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[2006: JAN-FEB] The Stars Above


Ajescent
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And Here it is.

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Guest kaldore1

The Stars Above

So, this was death.

It wasn’t so bad, really.

It wasn’t even that different. The pain wasn’t there anymore, thank goodness. She was able to sit up again; the first thing she did was look down at her stomach. Moments before, it had sported a grotesque hole through which a crude spear had been shoved…but now, it was fine, albeit a little colorless...

In fact, as she looked around, she realized that the color was beginning to leech out of everything. The jet black and lemon yellow of her uniform jacket were spilling off of her body like water, pooling on the ground and then slowly evaporating. As she looked around, she realized that it was happening to everything around her: the alien rain forest, her dead comrades…and the Romulans who’d done this. She looked for one in particular, the scar-faced one who’d eviscerated her. Whatever she’d heard about the concerns of the living passing away in death didn’t seem to hold much water; she was ready to rip him apart with her teeth, if need be.

Except…she was dead, wasn’t she?

And so was he.

And so was everyone around her.

The bomb had exploded mere seconds after she’d been impaled by the Romulan, while the skirmish was still in full swing over the next hill. She’d heard the explosion, followed by the abrupt cessation of all noises. Ironically, if she hadn’t been dying, that hill would have saved her life. As it was, she registered the debris flying through the air with eyes misting over with red…

And then she was here.

The scene continued to dim, replacing everything around her with a dull, gray mist. The forest was gone now, as were most of the Romulans; she hadn’t found her murderer before they’d vanished. Around her, the dead officers (or were they spirits now?) were beginning to stand, looking off into the murky distance. She jumped to her feet, hurrying towards the mission commander.

“We’re…dead,” he said as she approached. He looked as if he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it.

“No,” she said, refusing to accept it. “I’m not dead. There are things I have to do…things still left for me!”

“Like attending to the one who killed you,” the other said, immediately understanding; subtleties weren’t part of the realm of the dead.

“Not…exclusively,” she said slowly. Indeed, the bloodlust she’d felt just a few moments before had faded. It had been replaced by a dull thudding, like the sound of the blood in the temples of a marathon runner, but this thudding spoke of life, and all the things she had left unfinished….

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, interrupting her reverie. “It’s time to go.”

“Your time,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm. “Your time. Not mine.”

Around her, the others were beginning to wander off into the distance. The realm of the living was completely gone now; the extent of their existence was a cold, gray, colorless world of mist and fog.

“It’s time to go,” said the commander, beginning to trek off after the others. They all had a monotony about them now, a dull listlessness that hadn’t been there in life. “Come with us.”

“Come with us,” the others around her murmured.

“I’ll come,” she said, her mind already scheming. She would follow them, yes, but only because there was nothing here for her. Perhaps she could find a way back into the world of life once she was out of the cloying mist. Anyway, it was always better to be doing something.

“Where are you going?” she asked as they began to walk.

“To the end,” the commander answered automatically.

“This is death…This is the end,” she said, trying to convince herself of what she was saying. What could lie beyond death?

“No. The stars…. We must follow the stars. The stars are the end.”

She said nothing, possibly because there was nothing to say. She had no idea what he was talking about; was this some instinctive knowledge that came when one died? If it was, why didn’t she know? This thought was vaguely heartening, as it could mean that she wasn’t meant to be dead yet.

None of the others spoke as they walked; she took the cue, and didn’t speak again. After what seemed like hours of trekking, she began to see bits of color through the mist, which seemed to be lessening. A dozen steps on, she broke through the mist barrier and stepped into the strangest scene she’d ever seen.

A vast plain extended out as far as the eye could see, stretching to the horizon and (she suspected) continuing on far beyond that. Behind her, the others began to appear out of the mist; the mist barrier stretched on like a wall as far as she could see to both the left and the right. But it was the denizens of the plain that most surprised her, for they were all dead.

Colorless, lifeless spirits dotted the great plain of death. Some clustered together, while others stood apart; still others struck out across the landscape, trying to traverse their new world. Every so often, gravity would seem to give up its hold on a spirit, and the spirit would float a few meters into the air before dissolving. Her former crewmates immediately walked out onto the plain, going to join the other spirits around them.

Strangely, everything here was grayish, as well. She was sure she’d seen color, but where? The answer lay directly above her: in the sky. Tilting her head back, she realized what her commander had been speaking of when he’d mentioned “the stars.” Stars of all colors dotted the celestial sphere, which was itself tinted the indigo of twilight.

As she gazed at the sky, she felt her gaze focus on a single twinkling star directly above her. Ice blue and alone in the sky, the star was the most captivating thing she’d ever seen. Everything around her seemed to be fading away, and she was vaguely aware that her spirit-feet had left the ground. She was floating away, towards the star…towards her star. Music was playing now, very faintly: the tinkling of a music box, the soft melody of a reed flute. She had forgotten all her cares, all her worries, everything…all that mattered now was her star….

But then another voice awoke in the back of her head, interrupting the star’s soft whispers. It was an unfamiliar, grating voice, and it seemed to be screaming in her ear. It spoke of her life…her unfinished life. It didn’t speak of vendettas, or revenge, but rather of time. The time is wrong, it told her, and as she listened, she realized that she knew the voice: It was her own.

Slowly, the star’s music faded, and she felt herself descending. A moment later, she once again felt herself standing on her own two feet in the land of the dead, but now she felt another compulsion…she had to go backinto the mist.

She took a step towards the wall of fog, then another, and another. She was a step away when the mist swirled and a figure stepped out.

It was the one who had killed her!

With her return to life imminent, she felt her earthly concerns come rushing back, too. A hot, acidic feeling coursed through her; she wanted to hurt this b******, the one who had killed her…

Apparently, the realm of death wasn’t as hypnotic to Romulans as it was to humans…or perhaps this particular centurion was simply obstinate. Whatever the reason, he lunged for her as she lunged for him. Both of them missed, but they immediately spun around began to circle warily, neither exposing his or her back to the other.

“So,” the Romulan said. “It is finished.”

“No,” she said calmly. “It is not.”

“Only the dead walk the realm of death,” the Romulan said, speaking with the same innate certainty her commander had used.

“But death need not be permanent,” she countered. “It isn’t even the end.”

“It doesn’t matter. I am happy to have given up my life for the Empire; the Romulans have won this day.”

“Look up,” she called to him, ignoring his grandstanding. “The stars are calling. Can’t you hear their music?”

He had so far refused to look up; if only she could make him, then she was sure he’d be taken. Strangely, the feelings of vengeance had once again been stripped away; it was as though the stars, which she had briefly touched, were asking her to do this for them. They wanted this Romulan, and she would help them…

She lunged unexpectedly, and he took a half step back. She had timed the move exactly, and he stumbled back into the mist. The unsubstantial mist was enough to distract the Romulan; he spun around, batting at it as if it was another attacker, and in the process, he got tangled up, tripping over his own feet. He fell to the ground, landing on his back with his face to the indigo sky. She stepped towards him, waving away the mist, but it was already done: He had glimpsed the sky, however briefly. She saw his eyes, hastily closed as he had fallen, re-open and fix upon a single star. Almost immediately, he began to ascend, fading away a mere meter from the ground.

She turned to look once more at the sky. The stars were singing again, but it wasn’t simply her star this time, it was all of them. They sang a song of time, of the lives of the stars and the great heartbeat of the universe. And they thanked her, in their own way; it was not in the nature of the stars to punish, but they did protect, and the Romulan who had sent her here was a threat. With their music, they sang to her, he would learn…and then there would be…the beyond…

The music faded away, and she turned from the plain of the dead, towards the shrouding mist. The fog enveloped her like an old friend; she had taken no more than a dozen steps in when she saw more colors. She ran towards them, and the mist began to coalesce into shapes around her. Color appeared in great swathes and waves, as if buckets of paint were being thrown hither and thither. She felt a sudden urge to lie down, and so she did. The colors and shapes of life came rushing back now, swirling into the patterns and forms of life faster than her eyes could follow. Directly in front of her, the mist was still indistinct; as she watched, the rest of life’s tableau emerged, leaving only the small patch of mist in front of her. The patch quickly rearranged itself into people she recognized, people from her starship, with one particularly prominent face at the forefront: the ship’s doctor.

“Lieutenant?” the doctor said. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice harsh and raspy. She tried to word again, and her voice cleared somewhat. “Yes.”

“I was able to close the wound,” the doctor said shortly. “Please lie still until we can beam you back to the ship.” With that, the doctor was gone. It had happened in the blink of an eye for her, but she wanted to laugh, to shout, and to run around crying…she had returned to life!

The ship’s counselor now stepped forward. “It would be best to do as the doctor says,” he said in a softer voice.

“Counselor,” she said, quashing her more exuberant responses, “I need to know something…. With my wound…did I die?”

“Yes,” he said after a moment’s pause. “You were dead for about two minutes.”

“Two minutes…” she repeated in a whisper.

“Lieutenant,” the counselor said, “why do you ask? Did something…happen? Did you see something?”

“Yes,” she said. “I saw…the stars. And…I was home.”

“Home?”

“One of them,” she confirmed. “For I belong to the stars above. No matter where the stars are, I am…home.”

She laughed, finally; it was a big, hearty laugh that emanated from somewhere around her stomach and surprised the counselor, for how could such a wounded stomach produce such a healthy laugh? She laughed even more at the counselor’s face, and turned her head back to the darkening sky. Above her, the stars in the alien sky were beginning to sparkle; there was one in particular that caught her eye. It was ice blue and stood apart from the other stars. As she watched it, she thought that she could almost hear the sound of faint music in her ear…

“Home,” she whispered to herself. “Home.”

For she had again been given the gift of life, and she was going to live it.

Edited by kaldore1
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