, of all things, drapes on it. "Well," she thought, "I guess some passengers are a bit pickier than others." This room actually looked somewhat homey. There was a large carpet on the floor in medium blue and a small, comfortable-looking couch in a somewhat lighter blue. Behind the couch, hung a small tapestry in many colors, with a rather nondescript abstract design.
Removing her sword, she placed it next to the couch and made herself comfortable on the floor. She waited, holding the rose and calming in its lovely fragrance. After a minute or so, her companions boarded the ship. Mayra greeted them and directed them to the rear. Jori stood up to greet them as they joined her. Both placed their bags around the couch, and joined her on the carpet.
Mayra slid the door to the cockpit shut. The three of them, alone now, engaged in some small talk and did some last-minute fidgeting, and finally settled, as Mayra's voice came over the com system.
"Hang on back there." she said, then the speaker clicked off.

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Written in the Stars (Stories)

Chapter 3

She felt the slight shudder move through the craft as they heard the ignition of flame from above. It's pulse and roar, low and strong. Though powerful, she found it wasn't as loud as she'd expected, and she was easily able to hear over it.
A few moments later, they began their assent. The ship moved steadily, straight up. She couldn't tell if it was being lifted by the balloon above them, or maneuvered by controlled thrust. She'd have to ask Mayra about it later if she had time, it was certainly an interesting ship she had.
She looked over at the small window to her left as they rose. She could see the vast wheat fields just east of the air field, gold, in the day's warm light. Further off, a mountain range was visible, purple, sheathed in cloud, it's peaks sparkling with glacial ice. "It's beautiful," she thought as they continued higher, the sublime view moving her, "if only I didn't have to kill someone today," sarcasm rearing it's head again. "I can't do this, not here, not now," she thought, banishing her darkness and trying to relax.
"Jori, do you know how long it'll take?" asked Shayla.
"We're supposed to rendezvous with the convoy in about an hour and a half. That should give us a good margin of safety."
Shayla, the woman she'd seen waving to her on her way here this morning, was tall with long, light brown hair. Though her face and demeanor were lively and up-beat, her blue eyes showed a mature, serious side of herself. She smiled often in conversation and just from the few minutes they'd been acquainted, Jori trusted her implicitly. In fact, she felt completely comfortable with both of them.
Shayla's colleague, Mareth, was shorter and somewhat stocky, with darker brown hair, wavy and short. She too, peered out the tiny window. Her eyes were light green, bright, clear, focused, but with a mischievous light-hearted twinkle. Jori liked her levity. She wished the situation were different today and that she could let herself open to it.
She thought ahead to the end of the day, of how it would feel, looking back on this moment, instead of staring it straight on in the face right now, beautiful and horrifying at the same time. She wished she could be there now, looking back at herself but that feeling would come too slow today. She turned again to the view outside. The three of them looked out into the blue sky, as the craft stopped, hovering in position, waiting for their confirmation to leave the air field.
They hung motionless, smooth in the warm early Summer air, a gentle breeze lightly rocking their small ship, several hundred feet up by now. Mareth turned, shifting her position.
"Better get comfortable Babe," Shayla said, looking at her friend, "it's gonna be a while."
Mareth laughed, "yeah, I know," she replied smiling.
Jori couldn't help but smile a little herself, these two made a great pair. She felt dark inside, cold, sealed off, remote. She had to be. Though she didn't look it on the outside, she was now constantly in check. She'd keep herself guarded, her thoughts and emotions "away" from him, the one she'd be meeting today for the first and last time. If she didn't, the whole mission could be in jeopardy. That was absolutely the last thing she would ever allow to happen.
She'd done this before. On the outside, to those who didn't know her, she appeared quiet, serene, pensive. Inside, tears loomed like a black cloud, impenetrable, over her sun. This never compromised her strength though, she knew it well. It was part of the territory sometimes. She had to remain "separate" from him. She couldn't let him sense her again and she couldn't speak about her own mission to her companions, lest he sense it through them. He wasn't aware of her two colleagues at the moment, she knew, that was good. They weren't disciplined like her, and if he learned anything from them, the mission could fail miserably and have horrible consequences. She shook her head slightly, dispelling this last awful notion. She projected the idea of "silence" around the three of them. At least if he did become aware of them, he wouldn't learn a thing if she had anything to do with it. She sighed and waited, touching the rose she held.
There was a click, and then the sound of servo mechanisms came from above. The large motors whirred, changing the position of the engines for horizontal flight. The craft shifted slightly. A second later, they were in motion. The ship moved smoothly through the air, despite it's strange shape.
"Pretty," Mareth said, pointing at the rose. "where did you get it?"
Jori looked down. "Oh, Mayra and I have been friends for a long time, here," she handed it to her. "Watch the thorns."
Mareth placed it up to her nose. "Mmmm<" she said, "it's beautiful, thanks." She handed it to Shayla.
"That's a nice one," she complimented, admiring the stately bloom, "good luck charm?"
"Well," Jori hesitated briefly, "as a matter of fact..." She smiled, trailing off as Shayla handed it back to her.
"I hope it'll work for all of us," Shayla joked, smiling.
"Oh yeah," Jori smiled back, "yes it will..." She put the flower up to her nose, taking in it's deep sweet fragrance. She closed her eyes.
It gave her strength, it's intense aroma, it's shape, delicate. Brilliant, strong in it's simplicity.
She thought of her mother. She 'd always helped her in their small flower garden.
It was Summer. She'd just turned four. Her mother, after hearing Jori beg for months, decided to surprise her with the flower garden she'd been so incessantly talking about having. Surprising her keen little daughter was at best, not easy, but with Saral's help, she'd managed it.
Jori's eyes went wide, seeing the bags of seeds and bulbs her mother held out to her, smiling.
"Well, sweetie, do you feel like planting a garden today?" she asked, her face beaming at her daughter's astonishment.
"Mom!" Jori could barely get the words out, "where did you -I mean, Yeah!" she exclaimed, jumping up and down, her face alive, smiling back at her mother.
Caila almost dropped the bags she was carrying, jostled by her daughter's energetic, four-year-old animated hug. She looked into Jori's big dark eyes, positively glowing, as her child looked up at her.
"OK sweetie," she said, picking up the gardening tools next to her, "you get to carry the flowers, and Mommy will carry the tools, ok?" she said, handing the bags gently to Jori. "Be careful Hon."
"I will Mom, I promise," she said, calming down a bit and delicately taking the small bags. She looked down at them, "little baby flowers," she thought, looking at the various seeds and bulbs, already having studied which ones were which.
Caila smiled, she knew the intelligence and awareness already in her child. She wondered how her gifts would effect her later life. Where would they take her? She looked at her little girl for a long moment, holding what would be her flower garden, in her little hands.
"Are you coming, Mom?" Jori asked, impatient, turning and starting to run for the front door.
"Yes Hon, don't run!" She followed, feeling her daughter's excitement as she ran ahead.
Reaching her special place on the side of their house, Jori gasped, "Saral!" she squealed, joyously. He beamed at her, his little face lit by his big blue, child eyes. She ran to hug him, laughing.
"Don't drop the baby flowers," he said, laughing as he took the bags from her. He gave her a big hug as they both jumped up and down.
The little corner of her yard she'd chosen as her "special place," now had a little circle of stones, filled with deep brown earth. Jori touched the cool soil, it's fragrance filling her nostrils. "You knew about it," she said smiling and pointing accusingly at Saral. "I helped your Mom when you weren't here," he said triumphantly, with a huge white smile.
"OK you two, time to start planting!" Caila came with the tools.
Jori remembered that moment as if it were yesterday. The memory remained indelible on her mind. The little garden bloomed into bright color shortly thereafter. It's flowers in their neat arrangements saw many a quiet conversation between she and her mother, and she and Saral, as they watched eachother grow through it's many brilliant blossoms. It was a peaceful place, a place of calm. Jori would often sit by it alone, just watching her flowers and taking in their beautiful scents.
Shayla and Mareth laughed loudly, calling her back to the present. Evidently, Mareth had told a rather funny joke that she'd mist altogether.
"Well anyway," Mareth said, calming down a little afterward, "when I enter the lead ship, I'm supposed to do a little, shall we say, creative modification on their com system." "It's a shame I won't be there to see their faces when they realize that their long-range communications are routed to an automated response system on their own ship," she chuckled. "So, what are you going to do with the middle one?" she asked, looking at Shayla.
"Well basically, they just have me going in to the second ship and throwing a monkeywrench into things. I'm doing a little sabotage job on their thrusters and plasma injectors and blah blah blah..." she trailed off. "You know the deal," she continued, "let's just say their ship won't move very quickly when I'm done with it," she smiled.
"Like those tubs don't move slow enough already!" Mareth broke in, bursting out into laughter.
"It's just a regular party today isn't it?" the little sarcasm demon in Jori's head chimed in again. She felt sick, but at the same time, was glad at their confidence and knew it was genuine. Besides, she thought, laughing was certainly better than crying. Any other time, she'd be laughing too... She took a breath and relaxed.
"So Jori, what are you up to on our little day of fun?" Shayla inquired lightly, looking at her.
Jori frowned, "I really can't talk about it, I'm sorry," her stomach lurching at the thought.
"No problem," Shayla said, her eyes serious now, "I understand. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."
"No, that's OK, it's just better if I don't say anything about it," she forced a smile.
Shayla smiled back, and turning back to Mareth, continued the conversation.
Watching the two of them, Jori's thoughts returned to Jailin, her mentor, her friend. She'd been gone three years now and thoughts of her still brought tears to Jori's eyes. They'd met when Jori finished her training and came to work for Jamus and his father, who was in power at the time.
She remembered the first day she'd come to the palace. She'd met Jailin in the flower gardens she now loved.
She saw her and Saral sitting on a bench next to a fountain. Saral stood up and gave Jori a big hug, glad to see her after several months. Jailin followed, standing and extending a hand. Saral introduced them. Jori could sense the wisdom already, with Jailin. They exchanged smiles as Jori returned her greeting and they said their hellos.
Jailin had been working at the palace for quite sometime, as she was the personal guard to Jamus's father. She was to instruct Jori in the finer points of the charge, Jori, having just graduated from her training several months earlier.
The two began conversation almost immediately, which, as Saral had related to Jori later, had really amused him, catching him off-guard. He thought they'd hit it off pretty well, he'd just been surprised at exactly how well...
She'd remembered the long talks she and Jailin would often have as they would go around the palace grounds looking for a secluded place to practice their fighting skills or psyonic exercises. Saral would occasionally join them for their drills. The three of them would sometimes try to mentally home in on eachother, or to evade eachother's mental "searches." Some days, they would focus on a faraway target and compare their results. Jori felt at home with them. She knew that they'd never let anything happen to her, or, she to them.
Everything was going so fast now, as she remembered Jailin's words once as they practiced with their weapons.
"Slow down, girl!" she said to Jori, panting from the workout. Jori had inadvertently opened herself up to a potential attack by trying to attack Jailin too soon. "Be calm. Get comfortable with the motions, and you'll speed up naturally. All of your movements will speed up, and you won't have any gaps in your defenses. It's smooth... Think of it as a constant flow, very fast but very calm..."
Jori smiled to herself, remembering Jailin's frown then, as she was quickly and quite gracefully disarmed as Jori took her advice to heart. They both laughed a long time, Jailin wiping perspiration from her forehead, congratulated her.
"You're gonna be unstoppable Girl!" She smiled, proud of Jori's accomplishments.

Jori thought again of the party last night. It was after one very much like it, that Jailin died. She wore a black velvet dress, and stayed by her king, posing as his companion for the event. To see her, one would never have guessed she was ready for virtually any adverse situation, should it arise and threaten her charge. She was aware of everyone in the room, their thoughts, emotions, their intent, and could focus on anyone of them in particular. Most were completely unaware as they enjoyed themselves.
Among her precautions was a small syringe tucked safely into a seam of her dress just above the hem. It contained a deadly poison, too deadly... It showed it's terrifying quality later, as she tried to remove it from her garment as she'd done many times before. This time was different though. As her fingers guided the weapon free, the cap which covered the tip of the needle caught on the fabric, exposing the dangerous point. Her hand slipped and she was stuck by the small needle.
Jori and Saral came quickly, hearing her call for help. Jori waited with her in her room, as Saral went to find the physician. The poison was too fast and too strong. Even the small amount which had inadvertently found her was too much. . By the time he arrived, the antidote was virtually ineffective. The weapon had taken one for whom it was never meant. Jori held her friend, talking with her, Jailin's eyes, glazed, distant, as she flew, leaving this world.
Hours passed that night before Saral and Jamus could convince Jori, through her anguished tears, to leave her friend's side and rest.
She thought of Jailin often. On nights like the last one, where it was now Jori, herself, who scanned the room full of guests, sensing their thoughts, knowing them without ever meeting, close at Jamus's side.
She wore a similar dress to her friend years ago. Similar weapons she bore. Would she, too, die this way? She learned from the loss of her friend, but the thought still lingered sometimes. How would her life end?
She drew a long breath now and released it. "A flow, very fast, but very calm..." She repeated to herself, thinking about today's events. She settled herself... She moved toward the small couch, her two companions still engaged in their conversation, looking out the tiny window. Resting her back against the sofa, she relaxed.
She was careful not to reveal herself this time, as she freed her senses, directing them again, toward her target. What an awful word for a human being. Her mind focused on him again. She saw him wandering the plain drab halls of his small ship. She went "deeper." The name, "Jaren," played in her mind, strong but distant. He wasn't as experienced as she was, and she new he was completely unaware of her now. She saw his youth again, as sadness gripped her. She suddenly wished this day just never happened. Focusing again, she put these thoughts neatly aside for the moment. This would have to be the way of it now, he may be young, but he's still dangerous. She'd have to stay a step ahead of him. She "saw" the image of a family, and then that of a singular figure. Something "clicked" in her mind. she thought for an instant, that maybe there was some recognition of that figure, but then, it was gone. A vision of a small boy replaced it. He was sitting in a tree, looking out through the leaves. She looked into his face, seeing his cute smile. Who was he? Her mind suddenly reeled, with the realization that it was him, Jaren she was seeing. The image swam as she forced control again. Her mind calmed and there he was again, Jaren as he was now. She watched him for a few seconds. He was now doing something at an instrument panel. The image again changed, transforming to that of a corridor. Jaren's figure was small, standing alone at the far end of it, clad in black. His uniform and the weapon at his side were the same as her own. He stood there, just looking straight ahead. She suddenly knew that this was where she would meet him. The vision blurred and she saw him again, walking away from the bank of controls now. She pulled back, returning to her own surroundings.
She sat quietly for a while, waiting, as the craft moved gracefully through the midday skies above their home.
Peering across the small room, she looked out the ship's little window, out into the bright mid-day blue, warm and serene. She watched two ships, tiny in the distance, slowly passing them, moving in the opposite direction. Part of her wanted very much to be going that way too, but that was impossible now...
She thought again, of Jamus, and how she came to be here. If her mother had only known of the days like these, would she have ever let her go to train with the Selik? Would she have guessed that her little girl's talents would someday put her in danger, defending their continent, their world, their way of life? What would she, Jori, have done, if she knew then what she knew now?
She thought back to that day on one of the sunny palace lawns, quite soon after her arrival. She'd been sitting quietly just thinking in the early afternoon sunlight. The green of the grass, the plants and the many trees surrounded her. The day was warm and quiet with just a few birdsongs. The breeze was gentle.
She barely noticed him. His approach was subtle, so as not to disturb her. When, at last, she did turn to see him, her world changed.

With a simple word, "Hello," his calm, confident demeanor washed over her instantly, like the cool ocean. Though her abilities gave her incites most didn't have, she could still be taken by surprise. He, did... She was unprepared for his depth and character.
"I'm sorry, did I interrupt?" he asked pleasantly, consideration in his eyes.
"Interrupt?' Jori queried, a bit taken aback with his tact and discretion. Most who didn't exhibit similar talents to her own would have had no problem just sitting right down and starting a conversation, thinking that she must be doing absolutely nothing and probably wouldn't mind some company. She wasn't usually bothered by it but it was nice to see someone being open and respectful for a change.
"Well, uh, you looked like you were lost in thought, and well, I come out here often to do the same. -sit and think, and clear my head a bit..." He smiled warmly, "so, I'm sorry for interrupting," he reiterated...
She smiled, "oh, no, it's fine. -thanks... My name is Jori, and you are-" she hesitated.
""My name is Jamus," he said, extending a hand. "I believe you know Jailin?"
"Yes, I do..." She touched his hand, returning his greeting. "would you like to sit down?"
"Certainly, thank you," he said, joining her on the grass.
"so, you know Jailin?" Jori asked.
"Yes, I've known her for a while, she works for my father. She's mentioned you... I'd been wanting to meet you for the last few days since you arrived, but as she's probably told you, it's been terribly busy here of late and well, quite honestly, you and I never seemed to be in the same place at the same time. It looks like all I needed to do though, was come to my favorite spot..."

"Well," Jori replied, "it's certainly a wonderful place." She looked around them at the trees. "It's very peaceful, thank you for sharing." She smiled at him. They watched as a bluebird flitted between two birch trees. "Jailin's mentioned you as well." she continued, "It looks like we have a spy on our hands!" She laughed. Her face showed mock irritation, "I'll have to give her a good talking to, and remind her not to divulge my deep dark secrets to strange royals!"
He laughed, "Don't worry, she only told me a few deep dark secrets."
"Oh, I see how this is!" she interjected humorously, "You know everything about me already!" she laughed.
Smiling, he said, "actually, she said I'd better watch out or you'll read my mind! Afterall , you did find my favorite spot!" he laughed, "Now, if anybody has the upper hand, I think it's probably you!" He looked at her warmly.
"Well, we'll just have to see about that now won't we..." She smiled smugly. He made a frightened face. they both laughed.

They sat that day, and talked until evening, as the air cooled and the sky glowed with brilliant oranges and reds of the sunset, fading to the intense blues and purples of nightfall. It was so natural, as if it was simply meant to happen this way. Their conversation and emotions flowed, carrying them both on it's tide. their minds moved together like poetry...
Her attraction for him was instant, and she sensed, his, for her as well. They'd have long conversations, inspired by one another. He could quiet a room, as he spun stories, his voice, quiet and warm. she could sense his passion, his heart, clear, intense.
His father was still king at the time, when she took him to meet her mother. Caila simply adored him immediately. After all, it's not every day that your daughter brings a prince home to dinner. She smiled to herself, remembering. Her mother and he, talked the whole time, and she wondered humorously if she'd ever be able to get a word in edge wise. Her mom would flash her a smile every now and then, approval in her eyes.
She remembered how he'd held her later that evening as they talked and laughed, and made love beneath the stars in the warm summer night sky. She loved the way the moonlight played on his face as they lay in the grass. He kissed her, his body warm against hers. He was muscular but smooth, like a statue, she thought. He was beautiful to look at, regal as was his title...
She felt his heartbeat, fast, as they moved together. She looked into his eyes, into his passion, into his soul. She could feel his emotions, his love for her. They were in pure harmony with eachother, with the darkness around them. Their sounds rising, becoming one with the night air and the endless sky. Her own cries, a counterpoint to the crickets and nightbirds.
"Jori! there it is!" Shayla looked back at her over her shoulder. "The caravan!" she continued, pointing out the window.
Startled slightly, Jori stood up. There it was, in the distance, the three ships they were to intercept. They were simple generic transports. Their squarish forms moving slowly, bland silver-gray, hanging in the clear blue of the midday sky. As expected, they were unarmed and looked quite inconspicuous for the charge they'd been given.
They saw several other ships, brightly colored, some similar to their own, moving and turning in the sky around the tiny convoy. They were pleasure-seekers out to have a good time buzzing the ships in the caravan, exactly what they themselves were about to do, but for quite a different reason. As they watched, one of the ships a vivid green one dived hard, bright white plasma spewing from it's engines as it skimmed the middle convoy ship, coming within ten feet of it's upper surface. They watched intently as it quickly arced back upward and moved off again.
"wow! did you see that?" Mareth asked, surprised.
"yeah," Jori replied calmly, joining them at the window, "that's just what we're about to do, except that we've got a little present for them..." Mareth laughed somewhat nervously, peering into the distance.

"Five minutes," came Mayra's voice from the small speaker near the front of the passenger compartment.
Jori felt her stomach tighten, it was coming down to the wire. According to the plan, Mareth was supposed to go first. She'd disable the first ship's communications and scramble the frequencies which all three ships used so they could neither send nor receive and wouldn't be able to call for help when they found out that the second ship's engines were malfunctioning, causing the convoy to have to stop, trying to deal with their mounting "mishaps." Finally, after finding out that their passenger on the third ship was, terminated, and having no way to communicate with the person or group who was responsible for orchestrating their deadly charade, hopes were, that they'd simply abort and turn around.
Earlier this morning, when their plan had been discovered, Jamus and the King of the other continent had decided that it was to be kept as quiet as possible, so as not to cause any disruption between their continents. Forces had been launched secretly, and were waiting to capture the three ships as they made their way slowly back to their home later today. She knew, that in the end, this was exactly what would happen. She couldn't "see" all of it though. Certain things were still a bit vague.
Mareth gathered up her bag and took her position near the sliding door at the side of the compartment. They waited, watching the three ships get steadily closer in the little window. The air was tense in the small room.
"OK, wish me luck you guys," she said, smiling as she looked back over her shoulder.
"Good luck," both Jori and Shayla said in unison. They stared through the glass as the lead ship disappeared from their view as it passed beneath them.
"Hold on!" came Mayra's voice again. Just then the engines rumbled as they felt the craft dip sharply, in a precise, tight arc maneuvering quickly, reversing, so they could match the direction and speed of the other craft below them. The door slid open, as they dropped quickly into position over the lead ship. The sound of rushing air filled the compartment.
"Now!" Mayra's voice commanded through the tiny speaker.
Jori saw Mareth's silhouette framed against the sky in the doorway, as she looked back one last time, and jumped. The engines roared from above, and the door closed again as the craft moved upward sharply, reestablishing it's former direction, heading to meet the second ship.
Jori and Shayla looked at eachother, somewhat jostled from the speed and extremity of the maneuver.
"She made it safely," came Mayra's voice again. "Five minutes, Shayla."
Focusing intently for an instant, Jori concentrated on keeping attention away from Mareth, until she could enter the ship. She was down there on their upper hull. There were a lot of other ships in the area and she was in plain view. It was improbable at best that even if any one of them saw her and was curious or suspicious enough to try to communicate with the lead convoy ship to let them know or ask about her presence, that they could even find the correct frequencies to do it on. Jori, However, would not even allow that chance to be taken.
Shayla drew in a deep breath and sighed. "Wow," she said simply, dissipating some of the nervous energy Jori could see in her blue eyes.
"It'll be OK Shayla," Jori reassured, as much to calm her own nerves as those of her colleague's.
"Yeah," she replied, "I'm not worried about us being able to do our jobs." Her tone was deadly serious now, "I'm just worried about us. I just want us all to get back safely." she looked at Jori, her eyes asking the question.
"We'll all make it back alright Shayla, don't worry." She found she was, herself comforted, by the sound of her own words. It was the truth. She'd make it home today. They all would.
Shayla fixed Jori for an instant, about to say something. Jori looked at her and as fast as the idea was present in her eyes, it was gone. She thought better of whatever it was and moved on. "Thanks Jori," Shayla said, her relief lightening her countenance somewhat. "Now I guess I've got engines to muck about with." She gave a faint smile as she got up and went over to the little couch to get her bag with her equipment in it.
They watched the top of the second ship gliding gracefully under their craft as Shayla stood waiting at the sliding door.
"Brace yourselves," Mayra said calmly. The ship again began it's dive, shifting as they heard the shrill whine of the engines, working against their momentum, changing their direction. They fell quickly into position over the middle craft of the convoy, as the sliding door opened to dispatch the second saboteur.
"Now!" Mayra said, and Shayla jumped without hesitation. At once, the door closed behind her as the craft swooped back upward and on it's way.
"She's down safely Child," Mayra said from the cockpit.
"Thank you Mayra," Jori replied, somewhat distant. She again gave what protection she could from above, distracting any straying eyes from seeing Shayla, out there alone, her tiny form making it's way toward the small hatch...
"You OK back there Child?" Mayra asked from the cockpit.
"Yes Mayra, Thanks, -as OK as possible right now." Jori's tone was flat now. Hearing herself like that always disturbed her somewhat.
"Good, five minutes, OK?"
"Sure, thanks," Jori acknowledged. The speaker clicked off, and she was alone. The look in Shayla's eyes stayed with her. She felt a question behind it, but let it go as Shayla herself had just done. She "knew" right now, that it was better that way.
She sat quietly just breathing slowly and watching the ships moving and diving out the window. "They must be having a pretty good time," she thought, envious. Well, this would be over soon enough. The finality of her statement to herself made her flinch as she again thought of Jaren, the young man wandering those sterile white halls, knowing his end was near, but not knowing exactly how close. She would come bearing his end. It would be "over" for him too.
Focusing intensely now, never again to let her mind drift from the task at hand today, no matter how distasteful, she stood up and donned her weapon. Holding her rose again, she crossed the compartment to the doorway. The fragrance again enveloped her consciousness.
"Hold on, Child," Mayra said, as Jori felt their velocity increase as Mayra put the craft again into it's now familiar, half arc, half dive. She held on as they swooped close to the top of the last craft. The door slid open and she was buffeted by the wind.
"Good luck, Child," the little speaker blared with Mayra's blessing, "now!" Jori looked down and jumped.

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