Book: Prophecy


The Loctorian Chronicles Prophecy

Andi J. Feron

Copyright © 2020 by Andi J. Feron

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Ebook ISBN: 978-951802-02-8

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-951802-03-5

To my children.

My love for you inspired this book.


1. Seraphine- June 16, 2015

2. Althea- June 21, 2015

3. John- July 12, 2015

4. Althea- July 20, 2015

5. John- October 23, 2015

6. Althea- March 18, 2016

7. Talon- March 18, 2016

8. John- May, 7, 2016

9. Seraphine- June 4, 2016

10. John- June 4, 2016

11. Gabriel-November 19, 2016

12. Althea- June 24, 2016

13. Althea- December 12, 2016

14. John- January 15, 2017

15. Althea- May 9, 2017

16. Althea- June 18, 2017

17. John- July 11, 2017

18. Talon- June 26, 2018

19. John- July 3, 2018

20. Althea- July 4, 2018

21. John- July 4, 2018

22. Althea - July 20, 2018

23. Seraphine- July 22, 2018

24. Althea- October 9, 2018

25. Althea- January 12, 2019

26. Althea- February 20, 2019

27. Althea- March 24, 2020

28. Talon- April 14, 2020

29. Althea-April 15, 2020

30. John- July 16, 2020

31. Althea- July 26, 2020

32. John- July 26, 2020

33. Seraphine- July 26, 2020

34. Talon- December 17, 2020

Follow the author

Chapter 1

Seraphine- June 16, 2015

I wouldn’t be getting that scream out of my head anytime soon, especially not since it came from my sister. I’d never heard her so tormented before. I dragged an unconscious Allie out of the red water, hoping I could bring her back. We were isolated, miles away from our ship. Any revival techniques I could use had to either be in my bag or done the old fashion way.

I pulled her across the slimy flooring of the cave and laid her on a flat, white rock. I fumbled through my bag and grabbed my scanner. Mysterious bumps formed throughout Allie’s skin. She wasn’t healing herself, which meant whatever they were, they were hindering her ability from activating. Twenty minutes ago, Allie was fine, and now she was dying in front of me.

All of this started this morning, when Admiral Parks asked Allie and me to use our day off to check out a rift in the crust of a planet. The rift was believed to carry a unique type of plasma that would help with a new weapon design. The new design would dissolve the bio-suits of Khalbytians, our alien enemy. The problem was that the planet was heavily infiltrated by the Khalbytians. The council wanted us to bring back readings from the rift so they’d know if it was worth snatching the planet for our side.

They thought two soldiers would be enough to bring back the measurements. A small shuttle carrying only two life signs was more likely to skip detection by an enemy outpost. Allie and I were supposed to stay out of sight and avoid conflict at all costs. For this reason, the two of us were plenty for this mission. At least that’s what everyone thought.

The planet’s atmosphere was full of properties that distorted above atmospheric instrument readings. The same atmospheric distortions made it challenging to enter and exit the atmosphere. Ships would have to wait for breaks in the distortion to make it through the atmospheric barrier.

Everything went smoothly. We landed undetected and hiked to the rift. We gathered our readings and began the hike back. That was the point everything fell apart. Two hours before Allie was dying in the cave, we found ourselves in a predicament.

I lowered myself to the ground, trying to gauge how many Khalbytians we’d need to take out. Allie squatted right next to me, and I hoped that between the two of us we’d figure out a way to get back to the shuttle before the distortions made it impossible to leave. We peered down into a gorge at an enemy army that wasn’t there when we walked through the first time. They were putting up their cooling tents, which told me they were staying put for a while.

I could see their greenish-brown scales shift as tar with each of their movements. They used their massive claws on their four-fingered hands to tear rope that would anchor their tents. One brought his sharp spiked tail down on a block of ice. They’d probably made the ice at their base and brought it along to aide with their cooling system.

Throughout the gorge, the blue-grey rocks glistened and surrounded a red river that looked as though death had bathed in its flow. The cliff sides were a brown color and grey plant roots twisted in and out of its edges. It was unclear what kind of plant the roots fed, as there was no visible foliage above ground.

“So, we just have to pass through this heavily fortified canyon within the next twenty minutes, and we’re gold,” Allie said.

She was grinning, ready to accept the challenge head-on. I wasn’t as thrilled. We were outnumbered significantly, and even with Allie’s healing ability, we could be vaporized at a moment’s notice. There would be no coming back from being evaporated.

“There’s too many for me to project to at once. A hundred maybe and I don’t think you melting them all will be quick enough either. I’m not seeing a good way out at all.” I hoped maybe I could sober Allie’s enthusiasm.

I didn’t mind her confidence; it was her impulsiveness I wanted to taper. We had twenty minutes, before the atmosphere would become too distorted to leave for six days. Worse yet, we were out of com range which meant we had no way to alert anyone what was going on or why we didn’t check-in. Talon probably couldn’t track us through the distortion, but even if he could, there’d be no means for him to reach us until the atmosphere cleared.

Allie inched closer to the edge. “The good news is the rift is heavy in plasma, so the mission wasn’t in vain.”

“Won’t do us any good if we can’t get back to report the findings.” I searched the area using my scanner, hoping to find the best way around.

“We’ll have to go around.”

“That’ll take hours, and we’ll miss our check-in.”

“It’s either that or we go up against the army.”

I sighed. “Yeah, our only option is to go around.” I glanced at my com device, confirming there was no hope of a signal.

“I think everyone on base will probably guess we missed the window. I don’t think it will create too much of a stir.”

“True. I’m more concerned with reports of what lies around the gorge.”

Allie shrugged. “Nothing we can’t handle.”

I wasn’t as sure as she was. This planet was mainly uncharted but known to be prevalent in a variety of wildlife, most of which could probably kill us in a few fun ways. I grabbed my pack and began trekking north, away from the Khalbytian army. Allie joined me, and we continued for four kilometers until we cleared the gorge and turned toward our ship. A pinkish gold filled the sky as night descended on us. We needed to find shelter to prevent creature attacks. I picked up my scanner and discovered there was a cave one kilometer ahead.

I yelped as a deep sting gouged my ankle. I clasped the knife on my hip and rammed it into the head of a small, chipmunk-type animal. The animal was red with black circles, which made me guess natured had marked it poisonous. I limped over to a rock and sat down. Allie bent down to inspect my injury. Green slime oozed from a two-inch long bite mark. Allie put her hand over it and began using her ability to draw out the poison.

She sealed up my wound. “How do you feel?”

“Better, but it still feels like it’s burning.”

She took out her scanner and studied it a bit. “There seems to be a secondary poison. I’ll try to remove it.” She placed her hand back down, but the burning wouldn’t stop. Poisons were a toss-up for Allie healing-wise.

I grimaced. “It’s spreading up my leg.”

“Let’s get to the cave. Lila told me before we left that there are a lot of plants here that are useful for injuries. She brought it up because she would rather have had our mission than the negotiations she’s doing. She even gave me this field guide.” Allie pulled out a book and began flipping through. She studied several of the pages before placing it back in her bag.

Allie pulled my arm over her shoulder, and we hobbled inside the large cavern. The walls in the cave were a royal blue and illuminated due to a white moss that grew in various spots around us. The moss provided plenty of light to see our surroundings clearly. We ducked through several spots to avoid bumping into the stalactites descending from the ceiling. In front of us, a scarlet lake bled the same color as the gorge river, and on the other side were rock shelves that were about six feet off the ground. The shelves were what caught Allie’s attention as she scanned with her miniature computer.

She pulled out the field guide to compare it to her scanner readings. “On the rock ledges over there is one of the plants Lila told me about. It’s not the one I was hoping for, but it should ease your pain, then you can sleep off the rest. I’ll get it.”

“I think I can wait it out. I don’t want you risking yourself. I’ve had worse pain.” I sat on a rock, trying not to alert Allie how excruciating the pain was.

“It doesn’t matter. It still hurts even if it’s not the worst. I’ll be fine.” She left her bag on the ground with the field guide next to it. She trudged across the lake. The river reached her hip, and she reached the other side quickly.

“Be careful!”

“I’ll be fine.” Allie used rocks to anchor her feet and hands until she was high enough to pull herself up onto one of the shelves. Her dangling feet disappeared over the edge.

I watched a yellow spider spin a silver web while I waited. Allie’s wails pierced the silence around me. The shrillness stabbed my heart with terror. I no longer felt my own pain as I launched across the lake. Allie rolled off the shelf and splatted into the water. She didn’t resurface, and I frantically felt around for her.

Despite the water being shallow, I couldn’t locate her. I debated running back to get my scanner when I finally felt her arm and pulled her to me. I lifted her head out of the water and dragged her by the shoulders. There were quarter-size bulges all over her hands. The bulges were round and squirming. I pushed up one of her sleeves and saw more, and a look under her pant leg revealed the same. There were too many to count off-hand.

Allie should’ve been able to heat them up, making them leave. Each bulge had a cut by it where the creatures must have entered her skin. The cuts stayed open, which meant she wasn’t healing herself. Her lips were turning as blue as the cave walls.

My sister is dying! No! No! No!

I pulled out my scanner, and the small silver screen indicated the bulges were insects that burrowed into the skin of its victim to eat muscle tissue. The computer scrolled through more info before I paused the screen and stared. The computer picked up trace particles of plating. The beetles lived in a pocket of plating, and it was absorbed into them. Plating halted abilities.

I fumbled for the knife on my hip, willing my shaking hands to settle. I would have to cut the beetles out then kill them with Lila’s field guide. A large book smashing them would be more accurate than my knife stabbing at their tiny bodies. I used the knife for ripping up the pant legs and sleeves of her blue-grey uniform.

This is taking too long! She’s gone!

I pushed aside the terror my impending task brought. I jabbed the knife into the first one in her arm and pulled up. The first bug flew out, and it looked like a lump of charcoal. Its ten legs thrashed as it landed on its back. I slammed the book onto the bug three times and saw it unmoving and flattened. I scanned it to be sure it wasn’t playing dead. I continued this routine until I was sure I’d gotten them all. She still laid completely still.

Maybe she was still too close to the dead beetles. I dragged her out of the cave even though it seemed futile. My need for her to live fueled my motivation. Her wounds started to close. Muscle spread over the white bones and seeped upward until pink flesh smoothed into its natural state. They all appeared to be sealed over, but Allie didn’t move.

The lake water!   

I began CPR, hoping the parts of her brain ravaged by a lack of oxygen would be healed. She gargled, and I threw her on her side to get the water out. She coughed

then flopped on her back, blinking rapidly. I sat down, trying to ease my hyperventilation.

“In my pocket,” Allie sputtered.


“My pocket… squish the flower on your… leg.”

“Are you kidding me right now?”

“No, it will be very effective.”

I started laughing and couldn’t stop, which morphed into a cry.

“It’ll feel better soon. I promise.” Allie thought I was crying from the pain. She sat up slowly to better reach in her pocket and pulled out the flower.

I threw my arms around her and cried. “You have any idea how much you just terrified me?”

“No, but I know your leg doesn’t have to hurt anymore.”

I laughed again and pulled her a little tighter to me. “I love you, sister. So very much.”

“I love you, too.”

We walked back into the cave, and Allie squeezed the flower over my wound. The ointment dripped from the petals, instantly cooling my leg. I was grateful, but the relief wasn’t worth what it almost cost me.

“You okay?” She handed me a pack of freeze-dried lasagna.

I sat on a rock looking at the beauty of the glowing moss. “Yeah, just thinking about how uncool it would’ve been to have to tell Talon I let his little sister die.”

“Come on, Seraphine. Talon would totally know I got myself killed. John too.”

I smiled and then turned serious. “Either way, I’m glad I don’t have to tell them.”

“Me too. I have to annoy Talon and wake him up for breakfast on my birthday.”

“That’s right. Someone is turning twenty-one in a couple of weeks. Six a.m., right?”

“Yep, like every year. Thanks for the save by the way.”

“Thanks for coming back.”

She shot me a grin. “Can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“I’m definitely good with that. Allie, I need you to stop putting yourself at risk the way you do. I know you were trying to help me but I want you alive more than I want

my leg to feel better. All of us want you safe and when you’re impulsive, you’re not thinking about how much damage what you’re doing can actually cause. What I had to do was brutal, and it’s going to stay with me for a long time. I need to know in the future you’ll be more cautious.”

“I wanted you to feel better and I didn’t think things through the way I should’ve. I’ll try to do better in the future. I guess by trying to make you feel better I hurt you in a worse way. I’m sorry.”

“As long as you learn from it, I think we are good. I need you in this life.”

Allie and I made it to our ship the next day and waited out the week until atmospheric distortions cleared enough for us to take off. We made it back to base, and no one was too worried because they’d guessed we’d missed the window. I sat on my couch with Talon, telling him the entire story. His jaw remained stiff as I informed him of his sister’s near-death experience.

“Allie’s right you know,” Talon said.

“About what?” I leaned back into his arms.

“I would’ve known right away she went out by doing something reckless to help someone. It scares me, but sometimes I think that’s exactly how I’ll lose her. I need her to be more selfish. Why can’t she figure that one out?”

“Because she’s Allie. I don’t think either of us want her any different.”

“I only want her safe.”

I nodded. “I know, and she is, for now anyway. Speaking of which, I better go get a shower before game night.”

“Want some company?”

“Shower time is mine. Bedtime can be yours.” I gave him a quick kiss before hopping off the couch.


Allie was actually my husband’s sister, but she’d become fully mine years ago. Losing her would’ve been different than all the other deaths I’d faced because Allie was part of my blood now, and her permanently separating from my presence would have destroyed me. I got my shower, grateful that I would be dancing with her before the night was out. Our game nights always ended with our team moving in rhythm to the music. We soaked in being surrounded by the people we loved most in the galaxy.

Chapter 2

Althea- June 21, 2015

I woke up ten minutes ago to the striking thought that I was now twenty-one years old. I loved my birthday, or at least I used to. I needed to follow tradition. I was bound to it, as it kept me sane and made me feel normal. Sanity and normality were lies I was given privilege to on my birthday. I pulled down the burgundy dress that hung on a hook in my bathroom and put it on. I kept my movements quiet as I didn’t want to wake my fiancé. My efforts proved futile when I walked into our hallway and spotted him awake.

John yawned. “Allie, it’s six hundred hours.”

“I have to go annoy my brother.”

“Must you?”

“Yep, it’s an obligation at this point.”

He gave me a kiss. “I’m sure as every year Talon will be thrilled. Happy birthday, baby.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back after breakfast.”

I walked to Talon and Seraphine’s quarters. It was slightly regrettable that I’d most likely wake Seraphine as well. I rang his bell but had to ring it three more times. Finally, I heard the clicking of his door’s locks.

“Allie, it’s six in the morning. Too early for breakfast.” Talon yawned as he said what he said every year.

“It’s already been my birthday for hours.”

He sighed. “Let me get dressed.”

He let me inside, and I sat on his red leather couch. I waited for him to change out of his pajamas and into clothes we could walk to breakfast in. I didn’t even know why he wasn’t already up and expecting me. We’d done this almost every year since I turned eight.

A few weeks before my eighth birthday he’d asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I’d told him I wanted to go out to eat breakfast. He’d told me we would when my birthday arrived. I’d woken him up at six, and he’d complained it was too early. I’d reminded him it had already been my birthday for hours. He couldn’t argue with that logic so every year we left a little after six.

Thinking back to how poor we were when I was eight, I now knew what I didn’t know then. Talon must have scraped up money those two weeks before to make my birthday wish possible. My birthday breakfasts with him were some of my favorite memories. There were a few he’d missed because he was off fighting in the war long before I knew about it, but he’d made most of them.

He was my favorite part of my birthday, but I wasn’t sure he knew it. We went to the only thing open on Saturn base at six in the morning, and that was the mess hall. We wouldn’t have the best breakfast, but that was okay because we got to pretend things were the same as always.

Talon buttered his toast. “Seraphine wants you to come over later so she can wish you happy birthday. She’s teaching an art class today so maybe after that. Sixteen hundred?”

“Okay. Yeah, that will work.”

“You feel older, kiddo?”

“About as much as every year.”

We sat eating and talking for about an hour. I liked that we had this time together. Many years ago, he was my only family. Our family grew, and that was the best thing that could’ve happened, but he was still my roots. My big brother, who I owed everything I ever had to, who had protected me and took care of me no matter what it cost him.

We parted ways after breakfast, and I took a walk around the station. Everywhere I went, people stopped me to say hello or talk a little bit. People had, over the last almost three years, learned I was a good listener. I heard five problems from four different people within two hours. The timespan would’ve been shorter, but I let them go into details and offered input if I deemed my opinion useful.

I found myself in the library where I started reading a book about unusual combat theories. The scientist who wrote the book theorized that high-pitch frequencies could be used to disorient Khalbytians. My com device rang, and I glanced at it. John was calling me. I glanced at the time and realized I’d read until noon.

“Long breakfast this year?” John asked.

“Usual length but I took a walk afterward. I found lots of people to talk to.”

“Well, come home and talk to me.”

I chuckled. “Alright. On my way.”


The scent of freshly baked cake flooded my nose as I opened the door to my quarters. This cake was John’s tradition to me. I loved white cake with chocolate frosting. One year, John had asked his mom to teach him how to make it. He’d made it for me every year since.

I hung my keys on the hook by the door. “I’m eating that entire thing. I don’t even know how big you made it and I’m eating all of it.”

“Already on a plate. Forks attached.”

We each took bites from opposite ends, and I told John about my walk and the people I’d seen. I couldn’t eat even a quarter of it, but I gave it a good try. The entire mixture of soft cake and rich frosting combined deliciously on my tongue, causing me to close my eyes.

“Ready for your present?”

“You got me a present?” I pretended to be surprised.

“Yep, same as every year.” John wasn’t fooled.

He handed me a wrapped box that I quickly tore open. He got me my favorite thing—books. I carefully looked all three of them over. I gasped as I realized they were classic first editions and author signed.

I threw my arms around him. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, John Trammel.”

“Funny, I was thinking that about you. Bottom of the box is a new notepad and pen so you can place your notes.”

“Doesn’t get much better than you. Thank you, love.”

He smiled, and I kissed him. He knew me well. Books always gave me thoughts I couldn’t contain, but I was unable to scar the pages up by writing on them. Instead, I made notes on pieces of paper and placed them between the pages they occurred to me on. John said he needed to go to his office and work on some things, but he’d be back for dinner. I was tired from the task of waking Talon up early and with nothing else to do, I took a nap.

When I woke up, I realized I needed to get ready to go see Seraphine. I put on my makeup and made sure my dark brown hair was put back together from my nap. I glanced at the clock and walked to the elevator. One of the base janitors was cleaning the level. He shut off his vacuum as he finished cleaning the hall.

I waved. “Hi George, you always do amazing work. I appreciate you giving us a clean place to live.”

“Oh, Miss Cooper. Thank you. It’s nice that you noticed.”

“How’s your wife?”

“She’s doing great.”

“Glad to hear it. Tell her I said hi.”

I got out on the floor my brother and his wife lived on.

“Hey Allie, how’s it going?” I looked up to see one of the workers from the docking bay.

“Hey Jacob, everything is good. How’s it going for you?” I asked.

“Things are okay.”

“You sound like maybe they aren’t.”

“Broke up with Mac.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

I listened as Jacob told me the entire story and what had happened to his relationship. I gave him a hug and wished him luck.

“Thanks for listening, Allie. It’s nice having someone to talk to about it.”

My com device went off, and I saw it was Seraphine. Oops, it was half an hour past the time I was supposed to meet her.

“Hey, Seraphine.”

“Hey Allie, Talon said you were stopping by at four.”

“Yeah, I’m headed there now. Sorry.”

“See you in a few minutes.”

I turned the corner to Talon’s section. I was terrible about being on time anymore. People seemed too important to rush my interactions, but I needed to be better about respecting others’ time. I hoped I hadn’t delayed Seraphine from getting somewhere she needed to be. I knocked on her quarters.

Seraphine stepped outside. “Let’s go for a walk. I need to run an errand.”

“Oh sorry, Seraphine. I made you late.”

“You’re fine. We can talk as we walk.”

I told her about my entire day. “Has Talon recovered from his wake-up call?”

“Yeah, he won’t admit it, but I think he likes that you still do that. You still want to spend time with him.”

“Of course I do. I always will.”

We got off on floor forty-two.

Seraphine hurried down the hall. “Would you mind grabbing me a sack out of room twenty-eight? I’m kind of in a hurry and having extra hands will help.”

I nodded. “Sure.”

I glanced at each of the doors and found twenty-eight on the right. I aimlessly wandered the wall, trying to find the lights. After no success, I used my com device to find the switch and flipped it.

“Surprise!” A bunch of voices yelled at once, causing me to stumble back.

Seraphine stood in the doorway, smiling. I whirled around and saw all my friends smiling at me. My eyes grew wide as I saw the decorations, balloons, and a banner wishing me Happy Birthday. An abundance of food spread across a large table.

“Let’s party!” Deron hollered. Deron put on the music, and I began to dance with all of my friends. Dancing was my favorite activity. Morgan twirled me around, and we matched each other’s movements as the music blared around us. After twenty minutes of dancing, John walked into the room. He wore his uniform, and I took a deep breath, enjoying the sight of him. He hated parties, but he was here anyway. I walked straight for him.

“I have a weakness for a man in uniform.” I stood on my tiptoes to reach his lips with mine.

“I’m going to wear this more often then,” he said.

I removed his hat and put it on my head. “As if you don’t already wear it too much.”

“True. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

“You two love birds get over here so we can cut the cake,” Colin called.

I grabbed John’s hand and led him to my cake. Everyone sang to me, and I made a wish before blowing out my candles. I looked at my team and all the friends I’d made on base. All I really wanted was for all of us to be okay. I loved all of them, and I would give all I had for every one of them not to die in this war. We partied until bed called our names. I thanked everyone for the best birthday I’d ever had.

I wasn’t the same person I was three years ago. I wasn’t sure who I’d be three years from now, but I really hoped every single person who was here would still be on this side of the great, bright light.

Chapter 3

John- July 12, 2015

Our team was assigned a mission on a Khalbytian planet close to Loctorian space. Both Loctorians and Khalbytians dominated planets within this region. The Loctorians were focused on taking it over and expanding their territory. A couple small villages needed cleared of Khalbytians.

A smooth, black rock made up the ground on this planet. We wore special shoes with spiked traction so we wouldn’t slide. No plants grew anywhere, only smooth rock hills of various reds, browns, and greens rose above the black base. We hiked the two kilometers to the first village. Our support team had already fired on the village, and we were supposed to provide back up.

Screams and growls flowed into my ears as we approached the village. Khalbytians ran carrying their children. Before this moment Khalbytian families weren’t something I thought about. They were the enemy, a brutal creature with no sense of conscience. Massive eight feet tall with greenish brown scales and spikes throughout their backs and protruding mouths and noses. They looked to be creatures from a nightmare that would devour you within seconds.

Allie took in a shaky breath, and her face froze in horror. She’d probably never thought of them having families either. I could see her jumping ship to aid the families’ escape.

The other team’s leader shook my hand. “We’ve cleared the village. My team is moving on to the next village if your team wouldn’t mind doing a final sweep for us.”

I nodded. “We got it. We’ll meet you at the next coordinates.”

The other team left us surrounded by a violent mess. There were bodies of Khalbytians in all sizes strewn about. I divided the team to check different sectors of the village. I scanned the body piles for movement. After checking my fourth pile, I glanced up to see Allie running into a house. She wasn’t with her partner Lila and was therefore breaking protocol by entering a structure without backup. I halted my task and followed her. She made her way through a hallway comprised of red rock, which widened into a large room at the back of the house.

I followed closely behind her. “What are you doing?”

“Shhh! I heard something. Crying maybe,” she whispered.

A clawed tail came down on Allie’s arm, opening a deep gash in her wrist. She yelped and pulled the wound against her chest as it healed. I raised my gun to fire at the tiny creature.

Allie glared at me. “What are you doing?!” She stepped in front of my gun.

“I’m shooting the creature who hurt you!”

“Why would you go and do that? Can’t you see he’s a baby? My hand is fine.” She held her hand up so I could see. “Besides, it’s his only defense for preventing us from doing what you were about to do.”

Allie bent down to see the Khalbytian. She pulled some jerky from her pack.

She held out the jerky for the baby. “It’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you.”

The baby’s hand trembled as he quickly grabbed the jerky and ate it. He leaped into Allie’s arms. She picked him up, and he was about the size of a one-year-old human child. He was under her protection, and I pitied anyone who tried to harm him.

I tried to reason with her. “We can’t take him, Allie. He’s the enemy, baby or not.”

“We can’t leave him either. We killed or chased away anyone who could care for him. What if this was a human child and the Khalbytians were in the same situation?”

“They’d kill the child.”

“Exactly, and we’d say they were evil savages. If we kill him or leave him to die, what makes us any better than them? Why are we even fighting them if we are the same evil?”

“What happens when he grows up and kills us?”

Allie shrugged. “We worry about that then, but right now all I see is our side committing the same atrocities we condemn our enemy for. How do we know we are doing the right thing by always listening to the council? No one can tell us how the war began because we only have one side of the story. I’m not sure we’ll ever get the real story. All I know is that I’m not allowing a baby to be killed, Khalbytian or otherwise.”

The only way I was doing anything with him now was to pry him from her hands, and that wouldn’t end well for me on any token. We came out of the hut, and the others stood in the middle indicating the village was cleared. Allie carried the baby tightly in her arms.

“What do you have?” Talon asked in disbelief.

I recognized his tone. I’d heard it over the years when Allie brought a stray animal home.

“He’s a Khalbytian baby,” she said, not skipping a beat.

“Put it down so we can kill it.”

She glared at him and started walking out of the village.

I shook my head. “I’ve already tried. She’s not letting him go.”

Talon scowled. “She can’t keep him, John. He’s going to grow into an eight-foot monster and annihilate us.”

“I know. We have to do something with him, but Allie won’t let us kill him. Killing him feels wrong anyway.”

“Then order her to put him down. We don’t have to kill him, but we can’t take him.”

“I can’t. She won’t leave him without anyone here to take care of him. This is a matter of her conscience.”

“And she’s a soldier. It doesn’t matter what her conscience says when she’s given an order.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You want to tell her that?”

“Fine! I guess I have to do your job,” Talon huffed. He walked up to Allie, and I couldn’t make out what was said. When he finally returned, Allie still carried the baby to our ship.

He averted his eyes. “Yeah, I guess we now have to get him to his people.”

Gabriel laughed. “You told her.”

Talon told us there was a Khalbytian ship getting ready to flee that we could leave the baby with. Allie made a sling and slid the baby in there. She grabbed some extra jerky from the ship to feed him on the way.

Allie gave the baby a bite of jerky. “Here you go, Ezra.”

Talon rolled his eyes. “You named it?”

Allie nodded and kept feeding Ezra jerky. When the enemy ships came into view, Gabriel went invisible. We waited for about fifteen minutes.

He returned with news. “There is a Khalbytian who is quite upset because her baby was left back at the village, and no one will let her return to find him.”

Allie hugged the baby, being careful to avoid the spikes on his back. “This is Gabriel. He’s going to take you to your mother. Be safe and good, Ezra.” She kissed his forehead, and Talon took a deep breath.

Gabriel made both he and Ezra invisible and placed the baby where he’d be found. He brought back a report of an ecstatic mother and baby.


Back on base, Allie and I were coming back to different quarters. Now that I was an admiral, we were given larger quarters, and we even had a coveted window. Allie loved that it had a window seat where she could sit and read.

The window took up half of a living room wall. We also had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a lot more space than we needed. While we were gone on our mission, officers moved all of our things. After I was done with the mission debriefing, I found Allie in our new quarters looking out the window. She sat with her knees propped up and her arms rested on them. As an empath, I could feel something was bothering her.

“I like how beautiful Saturn looks tonight,” I said.

She nodded but didn’t look up at me. I sat down next to her, hoping that she’d open up without me bringing up the fact that I knew what she was feeling.

“What’s happening to us, John?”

“What do you mean?”

She glanced up at me. “The things we do. We don’t give them a second thought. We kill and hurt and don’t even think about the other side having families.”

“It’s war. We do what we have to. Pleasant or not.”

Her eyes watered, threatening to spill tears. “What if we get to the end of this war and we don’t like what we’ve become? What if I can’t live with myself? Have we forgotten the Loctorians originally forced us into this war? They ripped us away from Earth and wouldn’t let us leave. Now we follow their orders like we joined them by choice. The reason I began fighting was that the Khalbytians killed Loctorian children in an orphanage. I thought that made them unredeemable and vile. Now our side kills Khalbytian children while they sleep in their beds. I don’t even know who we are anymore.”

I didn’t know what to say to her. She wasn’t wrong. There was much we’d done that would be hard to justify under normal circumstances, but this was war. I remembered vividly the vision the council had shown me and many things I’d seen since confirmed to me the vision was real. If we did not fight, humanity would be wiped out. We would lose everything, everything good and everything that mattered. I took her hand, and we sat there in silence. Sometimes there was nothing that could be said.

Chapter 4

Althea- July 20, 2015

I rolled over in bed and sighed, thinking about the mission today. I was losing heart in the fight. I didn’t know what I wanted, but all I did know was that I wanted my family and friends alive. I pushed myself out of bed with a great deal of effort. I slowly put on my uniform. Conformity, a loss of identity, was all I saw as I looked in the mirror. The blues and greys of the cloth looked especially dull today.

I pinned my long hair up to be out of the way and left for the docking bay. John had gone ahead to find out from Admiral Parks what our mission would be. He was onboard already and glanced up from his screen as I walked in. The look John sent my way revealed concern. He was probably wondering if I was going to handle the mission we were about to go on. He was my fiancé, but he was also my commanding officer. This made things more complicated for him. The Loctorians didn’t care what our relationship was because apparently, in the end, it got them where they wanted things to be. They insisted we stay on the same team.

We were to do the opposite of our last mission by protecting Loctorian villages from Khalbytian fire. As John talked about protecting the Loctorian families, he watched my face, and I knew he was reading my emotions for clues on how I was coping with the hypocrisy. I didn’t give him much. I’d learned to turn my emotions off when I needed the privacy.

We landed, and on our way to the village, we were ambushed. Khalbytians were on us. For the first time since my first few battles, I froze, unable to kill the enemy in front of me. Instead, I turned and healed a small wound on Morgan’s shoulder. Talon hung limp, suspended in the air by enormous claws. The enemy I should have killed had slashed my brother in the back of the head.

The Khalbytian drove his claws deeper into Talon’s skull, using them to pull my brother closer. The Khalbytian thrust his gun into Talon’s abdomen and fired. Seraphine screamed as Colin fired and killed the attacker. Talon fell into a heap on the ground. Seraphine let a mournful cry and held him tightly.

She looked at me desperately. “Allie, bring him back. Please!”

She knew I could. Why was she so scared this time? I pushed my concern for Seraphine aside and put my hands on Talon’s abdomen, closing his stomach wound. I went for his head and it healed nicely. I surged a jolt of energy into him, and he gasped. Seraphine held him in her arms, sobbing.

He looked up at her and smiled. “No need to cry, beautiful. I’m fine.” He gently wiped the tears from her face, and she kissed him in relief.

I was angry at myself. If I hadn’t hesitated, Seraphine and Talon wouldn’t have gone through that. What if I made a mistake that wasn’t fixable next time? We went to the village, and things seemed calm. John told us to do a sweep and report back in twenty minutes. We carried our com devices to call for backup if necessary.

A metallic fence surrounded the yellow clay buildings of the town. As I strolled farther inside, there were little shops much like the downtown of a small village on Earth. Blue dirt made up the streets, and purple pine trees grew in pots every few feet.

Loctorians were busy going about their day. A mother pushed her child into a small tunnel, and the child zoomed through, passing a large gap to another waiting tunnel. Other children were playing on swing-type devices and unique-looking slides. Even on an alien world, the children who resided here weren’t much different than human children.

The only difference was that these children were in various states of decay. My mind was disturbed with a moral conundrum I couldn’t dispel. I needed to fight to end things like Dissipation, which was the virus killing all Loctorians. I also needed to keep my family alive. My biggest perplexity was what if the means to the end involved deeds that would vex my mind until the end of my days.

“Interested in time?” I heard a voice behind me say.

I turned to see a Loctorian wearing a green robe. With his hood down, I could see his face decaying slightly, but overall, he looked better than most of the children in the park.

“What?” I asked, confused by his question.

“I sell time. Clocks,” he explained.

“Oh. No, thank you. I’m sure they are wonderful clocks.”

“Would you like to see?”

Not wanting to be rude, I followed him into his shop. There were elaborately built clocks on every wall, and I could hear the perfect movement of each clock ticking in unison, keeping a strict time.

“Hmmm, this one is off.” He adjusted a small clock that hung close to the floor. “Choices are like misbehaved clocks.” He looked up at me.

“What do you mean?”

“One slight deviation from when they should be, and they throw everything else off.”

“I guess I could see that.” I looked at the tiny carved details in each clock. The intricacies astounded me. I suddenly wanted to buy one and take it back.

“I think this one suits you, Althea.”

I paused on deciding which clock to buy and looked at the clockmaker. “How did you…”

He handed me a silver pocket watch that had a silver chain attached. There were beautiful pink roses etched into the top. I turned it over and saw that words were inscribed into the bottom. The words repeated what he told me moments earlier. I read: Choices are like misbehaved clocks.

“How much?” I inquired, liking the one he’d picked for me.

He gave me a wink. “It’s yours to keep.”

A Loctorian winked at me, such a human gesture.

I tilted my head. “Who are you?”

“I’m the clockmaker. I create the time. However, I am much more concerned with who you are.”

I pointed to my uniform. “I’m a nobody. A soldier in the war between Loctorians and Khalbytians.”

“You sound unhappy about who you say you are.”

“I guess I am. I don’t know if I should fight. There is too much moral dilemma.” I opened my pocket watch to reveal the ticking of tiny silver hands on a white clock face. The numbers were a shiny gold color.

“What do you think will happen if you choose complacency instead?”

“I’m not sure. All I know is the Loctorian council manipulates us into doing their bidding whether we destroy our souls or not. All based on glimpses that may or may not come true.”

He tapped his bony finger against his chin. “Hmm… I see. You know humans have something similar inside of them, but because it is purely based on emotions, they ignore it. I believe you call it intuition. You can feel things coming or know something is true or not. You can feel how it really is, and you could change your fates, but most of the time you side against it.”

“That’s because we have no evidence that our intuitions are correct. They aren’t based on logic most of the time.”

“What I have learned about humanity is logic is often illogical for your species. You use it to explain away things that cannot be felt with physical senses.”

“Senses help us know what’s real.”

He straightened another clock that tilted slightly to the left. “Oh, do they now? Did you know when my people were looking for a species to help us, one of the appealing factors about humans was the fact you already had the sense of premonition like we do? Much weaker and often ignored, but present nonetheless. The original idea was to foster that, but through research, we learned your mind was much more ripened to accept the abilities of other things.” He straightened another clock and pushed a button, causing a tiny yellow bird to exit a door at the top of the clock. He moved across the rows of clocks, inspecting each one.

He continued, “Loctorians used to have many of the abilities you humans are able to have activated, but the virus took most of our abilities away, leaving only some of us as time-shifters with a few mind tricks. What do you think would have happened if you had stayed home like you were contemplating today?”

“My brother would’ve been killed, but I could’ve healed him on base.”

“What if I told you that by the time the mission was complete, it would have been too late to save him?”

“But I don’t understand. I’ve saved soldiers who were dead for a couple hours. It’s more difficult, but I’ve gotten better at it.”

“What you didn’t know is the weapon fired on him was experimental, and the wound continues to spread over a twenty-minute period, and then the body dissolves. He would have been dust before they could have even got him off this planet. Fortunately for you, there are not many of those weapons in play yet. They require a resource Khalbytians are scarce in.”

My heart pounded as I realized I almost lost Talon today. Was the desperation Seraphine looked at me with the intuition the clockmaker talked about?

“You’re saying I have to stay in this fight because the ones I love need me to?” I asked him for clarification.

“Partly, yes. But there is a whole lot more depending on you than them alone. I will not lie to you. The fates have chosen a difficult path for you, but if you follow it, the thing that you want the most will come to pass.”

“My friends and family will be safe?”

“Is that what you want the most?”

I nodded.

He spoke further, “You have a task that will be placed upon you. You will know it when it arrives. You will be able to accomplish this task, not only because of the fighting spirit you hold inside of you, but the compassion you emulate when others forsake mercy. Both are a part of you, and they don’t have to battle each other.”

“Can you tell me one last thing?”

He spread his hands open in front of him. “I am an open book.”

“How did the war start?”

“A long time ago, Khalbytians and Loctorians were peaceable people. They had a glorious city where they lived in unity. The Khalbytians valued above all else a precious mineral that came from the core of their homeworld that they called the light mineral. The Khalbytians guarded the light minerals but shared them willingly with the Loctorians.

“When the mineral was combined with other elements, they would concentrate the elements to a magnificent degree. If you had fuel and you applied a touch of the mineral, you would have enough to fuel your ships for years.” He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure he should go on.

When he didn’t speak again, I decided to ask my question in a different way. “How’d the Loctorians and Khalbytians become enemies?”

“I will tell you, but you must promise you will not tell another soul. For if you do, it will alter the future in a way in which humanity will be destroyed. Are you in agreement to hold this secret for only you?”

“Yes, I promise. Humanity being destroyed is the last thing I want.”

“Very well. The Loctorians became greedy and wanted the mineral for themselves. They killed the guards, took the minerals, and were wasteful with it until there was barely any left. The Khalbytians, fearing the light mineral would be completely used up, sought to take it back. They fought the Loctorians, but with the abilities that the Loctorians possessed, the Khalbytians could not win.

“The Khalbytians tipped their hand by searching for a biological component that would shut off the Loctorian abilities so they could take back what was left of the light mineral. Instead, they created Dissipation. They were unaware of the horror they had unleashed. Not only did the virus shut off most of the Loctorian abilities, but it slowly killed them. The grand city was destroyed, and each side fled to their own sector of space, but a bitterness festered until neither side could tell you why the war began.”

I gasped. “The Loctorians started all of this?”

“Yes, but it is humans, a tenacious species, who will finish it. You have this inside of you, Althea. You have the power to end what was wronged centuries ago. But you have to stay in the fight.”

The door behind me clicked open, and I turned to see Talon standing there.

“There you are. John is having a meltdown because you haven’t checked in. I told him you were…”

I ran for him and hugged him tightly, glad he was very much alive to lecture me.

He hugged me back. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m great.”

“Why were you standing in an empty room staring at the wall?”

I released him and looked around. Not a single clock hung on the wall, in the now empty room. I felt a lump in my pocket and glanced at the pocket watch inside. The only proof I had to know I hadn’t hallucinated the entire event.

“Contemplating things,” I said.

“Next time contemplate on your own time. Be glad I’m a tracker and knew you were okay.”

I didn’t even scoff at his words. I was too relieved he was there to say anything. We walked back to the ship.

John looked at me sternly. “You ever answer your com device?”

“Sorry. I lost track of time.” I climbed aboard our ship.

Seraphine sat silently on the trip home. Her pursed lips and downcast eyes revealed a shaken expression. How had she known this time was different with Talon? When we got back, I decided to talk to her. While John went to give his command report, I went to find Seraphine in her quarters. Talon was still gone debriefing as well.

“You want some tea?” she asked.

I nodded, and she made it the way I liked without asking. We sat at her round oak table.

I took a sip of my tea. “I wanted to check on you. You seemed pretty jolted by what happened with Talon today.”

She clasped her teacup tightly and stared at the kitchen sink. “Having my husband die in front of me isn’t good for my nerves. Thank you for bringing him back. I don’t know how I’d continue living if I lost him.”

“But he’s been injured before, and you never reacted that way. I’m not saying anything was wrong with it. I wanted to make sure you were okay. I know this war gnaws at us.”

Seraphine glanced up at me. “Back when Talon and I first got into this war, we were on a team. There was a young Loctorian named Jerap on it. Jerap had many gifts, and he died very young from Dissipation. Right before he died, he showed me a vision. In this vision, Talon died, but no one was around to bring him back, and he dissolved in my arms. I endured nightmares for weeks after the vision. That vision came true today.

“It happened exactly as Jerap had shown me, right down to the placement of Talon’s wounds. My worst nightmare had come true. The only difference was you were there to stop it from finishing the way I so long feared it would.” A tear fell down her cheek. After stopping a second, she continued, “Jerap showed me the vision so I wouldn’t stop you from being brought into the war. He said there would be a time I’d be faced with being able to stop your recruitment, but if I did, that vision would come to pass. That’s why I helped Lucius, Allie. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. You know if I’d had the same knowledge, I would’ve jumped into this war head first.”

She smiled and wiped her tears. “Yes, I totally believe you would have.”

We hugged, and I said, “I love you, sister. Don’t give any of it another thought. What you did all those years ago was the right thing, and very soon, my brother is going to walk into this room safe.”

“I love you too. I like having you around.”

As if on cue, Talon walked in and looked at both of our faces. “Uh oh, what are you two conspiring about?”

I stood up and put my teacup in the dishwasher. “I’ll see you guys later. I better get home.”

“Good idea, before that man of yours calls me to track you down.” Talon emitted a disgruntled tone.

John sat at our kitchen table, working on reports. He didn’t say much as I walked in, and I went to the back to change. I took a shower and put on some warm pajamas. I had no desire to go anywhere.

“You hungry?” I asked.

He shook his head and didn’t look up from his war reports. He was apparently still mad. He was rarely mad at me. In fact, it was so rare that I could only recall it occurring three times in our entire lives. It felt immensely uncomfortable, and I didn’t know how to rectify it.

“I could make some lasagna.” I tried his favorite food for appeal.

He continued staring at his reports. “No, not hungry.”

I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and ate it on the couch. Him being mad ate at me, but I didn’t know how to handle it, so I avoided it and went to bed. A little while later, he slipped into bed and didn’t give me a kiss like he usually did.


“What?” He kept his back turned away from me.

“Can you not be mad at me anymore, please?”

He remained silent, and I thought he was either ignoring me or had fallen asleep.

Finally, he turned to face me. “Where was your head today? I called you at least ten times on your com device, and you didn’t answer. I felt you having an entire range of emotions and called to you telepathically, and you gave no answer. I thought something had happened to you. I was about to raid the entire village until Talon reminded me that he was a tracker. He said you were standing in a room alone, staring at the wall. Then when you got back it was like none of it was a big deal.”

“I’ve been struggling with the why behind the fight but I think I’ve sorted it out now.”

He held my cheek in his hand. “I can’t have you on the team if I have to worry about you. I have to stay objective, and you make that really difficult. We have chain of command and protocol for essential reasons. I’ve talked to Parks about separating us. She says the council won’t allow it because it goes against more of their visions. So, I really need you to know you can’t do whatever you want all the time. It puts you and others at risk. If I lost you, I don’t think I’d bounce back from that. Probably ever.”

“I know. I’m sorry. You’re right about all of it. I promise my head is officially back in the game.”

“Good. Better be.”

I tried to go to sleep but the clockmaker stayed on my mind. I wondered if it would prove difficult to keep my promise to him. I couldn’t risk humanity and that would be enough for me to keep the Loctorian’s secret. I reasoned that it didn’t matter if the Loctorians started it, if there was a way for me to end it. I’d stay in the fight for my family and humanity as a whole.

October 23, 2015

Over the next few months, I became the perfect soldier. I let go of any desires to make impulsive moves. I followed orders exactly as they were given to me and I gained John’s confidence back. Our relationship grew close again, which was a good thing as our wedding had finally arrived.

Lila curled my hair even more than its natural wave, then she braided some around the sides and back. She finished it off with baby’s breaths strategically placed throughout. Seraphine did my makeup, and when she was done, she looked me over with watery eyes.

“What is it?” I asked, slightly concerned.

“You look beautiful, sister.”

Someone knocked on the door of our bridal prep room, and Seraphine went to make sure it wasn’t John trying to sneak a peek. A few seconds later, Fayard Mason walked in. Seraphine gave him a hug. She excused herself to go get ready.

Fayard smiled ear to ear. “Althea, you look beautiful.”

I smiled back and gave him a hug. “I’ve thought about him a couple times today. You think he’d be happy for me?” I asked about Kais. Kais had been my boyfriend who’d died in the war a few months after I’d joined.

“I guarantee you wherever he is, watching over you, he is only smiling today.”

I liked the idea that Kais was still out there somewhere and that he was at peace.

“Thank you for performing the ceremony.”

“It is my honor.” He exited the chamber.

This was the happiest day of my life. John and I had always belonged to each other, but today we got to scream it to the world. Talon entered and looked me over. My big, tough brother looked close to tears.

I stood up and spun so he could see my entire dress. “What do you think?”

“You look stunning, baby sis. Absolutely beautiful.” His voice shook, and I knew it was difficult for him knowing I was grown up and getting married.

Talon moved a little closer to me. “You sure you want to marry this guy? I mean, how well do you actually know him?”

I nodded and laughed. “Pretty sure.”

“Let’s do this then before I change my mind.” He smiled teasingly and hugged me. “That boy better take care of my girl.”

“You know he will. Better than anyone.”

Lila and Seraphine came in and straightened my dress. Lila stepped out and hooked arms with Gabriel, and they walked to the front. Seraphine walked by herself, and Talon would be joining her at the front after walking me down. I soaked in the moment. John stood at the edge of coral-colored ocean. His eyes widened as he saw me. Talon tightened his grip slightly, then I heard him take a deep breath and relax. The music began, and I started toward a brighter future with the man I loved waiting for me.

Chapter 5

John- October 23, 2015

I thought back to all those years ago when I was concerned with making Allie more than my best friend. Never at that time would I have surmised we would be standing on purple sand declaring that we’d be one heartbeat and one soul for as long as this forsaken war allowed.

The sky continually glowed orange with the occasional spark of yellow swirl as in an eternal sunset, the sky danced of a descending sun. Strutties were blue, bird-like creatures with long, multicolored tails. As they flapped their wings, a song played from a harp-like instrument that grew on each of their sides. A local man trained them, and they were the perfect accompaniment for our wedding. The Strutties began to play the alluring melody within them.

Allie appeared from behind the tall, blue trees. Time froze, and only Allie and Talon were allotted movement. He linked his arm to hers as he walked her to me. Her ivory dress dragged purple sand with each step she took. The lace-covered bodice followed through with long sleeves. Her hair was partly braided with the rest in curls falling past her shoulders. Her violet eyes emitted their own brilliance as the sand made them appear as though they glowed. Allie reached me, with soft smile on her lips and a threatened tear welling in her eyes.

Admiral Mason wed us, and both he and I stood at the front in dress uniform. Althea Cooper was all I could see as we spoke our vows. Our lips met at the final announcement of our marriage. We ran down the aisle as our friends cheered.

For years, Allie begged me to dance with her. She’d dance by herself or with others while I watched on the sidelines. She always made sure to let me know if she could dance with anyone it would me, and I’d remind her that my clumsiness would make her desire a regret. Allie kept asking, and I’d always turned her down. I knew she expected that I’d sit and watch while she danced with others at our wedding reception.

Dancing was a vital life component for Allie and not dancing with her at our wedding was unacceptable. For several weeks, Gabriel and Deron helped me with dance lessons to demagnetize my bulky feet. As a wedding present to my wife, I learned how to dance, to finally give her what she wanted from me most.

Deron put on the music and into the microphone said, “Now it’s time for the bride and groom to have the first dance.”

Allie shook her head rapidly at Deron, expecting my refusal. I stood in front of her and gestured for her hand, which made her look even more confused, but she accepted. I pulled her out on the dance floor, and we danced.

Her surprise transformed into a giant smile. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”

I dipped Allie down and spun her, and she twirled. Here in this place, I felt no fear, exhaustion, or hopelessness. In this place, we were dancing with our friends. We were celebrating that in our own way, for a night, we’d escaped the Khalbytian’s relentless devastation.


Our honeymoon was on a planet one solar system over. We were given our own island to ensure complete privacy. The weather stayed the perfect temperature, and we could walk around in our swimsuits and flip-flops, or even nothing at all if it suited us.

A black straw-like material covered the roof of our hut, and green rock made up the walls. The bed attached to the ceiling by ropes so it could swing a couple feet off the ground. We shared a shower to wash the purple sand from our skin and hair. I drew Allie to me and felt the completeness it brought within my wife. My wife—the sound of it made me breathless with anticipation of a brighter future.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to part and stayed in bed most of the time. Blissful was the only adjective I could think to assign the week we shared. We walked on the shoreline, being careful to wear our flip-flops because the beach contained jagged pebbles strewn amongst the white sand. I put my hat on to block the three blue suns. Allie pulled the cap off of my head and placed it on hers. This was something she long had a habit of doing.

I grabbed at my hat. “Hey!”

She took off running down the beach. “If you want it, come get it!”

When she made it to the softer dirt, she flung her flip-flops off and kept running. I chased after her until I caught her by the waist. She turned to face me and kissed me. She pulled me to the ground and laid on top of me. She put the cap back on my head. We rolled around in the dirt for a bit as she playfully eluded me. We were covered in the rich, red dirt we were lying on. We stayed for a while, feeling encompassed in all of each other. This meant another shared shower.

We laid in bed, watching the three suns set one right after the other. There were no distractions on this planet, and that meant all the days required were for us to enjoy each other. We’d known each other our entire lives, but we stayed up late into the night talking, and we slept in each other’s arms late into the day. Time was unforgiving, and our return needed. Battle called its restless echo. It loved to haunt us in every possible aspect.


Our eyes were turned to the Voltor sector. Rumors said that Khalbytians were creating a mass weapon to wipe out human colonies. The Loctorians were fading too quickly already, and we needed to stay on top of things before we had no more Loctorians to protect. The fall of the Loctorians would have devastating consequences beyond their species alone. The attention of the Khalbytians would turn focus on Earth and the human population.

We put on our uniforms and buttoned them slowly as if to draw out the process. I watched my wife finish the last button on her shirt. We made it to the docking bay with everyone else waiting expectedly for orders. They whistled and cheered as we walked in with our hands locked together. Illuminated grins filled both our faces, and Allie blushed a little. I briefed the mission. The Loctorians had commissioned a new battlecruiser a few months back. The massive warship would provide us with stronger weapons and better shields. The ship looked like a predator with glowing blue lights and a sleek jet-like appearance. Its cloaking technology allowed us to appear out of nowhere to smolder the enemy.

“This is our test drive of the entire new Tennon system,” I told my team. I went on to explain the position of crew and assignments. Folding was supposed to be more precise than ever. The new battlecruiser would make us a tough match in battle. Our new skills were confirmed when two Khalbytian ships decloaked, and we quickly took them out. We were able to secure some star bases, and we’d get to avoid land battles for the time being, which was a nice break.

Five months into our marriage, Allie and I figured out a routine and things started to return to normal. Allie was excited because they were giving us a week off. She envisioned amazing plans for us. Before our vacation, we were being sent to another space battle, but this one would take place somewhat in space and partially inside a structure at a midpoint base, meaning that our territory and the Khalbytians’ territory would be nearly the same distance.

The base was a station suspended in space that another alien race had abandoned years ago. Our intel discovered the Khalbytians were making plans to set up camp there to launch more significant attacks against the Loctorians. The Loctorians decided that was a good idea for our side as well. They sent us to procure the base before the Khalbytians could.

The enemy couldn’t be allowed to take the middle base; it would close their gap and inch us much closer to our annihilation. It would take three hours in hyperspace to reach the base, and our hopes were optimistically bent on arriving before Khalbytians did.

I sat at my battle station and in tactical discussion most of the trip. Every once in a while, Allie would ask for my opinion on a venue she was planning for a particular night of our week-long adventure. She’d ask me telepathically so the others wouldn’t hear. Her excitement for this trip made me smile.

Whenever I thought the war would drain me, her happiness revived me. Her enthusiasm for life was contagious to everyone around her. I wished this mission was over already so we could have our week together. I compartmentalized the trip and thoughts of Allie because now it was time for battle.

As we approached the base, dismay began to build the atmosphere. It became apparent that the Khalbytians were in full process of anchoring themselves deep within the base. We’d have to fight our way into the station. I nodded to Seraphine, and her eyes went vacant. She projected herself forward into an inner corridor.

Ten minutes and she was back with report. She’d gone undetected and saw half a dozen Khalbytians setting up camp in a southern corridor. There had to be more than six. It wouldn’t make sense for Khalbytians to send two massive battlecruisers to transport six officers. There were obviously more waiting aboard the ships. The ships had plating in place, not allowing us to scan for life signs on their ship, and Seraphine couldn’t project over to them. This mission was growing stranger. Plating was extremely rare, and it meant Khalbytians put some of their best ships into this mission.

I handed out orders. “Talon, you have command. Althea, Deron, Colin, Gabriel, Morgan, and team fifty-six are with me. We’re going to take back the middle base. Talon, use whatever means necessary against the battlecruisers.”

“Understood, sir,” Talon said without hesitation.

Team fifty-six was another elite team that was assigned to the mission. They were ordered to follow whatever I commanded. Twelve of us made our way to the shuttlecraft. Shields would remain up, but I hoped to surprise them with our new cloaking technology. The docking bay opened to allow us entry. This was too easy.

I began giving orders. “Team fifty-six, head to the command station and see if you can establish control of the station’s defense and tactical systems. Once that’s complete, we can use you to aid our battlecruiser. The rest of us will take care of the Khalbytians.”

I peered out the shuttle bay window. Both Khalbytian battlecruisers sat unmoved. No war raged as of yet. Was our new shielding really that good or was there something more malignant lurking in the stillness? I could sense apprehension from the others. The thought that this was a trap lay prominent as the others willingly followed me to uncertainty. Still, the mission being accomplished needed to remain our priority. We’d have to take the base at all costs.

The corridors were cooled to just above freezing, a fact we’d counted for with our environmental gear. We didn’t wear the unneeded helmets, but our suits regulated our body temperatures. Khalbytians couldn’t bear warmth because the crevices of their scales would heat and turn liquid, causing any cohesion of their molecules to break apart.

Usually their environmental suits compensated, but if they saw this as their base, they’d make it comfortable, so no suits needed for them. The scent of musty clothes tainted the air, notifying us Khalbytians were close.

We rounded corridor after corridor and found nothing. When we made our way to the southern corridor, it proved empty, but I knew Seraphine’s intel could change. I couldn’t shake the feeling they wanted us to head there.

I gave telepathic commands to my soldiers. Morgan disappeared through the doorway. Deron scanned the rest of the corridor and let me know that no life signs were present. My attention turned to Allie, whose movement caught my attention. She headed in the wrong direction. I ordered her back, but she continued toward some blue barrels near a large view screen.

Allie! What are you doing? I called to her mind.

She kept approaching the barrels. I called her three more times to no avail. Wondering if my thoughts had missed the target receptors of Allie’s mind, I risked speaking out loud.

“Althea! Let’s go!” I whispered loudly.

She seemed caught in a trance and unable to break free. I closed the gap between us. I would pull her back, but before I could reach her, three Khalbytians sprang out of nowhere. They slid Allie behind the barrels. I leaped across the room, smacking hard against what felt equivalent to an invisible brick wall. Blackness swirled as I knocked myself unconscious. All amateur moves I’d kick myself for later.

I woke back up aboard the shuttlecraft. Everyone was on board but Allie. I sat up quickly, sending a mixture of pain and disorientation throughout my head.

“Where’s Allie?!” I roared, barely controlling my panic.

Gabriel looked me in the eye and then at the ground. “Khalbytians have her, John. It was a trap. The station is gone. They hit self-destruct, and we’re lucky to have made it out in time. The base was never the goal, at least controlling it. They were there for another reason. As soon as they had Allie, they implemented self-destruct and were gone.”

If resistance prisoners were the goal, why hadn’t they taken me as well when I barreled into their forcefield? Dread tumbled inside my stomach as it hit me what they do to their prisoners, and more specifically their female prisoners. The shuttlecraft glided into the docking bay of our new battlecruiser.

Talon watched as we emptied out of the craft. “John, where’s Allie?”

I didn’t want to tell him his sister was now in the hands of our darkest enemy. “They have her. This entire mission seems to have been a set up for kidnapping Allie. I’ll debrief you in the tactical room.” I could barely handle the words I spoke.

Talon nodded. I could feel his fear and anger boiling ever so slowly to the surface. He and Seraphine followed me to my tactical room for a more private conversation. I looked out the star-viewer at the now empty vastness. My heart beat rapidly, still reeling from the last images of my wife being pulled out of my sight. The middle base would’ve inched us closer to the Khalbytian border. I’d ignored my instincts out of the importance of the mission.

Talon broke my thoughts. “I’m the best tracker. I’m going after her, John. You know I am. I don’t care how far into their space I have to go.”

“You won’t do Althea any good if you get yourself killed,” Seraphine interjected. “We need to think this through. Also, those ships are plated. You can’t track through plating.”

I agreed with Talon. I had the raging desire to go in, causing limitless damage in order to reach my wife. I’d worked my way to one of the lead admirals in this endless war in less than three years. I was required to be strictly professional and emotionless in my decisions. Oh, the wise Loctorian council, placing an empath as leader of fleets. The irony was unbearably comical.

However, Seraphine was right; going in with no strategy would likely result in failure. Failure couldn’t happen. Not with my wife at the mercy of brutality. Seraphine was also right about the plating. We’d be unable to track Allie or use any abilities to assist us. This also brought the intense fear of knowing my wife was utterly defenseless.

“Come on, John. It’s Allie. My sister. Your wife. I can be impartial in pretty much any area but with my family. We fight this war to save humanity, but what good is it if we lose everything in this fight? I don’t care if that’s selfish. I’m getting my sister, your wife, back.” Talon said the last part with emphasis, as though attempting to guide my choices by my emotions.

I sent Talon a look to tell him I understood, but I also agreed with Seraphine. A plan was in order, a plan that wouldn’t be brought before the council. We couldn’t risk them voiding it.

Chapter 6

Althea- March 18, 2016

I stood in the middle base with John’s orders ringing in my head. I’d turned to leave the corridor, but then everything went blank. I shivered as a mist rolled around me, cooling me into a near

motionless state.

Red rock made up the walls and ceiling, and they felt damp with a substance consistent with something between slime and water. All the books I’d read on the subject told me I was submerged in Khalbytian environment. I wore a red dress that they must have put on me while I was unconscious. I shuddered at the thought of them stripping off my uniform.

They kept it freezing to ensure their tarry selves didn’t melt apart. Anything above seventy-five and they’d be an oozing puddle on the ground. On the other hand, they could handle temperatures much colder than humans could. My ability allowed me to melt the Khalbytians, but it required touch, an unfortunate detail that I often felt made me weaker than the others. Most of them could merely will their minds to do what they wanted accomplished.

I forced myself to fight the frigid expanse and pushed to my feet. There were no guards, and if I had to guess, a forcefield was probably in for the job. Cave-like walls surrounded me on three sides. Even if I could walk out, finding a way out would prove a complex task. I edged toward the arched entrance and slowly touched the opening.

The bubbled ripple of the forcefield met my hand and sent shockwaves to my shoulder. I relented and slumped down against a wall. The chilled air made sleep feel so welcoming that even the slimy, hard floor beckoned as a worthy bed.

I tried to warm myself using my ability but failed. Plating most likely comprised the walls, which would mean there would be no deadly touch from my grasp. I’d have to heat my body the old-fashioned way. I ran in circles and found the appearance almost laughable. I had five laps down when I heard the mushed steps of Khalbytians sliding across the rough surface of the outer hallway.

I’d now learn why they hadn’t already killed me. Surely, they didn’t expect to get much for me. No one human was important enough for negotiations, not even the main healer. I could be replaced whether I was the best or not, there were still others who could heal.

Some combination of grunts and growls entailed their language. As they lowered the forcefield, they moved quickly toward me. My eyes scanned them all, trying to calculate the cost of fighting them alone. Without my ability, it would prove quite impossible, but at least if they killed me, it would ruin whatever plan they’d devised for me.

The largest one grasped my arm, barely stopping the tension on his grasp from slicing through my skin. He grunted something at me. Like powers, translators wouldn’t work with the plating so I couldn’t understand his words. He held me up so barely the tips of my toes dragged across the floor as he pulled me out of the enclosure. I had little choice but to allow myself to be lugged in his clutch.

My arm felt as though it might be ripped from its socket at any moment. In front of me, stood the white Khalbytian I’d met on a colony mission. He’d wanted to take me then and apparently had relentlessly pursued me. Now he had me.

He stomped over to me and put his large hand around my chin. His claws slightly touched my cheeks just enough to not draw blood. He spoke with his face close to mine. “You are beautiful. I wanted you, and now I have you. You have not left mind, and I needed to find the human girl who dared to try and melt me. The one whose eyes look purple like light minerals. I’ve learned quite a bit about you, and it makes me even more excited to have you. My name is Mtritic.” He tried to kiss me, and I spit in his face. He continued, “I love your spirit, but we will break it. I think you will make that rather fun, as I don’t think your spirit will die easily.”

Mtritic said something I couldn’t understand, and the guards dragged me across the room. I gave a fair attempt at wiggling free. I kicked, bit, and punched the guards transporting me. Two guards carried each one of my arms off the floor and stepped farther apart from each other, making me feel as though I’d be ripped apart. They left the gap until I quit struggling, then moved back together, bringing me relief.

We walked maybe thirty yards down a hall to a small circular room and inside stood a brass cylinder. My height didn’t allow me to see what it held, but it was the perfect size for the eight-foot Khalbytians to reach their hands into. I watched one of them head over and pull out a large iron rod. Smoke billowed from the glowing orange end.

I quickly looked for escape routes. A Khalbytian held my arms against the cave wall and another my legs. They pushed my face into the slimy cave wall, and I became convinced my nose would be pushed into my esophagus.

Their strength made it impossible to move. How different it was when I couldn’t drain their life force. I smelled burning flesh before my neurons processed that it was my own and that I should scream from the pure agony of molten metal being pushed deep between my shoulder blades. Skin, muscle, and nerves melded together into a vile symbol.

I focused on staying conscious as the agony ripped through my body. The rawness of sizzling skin left an unbearable sensation. With another swift move, a Khalbytian poured a substance on my wound that burned chemically, and the deep heat of broiled flesh cooled at an extreme speed. My head swirled, and consciousness almost slipped from my grasp.

I didn’t know what mark I now bore. A dreadful feeling seeped through my stomach that with the cooling process, I might never be able to rid myself of the mark. I shivered uncontrollably yet willed myself to stop and fight. I thrashed around, trying to loosen myself in an attempt to grab the hot iron. I wanted to return the favor of my branding. The Khalbytian holding my arms flung me several feet to the ground, and my head slammed into a rock. The room wobbled back and forth as my vision struggled to make sense of the pain beating on the back of my skull.

Mtritic appeared in front of me again. “You are mine now. Forget your old life, as the mark you bare claims you as my property. I’ve made sure you will never be able to heal it, so no matter what you will remember you belong to Mtritic.”

He injected something into my arm. The substance made me disoriented, and my will to fight seemed wavered. The guards carried me into the next room and threw me against the wall. The back of my red dress dipped low, exposing my back. Two Khalbytians brought in long whips and began to strike my bare skin. I gasped from the pain. They beat me, and with each zap of the whip, I began to fade further. I stared down a tunnel of blackness that led to the source of my misery. I laid still, no longer willing myself to fight. I accepted my fate as I released to the darkness.

I woke back up in a cell, wrapped in a blanket. I tried to push myself back up as pain intensified. What a time to be lacking healing powers. There would be no numbing this pain, as it would stay until I was rescued or dead. My battered ribs made breathing an undesirable task. The blanket contained a heating element that prevented me from freezing. How kind of them to keep me alive after tipping me near the border of death.

“New girl is awake.” I heard a voice with a Southern accent.

Another woman stood over me and spoke. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.” I tried to sit up.

The woman helped steady me, and I leaned against the red rock.

She pointed to the left of me. “Name is Eleanor. This is Natalie, Erin, and Racki. Racki isn’t her real name, but none of us can pronounce it, so we gave her a nickname.”

Three human women and a Loctorian female sat against the cave wall with blankets wrapped around them. They looked young, and I guessed them to be in their early twenties. Natalie was the one who I’d heard first with the Southern accent. Erin sat next to her and stared off at nothing in particular. She looked similar to the women I’d seen on the colony planet Mtritic first saw me on. The Khalbytians had drained Erin’s soul, I was pretty sure. Racki, the only Loctorian, huddled closely to Natalie.

After Eleanor helped me sit up, she went and sat next to the other girls. They all huddled together, probably to keep themselves warmer. I pulled the blanket tighter around myself, but it didn’t stave off the cold altogether.

My teeth chattered through my introduction. “I’m Althea.”

All my muscles hurt, and I could imagine the others felt similar pain. Their presence brought me comfort.

“What colony did they get you from?” Eleanor asked.

“Not a colony. I was on a mission.”

“You’re a soldier?”

I nodded. “Yes. I was on a mission on a base, and they captured me.”

“All of us but Racki were on human colonies. We aren’t sure how they got her. None of us can understand her.”

“Are the four of you the only other prisoners?”

“There used to be a few more of us, but one by one they quit coming back. We try not to think about the why. We were worried about you. Seems they were pretty brutal with you for your first session.”

My body wouldn’t stop shaking. “Session?”

“Yes, they take us out and do various things to keep us in line. The less you fight, the less they do to you. I thought maybe you were a fighter. Makes sense you are a soldier. Your first instinct is to fight back. I’d learn to push that aside if I were you.”

I found sitting up to be exhausting so I slumped back down. I found sleep easily in spite of the rough floor and freezing temperatures. They left all of us alone for the next three days, and I got to know my cellmates. We only saw Khalbytians when they brought us yellow fruit to eat. It looked like a pear but tasted more like pineapple. The girls asked my story, and I told them everything I could.

I learned Eleanor was the daughter of one of the colony leaders. Her dark hair reached midway down her back and nearly matched her brown eyes. Natalie wore her strawberry blonde hair in a braid. She braided it every morning to keep it from becoming too frizzy. She liked her hair entirely away from her grey eyes. Erin’s brown hair fell in tight curls, and her green eyes remained lifeless. She never spoke.

Racki was smaller than most of the Loctorian females I’d seen, but she didn’t appear to be a child. She didn’t seem to be affected by the virus yet, which I found unusual. She looked like a typical Loctorian with big blue eyes, a small mouth and nose, and absent ears. Racki clung tightly to Natalie, but like Erin, she stayed silent. Perhaps she’d given up trying since none of the others knew what she was saying.

On the fourth day with my new cellmates, a Khalbytian appeared, and he wasn’t carrying food. Anxiety built on all the other girls’ faces. Even Erin glanced around nervously. Racki pulled herself closer to Natalie, and Natalie sheltered Racki in her arms. The Khalbytian grabbed Erin, and she began to scream. This was the first noise I’d heard from her. Her empty eyes morphed to being filled with terror.

“Stop! Let her go!” I yelled and forced myself to stand up.

The Khalbytian ceased grabbing Erin and reached for me instead. Erin scrambled back to the others, and tears fell from their eyes as the Khalbytian dragged me from the enclosure. He pulled me by my leg as my back scraped against the cave floor. I imagined if the slime hadn’t been present, my back would’ve ripped to shreds. Mtritic appeared in front of me, and the Khalbytian dragging me grunted something at him.

“Seems we’ve been too nice to you. You think we should leave your friend alone. Perhaps we should kill her in front of you for asking us to stop.”

“Please! Punish me instead. I won’t fight you anymore. Just please leave the others alone.”

“Very well. I’m fond of you. I will give you this request, and you’ll endure their punishments. You need to be broken more than them anyway.”

Mtritic grunted something at the other Khalbytians, and they grabbed the whips and began whipping me. I didn’t fight, and finally, unconsciousness brought relief.


“Oh look look look at you, mmm….yyy poor dear.” A high-pitched voice reeled with concern.

If I could’ve moved, I’d have jumped. Instead, I winced in pain at the thought. I wasn’t alone in my cell, but I wasn’t with the other girls either. I heard movement and felt something soft pushed under my head.

“I am Taneara.” Her voice spoke again. She was a creature with yellow skin and brown bumps down her arms and legs. Her eyes were small and dark, there was no nose that I could make out, and her lips pushed flat against her face. She reached out a hand to touch my face. Her palms were exceptionally small, and her fingers elongated outward. Her fingertips were circular and reminded me of frog limbs but in an exaggerated manner.

I’d never heard of such a creature, but I knew there was little record of space inside Khalbytian territory. There were probably millions of uncharted species. Maybe I was merely dreaming, and the pain was my real body screaming to my subconscious. Pain so intense that not even my dreams would bring escape. If not a dream, she could be a hallucination, as they’d thrown me against the cave walls like I was bread being kneaded.

“I tttt…ake care of you. I know your language. I have the ability to know the language of the person I am talking to. “

“The plating?” My voice came out hoarse and quiet.

She stopped to think for a minute then continued, “Oh! You mean the orite. It does not not not affect me. My brain processes abilities difff….erentt than humans.”

I lost count of how long I was held. When my captors believed too much time passed, they beat me again. Sometimes they’d throw in other types of torture for good measure. They frequently injected me with substances with various effects. The first one would put me in fight or flight mode, but I’d be strapped down, unable to escape or attack. I would deliriously scan the room as terror surged through me. I almost wondered if they knew I was claustrophobic and that being strapped down terrified me even without the injections.

The second type of injection would shoot immense pain in random places on my body. I never knew where the pain would land next and would flail in agony for hours until it worked its way through my system. They often left me to shiver in the cold with no blankets or heat source. I never froze to death which made me guess they kept me barely warm enough not to die.

Their methods were extensively diverse and designed to destroy every part of me. If I fought them in any way, they’d extend the session. I quickly learned to lay still and quiet. Taneara cared for me when I returned. She helped me eat the small pieces of fruit they brought to serve as my nourishment and hydration. I found it difficult to eat, and it took significant encouragement from Taneara for me to take even small bites. Each time a session ended, I wished they’d return me to the other girls, but they never did.

Taneara told me she’d been a prisoner for a long time, and they used her to keep their prisoners alive after severely hurting them. If it were not for her small comforts, I would’ve given in to my torments. Her voice often contained a stutter, but she could sing quite beautifully. She reminded me of the fairies on the botanical planet. She would sing to me and stroke my hair to soothe my distress after a session of their torture.

I’d wake up screaming for John and Talon, as all of me begged for their relief and protection. I developed a deep-chested cough that increased each day. The cough became torture in and of itself, as each cough would sear pain from my wounds. I’d shake even under the heated blankets.

My body lost its desire to move as the slightest movement brought despair and misery. I laid limp each time they carried me off. My will to fight long ago left my heart. I wanted to see John’s face one last time to kiss him and feel his arms, my haven, removing any consequence of Khalbytian actions.

I wanted to see my brother and tell him Seraphine would keep him going and not to let vengeance rip apart his life more than this war already was. I wanted to tell Seraphine she was an amazing sister, and that I was so grateful for how she loved my brother. I wanted to see them only one more time, but most of me believed that to be a barren hope. All of those thoughts caused me to sink into despair.

Every time my captors tortured me, I felt sure I wouldn’t be able to handle an ounce more, but somehow, I lived. After an extremely rough session, the guards finally reunited me with the other girls. They looked to be in about the same state as when I left them, and I hoped that meant Mtritic kept his word about leaving them alone.

“Althea!” Eleanor bolted for me. “My word, what have they done to you? We thought you were gone for good. We were sure of it.”

“I thought so too.” I went into a coughing fit.

Eleanor pulled me close to her and wrapped my blanket tightly around me, then used her blanket to cover us both. “What you did for Erin, that makes us family now. You crazy, brave girl.”

“Have they hurt any of you while I was gone?” I needed to know if Mtritic honored my request.

“No, they haven’t touched us since they took you.”


I broke into another coughing fit, and began to wheeze. I estimated I’d live a couple of days longer at most. I accepted dying at this point. At least the pain would be gone. All hope of ever going home had evaporated days ago. The sooner this agony dissolved, the better I’d be for it.

Eleanor took over getting me to eat. She told me stories of the colony and her family. She’d say to me that I’d get to see John, Talon, Seraphine, and the rest of my friends soon, so to hold on. I knew she was lying, but she tried. I grew to love her for it.

I also learned more about Natalie. She loved music and could play ten instruments. Eleanor kept encouraging her that she’d get to join the Tornakishin orchestra when we were finally rescued. The rest of us would all watch her play. Eleanor sounded so sure I think we made ourselves believe her.

Erin and Racki still never spoke, but they’d listen to Eleanor’s stories with the rest of us. My deep cough remained, and I couldn’t understand how my body could keep fighting for life. The five of us cuddled together at night. Gratitude for my new sisters brought the only light I could still see.

Time became muddled, but I knew weeks must have passed. We were getting used to not being pulled out for torture sessions when Mtritic arrived in our cell. We all grasped each other, desperately trying to stay attached.

“I want you to be my wife, Althea. If you accept and don’t fight me, I’ll let them all go. You will be mine, and you’ll take a vow to be mine until you die.”

“Althea, no!” Eleanor pleaded.

“Silence, female! Or I will slaughter you and your friends here and now.”

“Don’t! I’ll do what you ask,” I told him.

Erin grabbed my arm, and her eyes pleaded with me to stay. “We go together,” were the first and only words I heard her speak.

I shook my head. I pushed myself up, but my legs collapsed under me. The others tried to hold onto me. Several Khalbytians threw them back. A Khalbytian picked me up and carried me out of the cell. Pain seared from wounds that weren’t healing properly, and each movement the Khalbytian made as he carried me felt tortuous. He threw me against the ground. My body had learned weeks ago how to simply go limp where I landed.

Mtritic appeared in the room and began speaking. “I think we’ve done a great job at breaking your spirit. You will make a submissive wife. I’ll be the envy of all my people. I have obtained the great Althea as my bride. Her eyes infused with light mineral. I need only say it, and they’ll believe it upon seeing you. I want you to know one last thing. I think it’s the final thing to cement the death of your will.

“I’ve made sure you’ve grown attached to the other females I have here. I’ve left them your only source of comfort. I want you to know as soon as we removed you from the enclosure we killed them all. But I want you to know it was quick and painless. I did that out of kindness for you.”

“Nooo!” I sobbed. “You told me you would let them go if I married you.”

“I did. I let them have ultimate peace from our torture.”

“No! I’ll never marry you now!”

“You have little choice.”

He grunted something at his soldiers, and they brought the whip out to beat me further into submission. It was at that moment, thinking of all of my cellmates, I knew I’d give one last fight. As the first whip in this round went to pierce my back, I mustered all the adrenaline I could push forward, and grasped the whip. If I died, my torment would cease, and I would die defying my captors. I would show them my spirit that they thought they’d destroyed was still very much alive.

The two Khalbytians growled in short bursts, and it occurred to me if a Khalbytian was ever to laugh it probably sounded pretty close to this. The Khalbytian holding the whip lifted me off the ground and began to shake me free. My back slammed against the cave floor, and my ribs seemed to shatter as if they were bricks crushed by a hammer.

The Khalbytian went to raise me again as I refused to release my grasp. He ripped it from my hands, and I slammed on the ground a second time. He began whipping me with even more force than usual. The other Khalbytian grabbed my attacker’s arm and snarled at him. My attacker growled loudly. My shallow breathing brought relief. All of this would be over soon.

Two more Khalbytians entered the room and carried me onto a rock platform. The one injected something into my neck, rendering me paralyzed. Mtritic stood at the end of the platform. He moved closer and stood next to me, appearing to smile.

He ran his fingers across my cheek. “Althea, I…” His words were cut off as he collapsed into a heap on the ground.

I stared at his crumpled body. He looked so blurry. I closed my eyes and with a soft sigh I escaped consciousness.


Warmth encompassed me as heated blankets regulated my temperature. My eyes opened slowly, and I saw an IV leading to my arm. Oxygen tubing pushed into my nostrils, aiding my breathing. I wore a white, long-sleeved shirt. A Khalbytian grunted and pointed a claw my way.

Two Khalbytians stood close, talking. The larger of the two made his way to my side. The laser fire hadn’t been the fleet. Maybe the rescue mission was unsuccessful. Somehow, I still lived. My body felt heavy, and the entire ordeal rushed back to me. I thought my mind might spin out of control.

He spoke, a low growl formed into words. “Do not fear me. I won’t harm you in any way. I am Dramto.”

Since he appeared friendly, I asked him the same question I’d wondered about Mtritic. “The walls are plated. How can you speak with a translator?” It took an immense effort to form my words. Each word took my breath farther away.

“Conserve your strength. Merely listen to my speech as I have much to tell you. I long ago crashed on Earth, unable to escape, and two young humans showed me kindness. I owe them my life. They won me in sympathy to your cause. Over the years, I learned to speak your language. Several of my people speak many languages without translators.

“What I need to tell you is that the Loctorians have long spoken of a great healer who would end the war. My people will lose the foothold of their hatred, and species will no longer be decimated. I have for some time been watching battles and studying both sides. I have come to conclude you will fulfill this.

“I learned of your capture and knew I must intercept before more damage was done to you. I watched Mtritic, trying to find the best time to rescue you. When I saw what he was about to do to you, I knew we could no longer wait. We needed to attempt the rescue, whether ready or not. Fortunately, it went in our favor.”

I contained no energy to worry that Dramto might actually mean me harm. At this point, without his intervention, much worse things would’ve occurred to me. Whether he was lying or not, he saved me from something unspeakable.

“Thank you,” I gasped.

“You need not thank me, for there will be a time your great sacrifice will stretch across thousands of worlds. You will restore honor to my people and end the devastation they pour upon the universe. Have you been told of the Loctorian prophecy?”

“No.” I coughed, and it took me a few minutes to gain composure.

“When you return home, look for the Book of Ages, in the Saturn base library and it will explain all you need to know of your destiny. You’re not the first I thought would fulfill the prophecy, but you follow her line.”

He was speaking nonsense. “Who?”

“You look very much like her. Your eyes are the same. She was given a choice, as you will be, and she chose the sacrifice being too great.”

“What do you mean?” Speaking was draining me quickly.

“Your mother. She was a great healer. She was told of her ability to end the virus, and she and your father chose to leave and live on Earth. At that time, there was no threat to humans, and they saw no reason to fight.”

“You must be mistaken, my mother wasn’t a healer. She died in a car accident when I was five. She couldn’t save herself and one of my brothers.” He had to be wrong. My mind struggled to believe him.

“There is much you don’t know. But I will tell you, inside of you is the key to curing the virus, but in order to extract it to create a cure, you will die. This was something your mother could have done, but she chose to live instead. It is unfortunate she died anyway.

“I would teach you more, but we have to hurry and get you back before others learn I am hiding you. I will get you to the edge of our space, and then you should be able to manage it home from there. Find the records of your people and the Book of Ages. Until then, rest. You will be able to heal once back with your own kind, but until then, you need strength to survive.”

“Wait. Taneara. My caretaker. What happened to her?”

“Yes, I know who you mean. She is in my custody now.”

“Can you release her, please? Let her go to her family. She misses them.” I used my last bit of strength to speak mercy and freedom for the creature who I owed my life.

“Yes, I will do as you ask. I give you my word.”

I drifted to sleep easily despite the new questions weighing on my mind.

Chapter 7

Talon- March 18, 2016

Three hours ago, the bastard lizards, known as Khalbytians, had taken my sister. My thoughts were only on Allie and how I’d get her back. I was a soldier, and by oath, I’d die as one. I knew Allie felt the same, but she was still my baby sister. The little one I’d carried through ice and snow as our mother and brother laid dying. The sister I swore to protect over everything.

She and Seraphine were the only ones I couldn’t handle losing in this war. There were others, John and my other teammates, whose loss would bring me devastation. However, it was completely different with my girls. They couldn’t be lost, but the notion was impossible to guarantee. We’d all signed up for this, maybe not at first, but at some point we all had. We all knew we might not make it back, but I’d be damned if I let them destroy my sister without a fight.

My knuckles turned white as I tried desperately to track Allie’s movements. I couldn’t find her. Her trail seemed to dissolve before my mind could fully see her pathway. Even if she was already dead, I should’ve been able to find her body. I shuddered at the thought. She must still be on the plated ship, and that meant she was helpless. No weapons and no ability. I slammed my fist into the console.

“Luckily those consoles are tougher than the fists of Talon.” Colin nearly laughed.

I glared at him, and he smirked. He always thought things were funny when they clearly weren’t. He was lucky my fists met the console and not his face. John didn’t even flinch. He sat back in his chair with his eyes closed. I knew what John was doing. He was searching for her presence.

He couldn’t track her location as I could, but he could sense her condition and maybe get a message to her or from her. He was battering himself pretty good for not getting her out of there. He was doing so enough for the both of us, and it was the only reason I didn’t string him up for being so careless with my sister, his wife. He swore to me that he’d take care of her.

Finally, he looked up, defeated. “Anything, Talon?”

I shook my head and asked him the same. His face gave away the answer. Nothing. Seraphine put her hand on mine and looked into my eyes.

“Talon, we’ll find her. Until then, she’s tough. Althea has more fight in her than any of us.” Seraphine had this way that her green eyes would convince me she could see the future, and she knew this as truth.

“Let’s proceed to Khalbytian space and see if maybe we can get close enough to figure out where they have her,” John said.

If necessary, I’d be taking a shuttle into Khalbytian space to find her, and at the very least, I’d inflict as much damage as possible. The rest of the crew knew better than to argue, and I think if any of them wanted to, they would’ve kept it to themselves. Allie was one of us. She wasn’t some distant comrade of an unknown division. She was ours, and we’d go down bringing her back.

John decided not to do a space fold, mainly because we had no idea where to fold to. It would take us two weeks to reach Khalbytian space. He wanted to be sure we wouldn’t miss her on the way. I could track the trail if they left one. Two days in and no sign of a trail. We were grasping at straws by looking for our needle in the vast haystack of space. Ten days into our journey, we were intercepted by another Loctorian battlecruiser. John had ignored all messages from Parks, and she sent another ship to find us.

We talked about our options and laid out the entire story to Parks, but she told us we needed to return. We only agreed when she promised we would formulate a mission to find Allie. We had nothing at this point, but with the council’s help, maybe we could locate her.

John took the fall for all of us and told Parks he’d ordered all of us to ignore incoming

transmissions. He lied and said he was the only one who knew the mission wasn’t approved by her and the council. Parks gave him a formal reprimand and put him on probation. I think he would’ve been put in the brig, but she went lenient on him due to the stress he was under. To John, having a formal reprimand was a big deal in and of itself. Following protocol held great importance to him.

Our entire team spent long nights trying to figure out strategies to find Allie. A month back on base and we were no closer to finding her. John and I decided we’d go rogue. We were getting her back. We showed up at the docking bay to find the rest of our team waiting.

“Let’s find our girl. We’re a team. If we go down, at least it will be together,” Morgan said.

“I told them what you were doing,” Seraphine explained.

The others all nodded in agreement. Everyone put their bags in the cargo hold, and we went to board the ship when I spotted Admiral Parks standing in the doorway with several soldiers.

She crossed her arms. “Where do you think all of you are going? I thought it was strange when I went to assign a mission to you and discovered you’d booked a shuttle.”

I pursed my lips. “We’ve waited for the promised mission to extract Allie. We can’t wait any longer. We have to know what happened to her. And if there’s any chance she’s still alive and in their hands, we have to get her out. She’s saved so many. We have to save her.”

“I can’t risk losing your entire team. You’re the best we have. I’m also not happy you didn’t bring this to me.”

“We tried, and you continually put us off. We can’t leave her out there.”

“The issue is you have no idea where she is. If you’d come up with any clues, it would be easier for me to consider this.”

“Even if that is the case, we owe her a rescue attempt. I mean look how many people owe her their lives. She deserves any effort we can give.”

Admiral Parks took a deep breath. “Okay. This is probably against my better judgment, but we owe your team more than most in this war. If anyone can get her back, it will be you guys. Her loss has already been detrimental, as her healing ability is irreplaceable. I just hope I get your entire team back.”

Admiral Parks gave us her blessing to leave. Parks’ approval would make it easier, knowing we’d still be a team if we lived through this kamikaze mission. We set off again for Khalbytian space and had no real plan. We scanned for Khalbytian ships as we went, hoping we’d find the one that took her. Three days in, we found a Khalbytian cargo ship.

John stumbled back as he spoke, “It’s her! I don’t feel her emotions. I just know it’s her. Something is wrong. Pull the ship into our bay.”

I hadn’t attempted to track her in the last few hours. At John’s words, I concentrated and saw her lying on a cot in the cargo ship. A blanket covered her, and I couldn’t tell anything about her condition.

Morgan locked the tractor beam onto the ship and pulled it inside.

John bolted for the door. “Colin, handle controls. Talon, Seraphine, and Morgan with me.”

We made large strides across the bridge and into the cargo bay. We couldn’t rip open the ship doors fast enough. They were locked, but if anyone could get them opened, it would be Morgan. As he often said, he had yet to find a technology he couldn’t conquer.

“Morgan, can you manually override the doors?” John tried to pry open the tightly sealed door with a crowbar.

Morgan shorted the controls, and the door released. As the door opened, three terrified women and one Loctorian stared back at us. We looked back at them, surprised at their presence.

“Please don’t hurt us. We’re looking for a place called Saturn base. We were told we could find help for our friend there,” one of the women said.

“Who is your friend?” John asked.

“Her name is Althea and she’s not doing well. She needs help now. Please help us.”

 John and I both ran into the shuttle to get to Allie.

John knelt at her side. “Althea! We got you!” She didn’t move at his words. He touched her hand, then placed his hand on her forehead. “She’s burning up. How’s that possible? The cargo ship isn’t plated. She should be healing.”

“Healing ability doesn’t heal illness well; apparently this is true for herself as well,” Seraphine responded as she walked up behind us.

“We need to get her back to Jasper. Tell the crew to prepare for folding.” John barked orders to Morgan.

Jasper rarely left the base. With our team, Allie took care of most emergencies. He handled incoming from other battles or divisions with less powerful healers.

Seraphine scanned Allie to try and estimate the extent of her injuries. “Her fever is 105. We need to cool her fast before it gets any higher. She has multiple fractures. So many of them! Move her carefully. Her oxygen is low, and she’s possibly septic. I’m not sure why her healing hasn’t kicked in for at least the fractures yet.”

John told me to carry out the fold. I would have to calculate it precisely so we’d be within range of the base. I carefully plotted our course and announced to the crew we were folding. I hoped it wouldn’t prove too much for Allie, but we had no choice. We couldn’t wait to get her to sickbay.

The ship spun and things became distorted as the fold commenced. Everything swirled in slow motion and time seemed to freeze. I accomplished the fold with precision, and we were dropped within thirty minutes of the home base. I could now signal ahead to let Jasper know to be ready. He sounded as confused as we were as to why Allie wasn’t healing herself, but he said he would be prepared for the injuries we reported. He’d have to treat her like any other patient.

There were no high-level healers on base, and even the higher ones couldn’t compare to Allie. There would be no one to help with her healing. Jasper met us at the dock with his medical team, and John placed Allie on the stretcher. Jasper began scanning and yelling orders as they whisked her to sickbay. John steadied himself for a moment then followed behind. Seraphine and I turned our attention to the other women. They got my sister to us, and I needed to know what they knew. I hoped they could fill in the blanks for us.

“Althea is my sister,” I told the woman who spoke earlier.

“You’re Talon?” she asked.

“Yes. Who are you, and how’d you find my sister?”

“My name is Eleanor. This is Natalie, Erin, and Racki. Althea was in our cell with us. We were Khalbytian prisoners.”

“What did they do to her?”

“I’m not sure, but she was very brave. She took the brunt of our punishments for us. She wouldn’t let them hurt us. She had no way to fight them, but she still stood up for us. Then the Khalbytian who captured us told her that if she married him, he’d let her go. We begged her not to agree but she did anyway. We tried to hold onto her, but they took her away. She’s been sick for a while.

“I think the only reason she’s alive is because they gave us these fruits. I was told by a creature who was also a prisoner that the fruit contains some kind of medicine to fight illness. We thought we wouldn’t see Althea again but then another Khalbytian, Dramto, took over the ship we were on. We thought we’d be his prisoners, but instead he put us on a ship. Althea was already on board but unconscious. He told us he put in the coordinates for a place called Saturn base. He said to get Althea there, or she would die. We were traveling for hours, then you guys put us on your ship.”

“Did you say the Khalbytian’s name was Dramto? The one who set you free?” Seraphine asked.

Elanor nodded. “Yes. Do you know him?”

“A long time ago we did. Seems he returned a favor,” I said.

Seraphine motioned them to follow us. “Let’s get you checked out in sickbay, then we’ll make sure you get back to your families.”

“Thank you. We appreciate your kindness. Please let us know how Althea is,” Eleanor said.

“We will when we know,” Seraphine promised.

We walked them to sickbay and were told that Jasper was busy stabilizing a critical patient. I figured it was my sister. A couple of the residents would check out the women. Seraphine stayed with them. I went to see John, who had his face buried in his hands as he sat in the waiting room.

I stood over him. “Any news?”

He looked up at me with worn eyes. “None.”

“Jasper will take care of her.”

“I know.”

I wrapped him in the hug he very much needed. I didn’t promise him it would be okay because I refused to offer him a potential lie. Things would possibly never be okay again, but he’d know he wasn’t alone. Slowly the rest of our team trickled into the waiting room. We were all desperate to know if Allie would pull through. No one spoke a word.

I sat in a large chair, holding Seraphine tightly. Morgan, Deron, and Colin shared the couch.

Gabriel couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He got up and stood for a while, then sat again. He paced the room at times. Tears glistened in Lila’s eyes as she sat in a corner chair, completely unfocused. John sat with his face back in his hands and shook. We were all scared but couldn’t handle talking about the potential loss looming over our heads.

Chapter 8

John- May, 7, 2016

Her mind was so quiet. No emotions or thoughts could be gauged, and she felt so limp when I carried her. Her healing ability not working terrified me. A plethora of questions needed to be answered later if my wife survived. I sunk into a chair in the waiting room. The nurses wouldn’t let me anywhere near where they were working on Allie, and I felt that wasn’t a good sign.

After twenty minutes of sitting alone, Talon walked in, and after him the rest of my team. They sat with me in silence, all of us praying Allie would make it. Jasper came out to the waiting area, and everyone jumped up. His face didn’t look quite as grim, and I studied his emotions, cheating anticipation. He felt relieved but confused.

He began to speak, “Allie is slowly improving. At first, I wasn’t sure we’d stabilize her. Her temp climbed to 107, and I’m hoping that with her healing process started she’ll avoid brain damage.”

“You mean she’s finally healing?” Talon inquired.

“Yes, slower than I’d expect, but still improving. I suspect the plating impeded the process. She was brought very close to the edge, leaving very little energy for healing once she was brought away from the plating. I’m not sure how long recovery will be, but I wouldn’t expect her awake any time soon. She’s also battling severe pneumonia, and we’ve started her on antibiotics. Her body needs to reserve what energy it can to fix the larger injuries.”

“You think she’ll make it then?” Talon pressed.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but it looks like she will. I’d bet on that fighting spirit she has.”

You could almost hear relief flow through each of us.

“Can I see her?” I pleaded.

“Yes, only you for now. She’s in the ICU so only one visitor at a time.”

Jasper led me back, and when we got far enough down the hall, he stopped me. “John, there’s something you need to know.” I felt dread build in him, and he waited a few seconds before saying it. “Allie’s been marked.”

Rage boiled inside of me, but I needed to contain it, to keep my wrath from taking anyone out. My anger became sorrow as I saw Allie’s tiny frame encompassed in the sickbay bed. She looked fragile, as if the smallest movement might shatter her.

I knew what being marked meant, but I couldn’t let my mind go there. If I did, it might bring out what I could barely control. I wanted to take all of it from her and carry her to before all of

this. I took Allie’s hand in mine and sat with her for a half an hour before Talon walked in.

“John, they need to debrief you. I got this,” Talon said.

I nodded and reluctantly carried myself to where duty called. Talon was still at Allie’s side when I returned. It was as though we both felt we should keep watch. As if she might disappear again if not guarded. Talon left to check on Seraphine, and I stayed by Allie’s side.

In the days following, I left Allie only when Talon came to relieve me. Even then, it was only for bathroom breaks or to stretch my legs. I felt anxious about when Allie would wake up. I didn’t know how she’d overcome the nightmares of her abduction. I chided myself; I had to focus on her waking up in the first place. After that, we’d work with what was.

Two weeks passed, and I began to wonder if she’d ever wake up. Her thoughts were still far from my grasp, and her emotions couldn’t be felt even with my most profound concentration. She still hadn’t moved an inch. Jasper reassured me that her wounds were healing. He thought she was finally well enough to move out of the ICU to a regular room.

I helped the nurses with Allie’s care. I gently lifted her so they could clean her bed. I washed her and brushed her hair to keep it from becoming a tangled mess. I couldn’t quite bring myself to look at her mark. I felt as if looking at it would be a violation to Allie. It was something she needed to let me see by choice. Jasper didn’t think it would heal with the rest of her injuries. He said that it appeared already healed in the natural way, and her body would probably not interpret it as an injury.

Talon still didn’t know. I felt Allie should tell who she wished. At the same time, it felt wrong not to tell her brother how she may not be the same person when she woke up. He knew she’d endured trauma, so maybe on some level, he expected it.

Sixteen days after our arrival back to base, a shockwave barreled through me. Allie’s mind was conscious. I could feel her presence fully again. She opened her eyes, and the beautiful swirls of purple peered back at me.

She let out a quiet gasp. “John?”

“We got you, Althea. Everything is fine now. You need to rest, but Jasper says you’re on your way to a complete recovery.”

“I love you,” was all she seemed to be able to manage.

I softly kissed her cheek. “I love you, too.” Tears fell from my eyes for the first time since she’d returned to me.

She fell back to sleep, but this time, I could feel her presence strong. She drifted in and out of sleep for the next four days. Talon and Seraphine dropped by to try and catch her awake, but she never woke for more than a few minutes. Finally, she sat up almost as though nothing had happened.

She looked rapidly around the room. “What happened?”

“How much do you remember?” I asked it despite being unsure if I wanted to hear the answer.

“I remember the Khalbytian ship.” She stopped, still trying to gain control of the hoarseness in her voice. She moved on. “I remember Dramto. He saved me. He was the one who put me on the ship and put it on autopilot out of Khalbytian territory. Can we go home?”

“I’ll get Jasper.” I let go of her hand and slipped out of the room.

Jasper’s scans confirmed her body had amazingly healed itself with little left. Allie refused the wheelchair that Jasper insisted on. She felt walking would help her regain her strength. I steadied her as she wobbled with the first few steps. By the time we reached our quarters, her gait steadied. We went inside, and she said she wanted to take a bath. I ran her bath water and helped her into the tub.

“Can you stay?” she asked, and I nodded.

Her hair fell to her hips and covered what I avoided seeing. I slowly began to wash her arms, being careful to avoid her back. I washed her hair, gently massaging her scalp and hoping it would relax the tension she’d built since waking up. I carefully moved to her back, trying my best to avoid her mark.

She flinched and pulled away. “I think I want to sit here for a while. I’ll be okay.”

I nodded and told her to call me if she needed help getting out. After the bath, Allie seemed still tired and escaped to bed. I followed. Sleep became difficult, but when I finally slept, I found myself in a chilled, damp cave. The musty smell left my stomach churning. A woman was lying motionless on a platform as a Khalbytian moved toward her. I launched forward, ready to kill the Khalbytian with my bare hands. I stopped. The woman was Allie. What was going on?!

“No!” I screamed.

My rage pounded as I flew to devour the Khalbytian, but glass trapped me. I startled awake. Allie writhed beside me as if trying to escape the blankets around her. Terror ripped through her body. I realized her nightmare was so intense that she’d pulled me into her mind on accident.

“Althea! Wake up! It’s a dream.”

She snapped awake and collapsed into my arms. My chest heaved as I tried to fathom what I’d just seen. I was powerless to protect her from that monster. Allie laid in bed for the next few days. She stared at the wall and left the food I brought sitting on the stand next to her bed. She was already incredibly thin from the time she was on the Khalbytian ship. She was quickly becoming a shadow of herself.

She only took sips of water throughout the day, and that was only after I told her she’d have to go back to sickbay for IV fluids. If I tried to touch her, she would lunge toward the wall. I began to be careful to avoid any contact. Her emotions were elusive. I found it difficult to feel anything from her, almost as if she avoided thought. Talon stopped by. I shut the bedroom door and went into the living room to talk to him.

“What’s going on, John? Is she healed?” Concern poured from Talon’s voice.

“Jasper has stopped by every day to check on her. He keeps insisting she's fine physically. Mental wounds take much longer. We all know that.” I didn’t elaborate on the details of her mental wounds.

“I keep going over and over what she must have gone through. Has she talked to you about it at all?”

“No, and I’m not sure she will. She flinches when I touch her. She stares at the wall all day. I can barely get her to sip water, let alone eat. She’s disappearing in front of me, and I have no idea what to do about it.” I buried my face in my hands.

“Did you have Meredith stop by? Maybe the counselor could help?”

“Meredith has tried four times, and Allie just continues to stare at the wall.”

“We need to talk to Jasper about admitting her before she becomes a skeleton. Remember when she was fourteen and was in that accident? She had to take antidepressants for a couple years after. We need to talk to Jasper about restarting them,” Talon suggested.

“Something needs to be done, but I’m not sure keeping her in sickbay will fix this. I’m not sure if we could even get her to take antidepressants at this point. I’ll talk to Meredith about it. I’m thinking about taking her back to Maine. I know we’re at a critical spot in the war, but I think I need to be a husband and take leave.”

“I could call over some help from some of the other bases. I agree a change of scenery might snap her out of this.” Talon seemed resolved that we could magically fix her somehow.

There was nothing that could snap her out of this. He didn’t understand at all. There would be no easy solution like Talon wanted there to be. The war had finally broken my wife, and I had no right to tell Talon how. At night, her nightmares would come. Beatings, looming figures, and torture all found their way into her slumber. I couldn’t think of anything that would help her.

Chapter 9

Seraphine- June 4, 2016

Talon was on edge. “She won’t talk to me. She’s not eating. I don’t need John to tell me that. My sister is wasting away.”

My husband barely slept anymore. He was a man who needed to fix problems, and if he couldn’t, it would drive him mad. I didn’t want to think about what they’d done to her. I wanted to avoid knowing her trauma because I knew it would break my heart.

But then Talon said it. “Seraphine, I think you should go talk to her. Maybe she’ll open up to you.”

“Talon, I can’t.”

“Why not? She needs all of us right now. Could you do it for me? Please.”

I told him I’d think about it and asked him to come to bed. He tried, but he was too restless and went out to the living room. I couldn’t sleep when he wasn’t in bed with me. Things were hard enough when we were apart for war duty, but knowing he was in the next room made it worse. He read on the couch. I placed my head in his lap, and his arm wrapped around me.

I fell asleep this way, and when I woke up, Talon had carried me to bed. He finally slept next to me. Even asleep, he looked exhausted. I decided I’d put my own fears aside and go talk to Allie. What kind of sister and wife was I if I didn’t? I glanced at the clock and realized it was well into the morning. I softly kissed Talon’s cheek and slipped out. I got dressed and made the walk to see Allie.

This is not about you or your past. This is about Allie. Quit being selfish.

I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. John looked glad to see me and led me back to their bedroom. I could see the back of Allie’s head, with blankets covering the rest of her. Her breakfast tray sat untouched on the nightstand next to her.

What have they done to my poor sister?

I wanted to wrap her in a hug and not let go. Any fear inside of me dispelled by the compassion of seeing her so unwell.

“Allie, Seraphine is here to see you,” John notified her.

She said nothing, and John left. I sat on her bed, not sure of what to say.

“Your pancakes look good. You want me to reheat them for you?”

She shook her head. “Seraphine, can I ask you something personal?”


She turned to face me, and I could see what John and Talon meant. She was small to begin with, but now there wasn’t much left of her. Her cheeks were sunken, and the light that always peered back from her eyes dimmed. There was a frightening lifelessness to her. She propped herself up on arms that appeared to be made only of bone. We needed to get her to eat.

She said, “I remember you told me you grew up in foster care, and some of your homes were bad. I can only imagine what that means. Did they hurt you?”

“Yes, depending on the home, it was different ways. Don’t get me wrong, there were great homes who took care of me. Homes I wanted to stay at. But when they were bad, I lost myself in them. I was abused in about every way possible.”

“How did you cope with that? You’ve turned into this amazing person who I admire. How did you not let it destroy you?”

“Honestly, lots of time and Talon. He came into my life at a time I had no idea what love was. My idea of love was so distorted by men who hurt me while simultaneously telling me they loved me. Talon didn’t tell me at first. He showed me. No matter how much I pushed him away and tried to be angry at him, he was kind to me. He healed my heart.”

“You’re so much stronger than me. I have John, Talon, and you who love me and I can’t make it go away. I see all of it over and over.”

“To be fair, Allie, this all just happened to you. You need more than a few weeks. I think you take all the time you need. But could you do me a favor? Could you try and eat something?”

“I can’t. I feel sick all the time. I still feel all of it. And they made sure I’d never forget any of it.”

“What do you mean?”

She turned and lifted her shirt so I could see the brand scarred deep into her back. I held in my gasp. I forced myself to keep composure.

“They poured something on it, so it rapidly healed. It’ll never go away now.” There was a deep sadness in her voice.

I pulled her into a hug and at first, she tensed, but then she relaxed in my arms as if resting her heaviest burden on me. A twinge of guilt surfaced over me not coming to see her sooner. Our men were amazing, and they’d do absolutely anything for us, but sometimes we needed to talk woman-to-woman.

There was no way Talon knew what Allie told me. We’d guessed what they’d done, but neither of us thought about her being marked. That was something we read about, and that I saw on those other women at the colony. Our minds never ventured there with Allie, perhaps as a safety mechanism.

“Allie, take all the time you need but fight the downward spiral. And I’ll be right here with you at any point you need me, as will John and Talon. We’re a family, and family means you never fight alone.”

Chapter 10

John- June 4, 2016

Seraphine spoke with Althea for about twenty minutes. I heard both their voices and was happy that Allie was talking to someone, even if it wasn’t me. Seraphine closed our bedroom door and came out to the living room.

“John, did you know about the ma…?” her voice quivered. “I mean, you have to know?”

I nodded, and she continued, “I knew there was something more going on. Talon is so frustrated that she’s not improving. Now I understand, and I have no idea how to help her.”

“I don’t either. I’m taking leave, and I’m going to take her back to Maine.”

“I think it’s worth a shot. She needs to be away from all of this for a while. Time to process and heal her heart and mind.”

After Seraphine left, I entered my bedroom and sat on the bed. “I think it’s time to go visit Maine. Feel the air of Earth again and take a break from everything.”

Allie stared at the wall. “I think you are right. I need to go to Maine, but I need to do this alone.”

“I think this is something we should do together.” I attempted to persuade her of my value.

Her emotions sat so quietly, and I wasn’t sure I felt any at all anymore, only numbness radiated from her.

She kept her eyes pinned to the wall and remained still. “No, I need to do this alone. I need to figure out what to do next. My head is so fogged over. It’s like the capsulization when we’re surrounded by the orange fog, and it’s all we can see. All I can see are those weeks. I can feel everything over and over, and it won’t stop. I don’t know how to make it stop!”

I went to hug her, but she flinched again. “I’m sorry, John. I can’t.”

I wanted nothing more than to hold her and not let go until she was completely healed in every part of her existence. I wanted it to be my turn to meld her wounds whole.

She spoke again, “I need this. You’re right about Maine, but I need to go alone. I need this from you. I don’t know how else to come back from this.”

For days, I’d silently pleaded that she’d tell me how to help her, and now she was. Her words were breaking my heart further, but any other option didn’t look favorable to her being able to function. I needed to listen to her. I needed to let her go and not follow her.

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

“I’m not sure.” The way she said it haunted me with thoughts that she might never come back.

I took a walk and found myself at Talon and Seraphine’s. I wanted to inform them of the new plan.

I could feel Talon’s anger as we sat in his living room. “Why the hell would you let her go by herself? If you won’t take her, I will. We’ll go back home and see if it will help snap her out of this. I don’t get it. Why is she not moving past this? Something has to not be healing right. Jasper needs to try a different type of scan.”

Seraphine and I glanced at each other.

Talon searched our faces and continued, “What aren’t you two telling me?”

I nodded to Seraphine. I couldn’t bring myself to say it.

“Talon,” Seraphine said softly. Seraphine took his hand and looked him in the eye. "When Allie was captured, she was beaten and tortured daily, then they made sure she would remember forever. She was marked.”

I went on to tell Talon the details of Allie’s nightmares, just enough to make him finally understand the magnitude of what she’d endured. Enough to let him know why none of it would leave her mind. Startled realization spread across his face, and his anxiety fused to rage. Seraphine dissolved into tears. Talon pulled her to him, but I could see his face enraged, and he had nowhere to put it. This war was a bitter sort of thing. The price was too high, and my wife had just paid it.

Talon waited until Seraphine excused herself to bed before he pounced. “John, how could you not tell me? You knew I was concerned about her. This certainly would have shed some light on it. I knew her injuries, but I didn’t grasp how she’d gotten them. Why are we not going and killing every Khalbytian we come across? We take the battlecruiser, and we just go. Maximum damage. Where is your outrage? What they did to your wife! My sister! Althea.” His voice drained in intensity, as I knew he was fighting tears. He shook, his entire body trying to decide what to pummel first. He paced the room, attempting to contain the outrage.

“When I figured it out, and when I saw her nightmares of the memories, it took everything in me not to order nukes to the Khalbytian homeworld.” I knew my voice sounded more worn than the rage Talon thought I should be emitting.

“And why can’t we do that again?!” He looked up at me for an answer.

“Because it’s not about us, or what we feel. It’s about Allie and everything that happened to her, and how it is affecting her. Right now, we have to figure out how to bring her back from this. If we wage war and leave her, I don’t think she’ll make it back from this. The price of our vengeance will be Allie. I love her a whole lot more than my need to execute vengeance. I have to give her what she asks. She needs to go to Maine and figure out what path she can follow now. I owe her that. I failed her. So many mistakes in this war, but the middle base is the one that will carry me to my grave.”

“You may have played some role, but this is on me. I should’ve gotten her far away from that dorm room. I should’ve done everything possible to get her out and never quit.”

“Talon, you know the Loctorians wouldn’t have stopped until they had her, and ultimately there came a crossing point where Allie chose war as the right thing to be involved in.”

“She should have never had the choice. I failed her so many times through all of this.” I could hear only sorrow in his voice.

“One of the more infuriating things is we have no foreknowledge. We make the best choices with the information we have and many times, it’s not good enough, but it’s the best we knew to make. And we both know that this war would be more vile, full of much more loss, if Althea had never left her footprint on any of this.”

Talon threw his hands out in frustration. “Then we owe her peace.”

My wife would go home without me and, in some way, find healing. At least that was what I placed all my hope in. Allie boarded the transporter that would take her to Earth, and from there she would be able to go wherever she wanted. Out of all the places on Earth she could make her way to, it was home that called to her.

I glanced at her as she carefully made her way into the craft. She carried a small, pink duffle bag as her only piece of luggage. Bones were about all she consisted of, much more loss and her frame would fade. She let Jasper load her up on IV fluids the night before. It was the only way he would clear her to go. Meredith gave her a couple prescriptions, but I didn’t know if she would fill them.

She glanced up at me as the door closed, and I felt her numbness. I worried about the moment everything would hit in her mind, and she would be an overflow of every emotion her heart couldn’t handle. The door slid shut. I closed my eyes in near regret, not knowing how long it would be until my wife came back to me. In the weeks to follow, I heard nothing from Allie. My heart grew more fearful with each day that passed.

Talon gained a new drive for killing Khalbytians. He barely needed a weapon in battle. He found an outlet for his rage, and it made him unstoppable. His rage scared me enough that I brought it up one night after a mission. I waited until everyone else left the briefing room and asked him to stay.

“I think you need to go talk to Meredith and maybe Jasper,” I said.

“Why is that?”

“Your violence level seems to be out of control.”

It’s war. There is no out of control violence when it comes to killing Khalbytians. I think you should up yours. Leave the Khalbytians stuck in their own minds to suffer and waste away.”

“Killing is something we have to do. Not something we want to do.”

Talon let out a brief laugh. “Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night? Because I’m telling you I want to kill. I want to kill every Khalbytian I can. I used to not want to, and then I felt numb to all of it. Now I'm enjoying it.”

I tightened my jaw and hesitated before speaking, “I’m benching you until you talk to Jasper and Meredith. Unless you can get clearance from both of them, you’re out.”

“What is wrong with you, John? You should be with me on this. The violence they committed against Allie, and you’re letting it go. What kind of man are you?!”

“A man who knows unnecessary violence won’t fix anything that happened to Allie. A man who knows I need my head in the game more than my muscle if I will ever end the violence permanently. That is the only way I will ever truly protect her. Protecting her is far more important to me than torturing a random Khalbytian who had nothing to do with her capture. That’s the kind of man I am. Where you are going is wrong. You’re losing your humanity! Jasper now!”

Talon left the room with rage radiating from him. The war was taking him too but in an entirely different way than Allie.

Chapter 11

Gabriel-November 19, 2016

Our team was a floundering mess, and there was no sign of it being cleaned up anytime soon. I saw Allie once after we got her back. She looked past me as though they’d left her a shell. Her capture sobered all of us, as we were at the point that we felt untouchable. We died; Allie brought us back. When they took her, they took our security and with that, our confidence.

Now that she was back on Earth, our team felt the hole. They assigned us a new healer named Philip. He was a tier-five and less than personable. He did his job but kept to himself. He’d also burn out a lot faster than Allie, so we only gave him the more serious cases.

Talon ripped into Khalbytians like they were tissue paper. A few months after Allie had left for Earth, Talon stopped showing up for missions. Neither John nor Seraphine spilled why. Two weeks later, we were getting ready to depart when Talon walked in and slammed down a tablet in front of John. John read the tablet.

John pointed at Talon’s usual chair. “Take your station.”

On the way back from the battle, John sat in his chair, not completing his report, which wasn’t like him. His insistence on completing the proper paperwork promptly always was a consistent aspect of him.

“John, we got an hour to base, I need your half of the report so we can confirm,” Talon grumbled.

John kept silent, and Talon didn’t receive that well. “John! Wake up!”

“What?” John finally said.

“Look, you’re becoming a hazard. You told me you need your head in the game. Seems you have neither brain, nor muscle in it right now. I think maybe this time you should bench yourself. Allie left five months ago. Go after her and bring her back.”

“She didn’t want me to follow her, and I haven’t heard a thing from her.”

“Go after your wife. Show her the reasons she should come back. The John I know wouldn’t let Allie go without a fight.”

John nodded, and when we got back to base, he put in for leave. With both John and Allie gone, our team was off mission duty. We were given jobs to keep us busy. I worked the docking bay and thought I’d go insane.

Lila and I still struggled to make things work. The stress of everything happening made us decide to take things slow. For weeks, all any of us could focus on was finding Allie. I’d sat with John for hours during the month and a half she’d been missing, going over every possible avenue of locating her. Our entire team tirelessly worked on trying to get her back.

Now with Allie and John on Earth, we could attempt to reach normal again. Lila invited me to dinner. I dressed in a green dress shirt with a blue tie and black dress pants. Lila wore a knee-length purple dress with sleeves that dipped right below her shoulders.

She started right into conversation after we ordered our food. “I brought you here to talk to you. Before everything happened with Allie, she told me I should talk to you and try and fix things. I know we talked, but I haven’t given fixing us a fair shot. Allie told me we needed to find a balance of trust and forgiveness to make things work. I think she was right. I’d like to build that with you, if you still want to.”

“Yeah, I do. I’ve missed you.”

She smiled. “I’ve missed you, too.”

We ate dinner and talked more than we had in months. I walked her home and kissed her goodnight. Things started getting better between us. She was the one I wanted to face everything with. She was the one that made all the difficult things bearable. Our team picked up bowling nights again, but a cloud hung over us. We barely spoke to each other, and we simply bowled, no longer venturing into dance parties. I’d be glad for John to bring Allie back, to bring light into our team again.

One afternoon, they put Talon in charge of our team and gave us a break from the low-level jobs to transport a prisoner. I wasn’t sure how Talon would handle this and feared Talon would kill the Khalbytian before we finished the mission. We picked him up, and I think Talon knew he needed to stay away because he asked me to check the prisoner in. The Khalbytian was all white, and I’d never seen one like that before.

“My name is Mtritic. I want to speak to the one you call Talon,” the Khalbytian said as I got him settled in his cell.

I relayed the message to Talon, and I saw him hesitate before he walked with me back to the ship’s brig.

“Gabriel, I need you to stop me if I can’t control myself with this prisoner. Stun me.” He double-checked that his weapon was on stun and handed it to me.

“You are Talon Cooper?” Mtritic asked.

“Yes, captain of this vessel. What do you want?” Talon kept his tone civil.

“I’ve heard a lot about you. The great Khalbytian slayer, effortless in battle at killing my brethren. I am at my end, and I don’t wish to wither away in a camp. At this point, I would like to leave you with something that will cause you to remember me until you take your last breath. Something to drill into the small crevices of your mind to keep you awake at night long after I am gone. Battle reports were not the only place I heard your name. A young prisoner I found in my charge called your name a lot when she was delirious.”

“Excuse me?” Talon turned his head slightly sideways, and his jaw stiffened.

“I believe you know who I mean. A human girl, mesmerizing beauty with eyes as purple as light mineral. She had quite a lot of fight in her. It made it so much more fun breaking her spirit. We would beat her, and she would fight us even though with the plating she was defenseless.

“I would have thought stripping her ability would have made her a coward, but she kept that fire right up until my final moments with her. She still wouldn’t give up. But at night she would be disoriented from the beatings and torture, and she would call for you to save her. Begging for Talon to protect her and help end her suffering. But her cries for her brother were ignored. You were nowhere to answer her. You were nowhere to protect her. And now she bears my mark and she will for the rest of her life. That is my legacy to you.”

A dark look flashed through Talon’s eyes. He released the forcefield, and I locked the weapon, ready to fire. Talon pulled out his knife, and I didn’t stop him. I couldn’t. I was with Talon on this one.

Rage blinded Talon, and when he finally collapsed on the ground, Mtritic was clearly dead. I put the weapon on the highest setting and dissolved the body. There would be no proof of Talon’s wrath. In my mind, it was fully justified. Talon said nothing to me. He let out an enraged cry and walked out of the room.

I made up a story about Mtritic hacking the forcefield, and the only way to stop him was to fire full-force. What really occurred would be taken to my grave. Talon stayed silent the rest of the way home. The war had yet again brought more demons to take up residency in his mind, and I was beginning to worry his demons would win this time.

Chapter 12

Althea- June 24, 2016

I had to find my father. I still needed to track down the Book of Ages. When John wasn’t around, I’d searched through war records and found that my parents were listed as deserters. There were many questions needing answered. I needed to tell my father I understood all of the sacrifices he’d made. He needed to know at least one person grasped his anguish.

My father barely knew me. He spent his days sitting in his old recliner drinking whiskey from a bottle. He’d go out at night to the bars and drink until they called a cab to take him home. He’d interacted with me a few times, growing up.

Once in a great while he’d say, “How are you, kid?”

I’d usually be at the counter sitting on a bar stool, eating the milk and cookies Talon laid out for me in the fridge before leaving for work. Most of the time, he’d looked at me with sad eyes and avoided my gaze.

My dad, who I’d always seen as a pathetic man, had been one of the greatest admirals in the Khalbytian/Loctorian war. He was a hero, but as war gnaws at the soul, it gnawed at his. He gave up everything so my mother could live. Fate made a cruel intercept in their lives, and now, history would repeat itself.

I knew John more than I knew myself, and he wouldn’t be unlike my father. He’d give up the war and saving humanity so his wife could live. It was a conundrum of hoping someone else could pick up the slack and save the world before it stole your everything away. My parents had bet on it, and destiny created a way of bringing it back to them.

It was immensely vital that I gain wisdom from the mistakes of my parents. Before I went back and accepted the destiny that should’ve been fulfilled long ago, I would see my father and let him know that after all this time, I finally got it. This trip was that, and I also needed to go home for a while. If I was going to die, then I wanted to spend some time at home breathing in the air of Earth.

I’d broken several bones. Jasper insisted they were all healed, but when I moved, I felt each ache. It was as if my body realized the wounds should still be fresh. Sleep continued to prove difficult. Flashbacks of the torture and the Khalbytians slithering toward me played over and over.

As hard as I tried to keep the images to myself, I kept inviting John into my mind to agonize over my memories. On some level, I’m sure my mind knew I needed him. I felt guilty and sad, causing him the pain of my nightmares. I thought he deserved me giving him peace. I couldn’t cope with my husband seeing what I’d endured.

The one thing about my capture that I kept a secret from my family was the sisters I gained. When things were too much for me to handle, I locked them away and never spoke of them. Talking about them became too devastating. This was the same reason I never spoke about Kais. I never even told my husband about Kais and I being together. I held in so much guilt over Eleanor, Natalie, Erin, and Racki. I should have stayed and fought instead of agreeing. I’d have died, too, but the guilt and sorrow made me wonder if that would’ve been a better ending.

I struggled with depression and anxiety, but I usually hid it well. When I was fourteen, they arrived in my life. Everyone always assumed depression meant I was overwhelmingly sad, but rather it meant I felt nothing. The aspect of not caring about everything I knew I should. The energy to eat seemed secondary to the immense effort it took to maintain living. Sleep teased me endlessly, not letting me find it despite the weighted exhaustion that hovered around me. I wanted the pain to end, but it was glued to me.

The anxiety I hid better than the depression. I carried a diagnosis of high-functioning anxiety, but that made it no less real. People always seemed to label me as being fearless when they had no idea I was more scared than anyone. It would cause a sharp pain in my chest. The pain would fade only to return in random, unbearable segments. Now how could I handle the worst trauma I’d ever experienced?

Humans can’t hold on to trauma for long; it has to be put somewhere. That’s why we turn to drugs, food, alcohol, anything we can make an addiction. We become a slave to it because it’s easier than facing what we feel we can’t drown out on our own. Finding healthy coping mechanisms was the key to surviving my anxiety and depression. Discovering how to cope was a quest I embarked on every day when I woke up. A new morning served as a reminder that at least for one more day I didn’t let the depression and anxiety destroy me.

I took a cab from the large base my transport landed at. I rented a small, red hatchback and drove the two hours home. The smells of Earth were found nowhere else. Even new spaceships couldn’t match the new car smell of my rental. I drove along the shoreline as the salt of the ocean and distinctness of Maine wildlife wafted into my nostrils. I took deep breaths, hoping never to forget.

I pulled up to the three-bedroom, two-story house I’d grown up in. We were located slightly out of town with trees surrounding the house. The gravel road leading to my house spewed dust all over my shiny, new rental. The wrap-around porch was beginning to look disheveled, and the white paint of the siding was chipping more.

I hadn’t talked to my dad since I’d left for college. Three years seemed like a lifetime ago. Talon had paid off our house and had people check on our dad. I’d felt no desire to contact him myself. I saw my dad as the man who’d checked out on me and refused to pick himself up for Talon and me. He’d forced Talon to grow up long before he should have.

Achilles barked his deep bark as I made my way to the porch. He was an American Akita, a hundred and thirty pounds of loyal energy. His coat was mixed versions of white, black, and tawny, and his face was a black mask, which added to his distinction.

My dad hadn’t known I’d caught on to his attachment to Achilles. This was the reason I’d left my dog behind when I’d left for college. I missed my dog, but I thought it better than leaving Dad alone. Achilles rounded the corner of the house and bolted for me. His fluffed tail wrapped around his back and wagged fiercely. He jumped up, almost knocking me over. He contained a lot of energy for being in his later years.

“I see you forgot your manners.” I wrapped him in a big hug, and he gave me a big lick across the face. He panted, giving me a big goofy grin as he greeted me.

“What is it, ‘Chilles?” I heard my dad’s deep voice call from the side of the house.

He rounded the corner and stepped back a little. His mouth gaped open, completely stunned at my arrival. He wore one of his old red flannel shirts and jeans. A silver beard covered the clear face I’d always known him to have. Dad's brown hair that used to match mine was greying a little and placed chaotically throughout his head. His grey-blue eyes still brimmed with the grief I remembered from my childhood. The man whose heart severed so greatly when his wife and son died that his essence refused to move forward. I wanted to wrap him in a hug, but I knew the awkwardness that would bring.

I’d tried hugging him when I was eight. My actions startled him so much he’d jumped back and fled the room. I’d fought with thinking something was wrong with me that my daddy wouldn’t want to hug me. I never tried again.

He tried to mask his shock. “How are you doing, kid?”

“I’m good, Dad. I came to see you. It’s been too long.

He nodded and waved me into the house. “You want a beer? You old enough to drink now?”

“Yes, but anything other than beer?”



He put the kettle on. We sat on the couch in silence until the tea kettle whistled. I pulled the teacups out of the same cupboard they’d sat in my entire life. He poured the tea in my cup as I held it. He stopped and put the kettle down. He stared at my wedding ring. His grimace resembled something between horror and anger. My first thought was that he was upset I was married and he’d had no clue.

“Where did you get that?”

“Dad, I got married a few months back. I’m sorry I didn’t…”

He stopped me. “No, the stone.”

Then it struck me. He noticed my Loctorian gemstone. To the untrained eye, it looked like a discolored diamond, but it was what the Loctorians called a moonstone and represented eternal love. When light hit the surface, it would send out little streams of colors. John received it as a gift for negotiating the Atonrian peace treaty.

The Atonrians were at war with one of the Loctorians’ allies, the Barsts. John spoke as a mediator and was able to bring peace and form an alliance. The Barsts were so grateful they gave him the stone. Once he’d learned what it represented, he had it fashioned into a ring. They were the rarest stones in the galaxy and highly sought after.

“They got you too! Didn’t they? After everything, I should’ve known they’d pull you into it too! They never came after us, so I thought they’d leave you alone.” He seemed enraged, a side I’d seen only once before.

He sat on the edge of his chair, running his fingers roughly through his hair. He reminded me very much of Talon at that moment. I’d never noticed how much Talon looked like our father. He seemed to calm a little and looked up at me. While I wasn’t an empath, the look on his face reeled of disappointment.

“Are you part of the war?” he asked me point blank.

I could have denied it, but that would’ve muted the entire point of my visit. I nodded and placed my teacup on the counter. For the first time in my life, I saw him begin to heave, and tears fell.

Should I hug him or just listen? The vision of my eight-year-old self came to the front of my mind, and I stood firm looking at him.

He looked at me and didn’t even wipe his tears. “I suppose your mom and I look like cowards? They probably call us deserters. I fought so long in that war. So many battles and destruction. Person after person died. People I cared about died in front of me in ways I can’t get out of my head. When I found out the war could be ended, it was this new level. We could have a normal life, raise a family. Then I found out they wanted to take a part of your mom’s brain.

“They’d kill her, and that’s how they’d end it. But it was the Loctorians’ fight. We could return to Earth, and someone else could step up. Your mom was willing to die at first, but then she found out she was pregnant with your Malcom. I convinced her we had to go back to Earth for him. He deserved a mom and a dad.

“One night we packed everything up in a transport and left. We never looked back. I lost her anyway. I lost her in such a wasted way, and your brother too. It was my fault; all of it was on me. Now they have you caught up in this. Talon?”

I nodded again. I never expected that us being involved would hurt him this bad. I thought that because I thought he’d stopped caring about us the moment he’d heard our mother was dead. The speech I prepared lost its way to my mouth, and instead, we sat in silence. My father sat in his old recliner, lost in the thoughts of his regret.

After thirty minutes of silence, I left him to his thoughts. I went for a walk and came across my mother’s old greenhouse. I’d always said growing up I would fix it up and make it beautiful again. There were old seeds. I planted them and would pick up more in town. I grabbed my old purple bike. I placed my purse in the basket that clung to the front and rode the twenty minutes into town.

I rode along the rocky coastline, looking at the vibrant green landscape. I took in the salty breeze, and the ocean smell reminded me of sandcastles and summer nights. I soaked up every inch of tousled waves and squawking seagulls. I passed the lighthouse that still towered above a rocky cliff.

Air rushed across my face as I pedaled my bike toward my hometown. I was home. Playing around Maine didn’t erase the war raging in the skies far beyond my gaze. My friends and family were still fighting battles and risking everything. For the time being, I couldn’t be a part of an alien war. I needed to figure out my path. If I were fated to die soon, it would probably be better if I pulled away from everyone I loved, especially John. Hopefully, it would help soften the pain a little when the time came. Nothing I could do would fix it completely.

Upon my return, I would find Tocric. He was a Loctorian who’d been searching for a

compatible healer since my mother left. They never came after my parents because it was important the healer was willing. When I returned, I’d let him complete the procedure. Until then, I needed time to live free from the turmoil of a galactic war.

The town had changed a little in the three years since I’d left. A lot of new restaurants had opened, and the town was expanding rapidly west. Toward the edges, there were a few fast food restaurants and store chains being added. The center of town was my target. I desperately wanted to be taken back to being twelve, to the summer John and I had a paper route. I wanted to feel the innocence of thinking things would always stay the same.

The nostalgia drove me to Ms. Lilly Lawrence’s bookstore. I’d often helped her organize books as a child. In exchange for my services, she’d let me have a copy of whatever book I wanted at the end of the week. Before I left for college, I’d gained a pretty lofty book collection.

I’d also stayed with her for over a year when Talon was in an exchange program. I now realized he was probably fighting in the war his entire absence. As I approached the bookstore, I could tell it looked the same. Only the selections in the big glass window were altered with the passing seasons. The bell on the glass door rang as I entered the store. I inhaled the scent of new paper from all the books, and serenity encompassed me.

Ms. Lilly peered into a book with her glasses tipped to her nose. She looked up and gasped. “As I live and breathe, Althea Cooper!” She placed her book on the counter and wrapped me in a big hug. “How is college? Tell me everything! I’ve hoped we’d see you on breaks, but I suppose with your brother moving away and all there isn’t much reason to come back here.”

“I’m actually done with college. I’m in the Air Force now and am on leave. I thought it was time to come home for a bit.”

“Air Force! Wow, I never saw that coming for you! How long are you home for?”

“I’m not really sure at this point. At least a couple months or so.”

“Oh, splendid!” Ms. Lilly emulated an enthusiasm for life I’d never seen in anyone. She seemed overjoyed to have me in her presence and revealed that as she continued to speak. “I could use your help. I’m thinking of closing the store. I want to move closer to my daughter and her three kids in Arizona. I could use help moving the inventory on a more regular basis.”

A tiny twinge of sadness hit. I hated to think of the store closing. Even if I never got back, it was an icon of my childhood. “I’d love that! What’s your timeline of closing?”

“I’m thinking two to three months and make it out of here before Thanksgiving.”

“I’ll stay and help until you’re ready to move.”

“Can you get leave that long?”

I nodded. “My leave is open-ended, so I can stay as long as I want.”

“Then you’re hired!”

Ms. Lilly led me to a stack of boxes. “This is the last of the incoming inventory, and now we’ll focus on moving as much as we can.”


I spent my days at the bookstore and my evenings in the greenhouse. Both tasks kept my mind off the war and all it brought to me. After a couple hours of ensuring my plants flourished, I spent the rest of the evening with my dad. We’d usually watch old reruns or some nights we’d play a board game.

I began to see my dad smile, and this was the first time I’d ever recalled him remotely happy. He no longer went to the bar, and the drinks in his hand became scarcer. We’d talk about our day but were careful not to mention anything outside our atmosphere. Weeks passed, and I wondered how much longer the universe above would let me stay. I hadn’t brought any type of

communication device with me.

The leaves faded into oranges and reds, and Maine settled deep into fall. Ms. Lilly asked me to do inventory while she went out of town. I made it halfway through and went to the back storeroom to start the inventory there. The bell rang, alerting me someone opened the front door of the shop. I tossed three books to the side and hurried to the register. My heart stopped. At the register stood John, leaned against the counter. He looked as nervous as the first time he’d asked me on a date.

He gave me a tense smile. “Althea.”

“John, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed to give me time. How’d you even find me?”

He fumbled with a little bear statue next to the register and moved closer to me. He stopped about five feet in front of me. “Apparently, I was too distracted. Talon was pretty insistent I go find you and get my ass in gear or drastic measures would need to take place. I believe he was contemplating something between a beat down and a court-martial. He told me you were at the bookstore a lot. I guess he’s been tracking you every day to make sure you’re still on Earth.”

Talon had always been paranoid about my safety, but I supposed getting kidnapped validated that for him.

“You need to keep your head in the game. Everyone is counting on you,” I said.

“It’s been five months.”

“I’m not ready. I need a few more weeks. Ms. Lilly leaves for Arizona soon, and I’ll be back then. Until then, I need to stay here.”

I needed this last bit of time to myself, but I had no way to explain that to him. He moved to hug me, but I stepped back. I couldn’t hurt him more than I had to. If I was destined to die, it was better he moved on now. It’d be selfish to magnify his pain by keeping our attachment. His face fell in disappointment. I hated seeing him somber. I turned away and started straightening shelves.

“Come back, Allie. I’m not saying you need to be back on duty but come home.”

I wanted so much to turn around and fall apart in his arms. Instead, I stiffened. I needed to be careful. He could read my emotions.

“I’m about to lock up and go home for the day. You see your parents yet?” I tried making casual conversation.

“No, not exactly sure what to say to them. Sorry I disappeared three years ago. I’m fine and fighting aliens now.” His words held a valid point.

“They think you joined the Air Force, right?”

“Yes, they think I’m on special assignment, but I’ve gotten several messages from my mom stating her disappointment in my lack of contact. But you know that communication is touchy to Earth from the base. I did tell them we got married, that was met with a message telling me she wishes we’d invited her to the wedding.”

“You should go see them. It’ll be good to have your family back. You may need them more than you know one day.” I wanted him to have his family to keep him going when I couldn’t.

“Right now, I need to focus on getting my wife back. Tell me how I can help you.”

“I told you, I’ll be back as soon as I close down the shop for Ms. Lilly in a few weeks. You can help me by giving me this time.”

John followed me out, and I locked up the store, turning the open sign to closed. A chill slid through the air, warning of the approaching winter. Christmas would soon be here, and this would probably be the first year I’d noticed in years. On base, we had celebrations, but there was nothing like real snow, and a downtown lit with colored lights and strung tinsel.

“Let’s go to Ollie’s.” John looked at me expectantly.

“No, I have dinner with my dad every night. I have a roast in the crock-pot.”

All of the things John had seen over the past three years hadn’t prepared him for the shock that I ate dinner with my dad. His eyes widened a little, and his mouth held slightly open.

“He knows all about you. Why don’t you join us?” My invitation came out so formal. I’d formally invited my husband to dinner with my dad.

John looked hesitant. My father was always someone John avoided. John never knew what to say to him. They’d spoken maybe a handful of times, and it was always brief.

He studied the ground. “I never asked him if I could marry you.”

I squinted my eyes, looking at him sideways as if he’d asked me why mice run on the moon. Complete nonsense poured out of his mouth.

“Since when do you care what my dad thinks? Not to mention, alien war kind of took precedent to traditions and formalities.” I climbed on my bike.

He popped his trunk. “Let’s put your bike in my rental. I’ll drive you there.”

“I’d rather ride.”

“Come on, Althea. You can’t sit for ten minutes in a car with me?”

“I enjoy the fresh air. Earth is different than any other galactic anything. Planet, moon, anything. Nothing like home.” I spoke with a wistful tone, and that was probably not what John wanted to hear in my voice.

“Come on, you can ride to work tomorrow,” he pressed.

“You mean?”

“I’m not going to push you to come back. I want you back, but I also want you to have the time you need.”

“I’ll come back when I’m ready. It’s been a long three years. I’m not sure what I want anymore.”

“Okay.” John placed my bike in the back of the navy-blue SUV rental.

We drove toward my childhood home. Achilles barked at our approaching car. He ran to greet us as we got out. We made our way up the porch. I paused and took a deep breath before entering. I wasn’t sure how Dad would to take John’s arrival. I shut the door and heard my dad’s voice from the kitchen.

“The roast is ready. You have perfect timing. I finished taking some rolls out of the oven about a minute ago.” He turned the corner from the kitchen and stopped. He looked at John, almost as if he could see right through him. John stuck his hand out to shake, and to my relief, my dad shook back. “I didn’t know we’d have company or I’d have another plate out.”

“Sorry, Dad, it was last minute.”

Dad waved us both to the table. “It’s ok, I’ll grab an extra plate. Plenty of food.”

We followed my dad to the table to eat. After dinner, I went out to tend to my plants, and John followed. I’d worked halfway through the gardenias when he started in.

“There’s a therapeutic spa in the Morris system. I was thinking maybe you could

vacation there instead of here on Earth.”

I watered the last row. “I don’t need a spa day. I need to stay here and help Ms. Lilly close up shop and make my dad dinner every night. Why even bring up the spa? I still wouldn’t be on base.”

“Truth is I’m starting to be afraid you won’t come back. I can’t miss you much longer. I might have to give up war and settle into a regular life with you.”

I snapped my head from my gardenias. “You know you can’t do that!”

“Why not? You already have.”

A slow-moving heat flooded my cheekbones as anger crept in delicately. “I’m sorry I need to get away from the nightmares in my head. I can’t close my eyes without feeling the burns of the whip and broken bones. I can’t sleep without seeing all of it play over and over in my head.” I stifled a sob.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t… I’m an idiot.” John bit his lip.

He closed the distance between us and wrapped me in his arms. I started to pull away, but his arms felt so wonderful, and I collapsed against him. He kissed the top of my head.

“I killed them all, John. It’s my fault. I can’t go back. I can’t let anyone else die because I make the wrong choice. I should’ve fought instead of expecting Khalbytians to keep their word.” I was nearing hysteria, realizing I felt I deserved to die. I suddenly realized that’s why what Dramto proposed felt so easy to accept as my fate.

“What are you talking about?” John held me tightly.

“When I was captured, I had four friends. Three humans and a Loctorian. They were in my cell. I grew to love them all as we were each other’s only comfort. The Khalbytian who captured me told me if I married him, he’d let them go. I told him I would, but he killed them anyway. He said it was the final step of breaking my spirit. I think it worked, John. I think that was the last thing my heart could take. I should’ve died with them.” I wailed, unable to stop. My entire body quaked against John’s chest.

“This whole time you thought they were dead? Allie, are you talking about Eleanor, Natalie, Erin, and Racki?”

I struggled to control my breathing and gasped out, “How do you know their names?”

“They aren’t dead. They brought you to our ship. I didn’t know you knew them that well, and I was so caught up in you getting better. They left a few days after you got back on base. You didn’t wake up for another two weeks. By that time, they left my mind. I never thought to mention them. I thought they were prisoners put on a shuttle with you. My only thoughts were you. I’m sorry.”

“They’re alive?” I asked it slowly, not quite believing it. My crying tapered off.

“Yes, Jasper patched them up, and they were reunited with their families.”

I didn’t know what my emotions were, and they were so jumbled I doubted even John could piece together a description. I was so happy they were alive. I looked up into John’s dark hazel eyes, and our lips met. He kissed me deeply, as if he was trying to meld his lips to mine. He picked me up, resting my body on his hips. He backed me against the wall. He set me on one of my garden tables, and several pots fell and shattered.

“You okay? Let’s stop,” John said.

He began to pull away, but I grabbed his arm and shook my head. He pushed up my blue dress, stroking my thighs and removing my tights. There in the greenhouse we returned to each other in a way I desperately needed. I needed the protection of his arms reminding me of all the ways he loved me, and all the reasons our love held its strength through all the years of our lives.

With desperate kisses and gentle touches, we were each other’s once more. We collapsed on the red couch in the corner and slept. The new heating system I installed a few weeks prior kept us warm through the night.

The sun shining through the greenhouse roof awoke us to morning. John made me breakfast in the house and brought it out to the greenhouse. We wrapped a blanket around us and drank our coffee. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and he pulled me closer. That moment surrounded me with the realization that all the pain had masked how all of me was starving for my husband.

I leaned into John, soaking in the protection of his arms. “John, I need you to go back without me.”

“But I thought…” His voice fell in defeat.

“I need you to trust me. I’ll be back, but I can’t yet.”

“How long?”

“A few more weeks. Once I get the store closed up for Ms. Lilly.”

“I’m sure Ms. Lilly would understand.”

“It’s not even that. I need this, and I promise I’ll be back.”

“Alright. You have what you need.” He kissed the top of my head and ran his fingers through my hair.

John spent the next few days helping me at the bookstore, and at night we spent time with my dad. The day arrived that John needed to get back. He was disappointed I wasn’t returning with him but he never pushed the issue further.

“Let’s go see your parents before you leave,” I insisted.

John finally agreed, and he drove us to his first home. I hoped his parents would be home. The old number we knew by heart was disconnected. We rang the doorbell, and I heard movement from inside the house. John’s brother Theodore answered the door. His mouth gaped open, and he gave me a big hug, then John.

“I see how it is. You’re more excited to see Allie than your own brother,” John teased.

Theodore smiled at me. “Allie’s prettier.”

“Fair enough.”

“Mom! John and Allie are home.”

A pot clambered in the kitchen, and rapid footsteps approached. John’s mom Barb put her hand to her mouth and locked us together in one hug.

“Mike! Teddy, go get your dad! Look at the two of you. I’ve been waiting for this day for a really long time. Was beginning to think it would never happen.” Barb grinned and told us to come inside.

We sat on the couch, and John’s dad Mike walked into the room. John jumped up and hugged his dad. Mike waved for me, and I hugged him.

“If I knew you were coming, I’d have made your favorite, John. You still like lasagna and garlic bread?” Barb asked.

John nodded. “Yes, especially yours.”

Barb called us to the table with baked chicken and mashed potatoes set on it. Anything that Barb made was exceptional. I’d loved having dinner at their house as a kid because she never made a bad dish. This felt like old times, sitting there and eating with the four of them. They’d always had an open door for me.

“Can’t say we’re too surprised to find out you two were married. You’ve been inseparable all your lives,” Mike said.

Barb frowned. “I would’ve loved to have made the wedding. But I know you were off on assignment and didn’t really have much opportunity to get back. I was glad that man stopped by and let us know how you guys were doing.”

The man she was talking about was a manipulator. He made families believe their loved ones suddenly disappearing was normal. He helped softened any emotions that would lead to anger and resentment. This also helped keep families from doing any investigating of their own.

“To be honest, our wedding was sort of a spontaneous thing. We haven’t regretted a single day together,” I said.

John looked at me and smiled, then we caught his family looking at us, also smiling.

Barb’s smile grew bigger. “You have always been our daughter, Althea, but it’s nice, it’s on an official level now.”

We spent the rest of the evening playing board games and talking. The night flew too quickly, and John needed to catch his shuttle back to Saturn base.

Barb hugged us. “Don’t be strangers. Come see us soon.”

I could see tears in her eyes, and it made me sad that she missed her son so much. I had no idea when John could make it back. He was moving up the ranks pretty fast and with that came more responsibility. I rode with him to the base. He turned his car in, and I’d take the bus back. When it was time for him to leave, he kissed me softly on my forehead and lips.

“I love you, Althea.”

“I love you.” With my final words, he disappeared down the terminal.

Chapter 13

Althea- December 12, 2016

In the weeks that followed John’s visit, I stayed busy with the bookstore and greenhouse. I enjoyed time with my Dad. We’d play Scrabble most nights or watch a movie. Ms. Lilly was anxious to move before Christmas since she’d already missed her Thanksgiving deadline. A chill bit the air when I arrived at work three weeks after John’s visit. My body moved sluggishly. I hadn’t slept well the night before.

“You feeling okay?” Ms. Lilly asked as soon as she saw me. I must have looked worse than I thought.

“Yeah, just a little tired.”

“Why don’t you go home and get some rest?”

“It’s okay. We need to get the store ready for Saturday’s closing sale.”

I put my hat, scarf, and purse behind the counter. I walked to the back to check inventory and stumbled a bit. The room began to swirl, before I could recover, my stomach churned. Instead of the storeroom, I made it to the bathroom. Barely making the toilet, I threw up breakfast. I guessed Ms. Lilly was right. It was weird being sick.

Not counting during my capture, I never got sick since I’d started living on base. I was away from the biofilters now, and my ability stunk when it came to viruses. Then it hit me. I would have to make a stop at the pharmacy. I told Ms. Lilly I would take her up on her offer to go home and promised to be back tomorrow. She told me not to worry, she’d be fine, and to get some rest.


I held the box shaking, unwilling to open it. I scanned the calendar on my phone. I was late by a week. How had I missed that? I ripped open the package and felt relieved I had this option instead of having to go in for a scan with Jasper. I watched, waiting for it to tell me what I feared. Two lines appeared. I was pregnant.

I could hit myself. I’d stopped taking my birth control when I was captured for obvious reasons. After my rescue, I’d focused only on breathing. Our little greenhouse incident had left an impact. I couldn’t go and die now. I would have to wait at least nine months, and what kind of mother goes and leaves an infant behind? I sat on the edge of the toilet seat as my tears puddled on the floor.

Of everything I could have done, this had to be the most irresponsible. I couldn’t bring a baby into war and die to save everyone now. I probably wouldn’t even have to tell John. He’d most likely know as soon as we made any sort of contact. A drawback to being married to an empath was he could often sense more than I wanted him to.

I used the heel of my hand to remove my tears and looked in the mirror. My mother was dead, and I really needed her at this moment. I needed to pay John’s mom another visit. Not only had she been my mom’s best friend, but she’d pretty much raised me.


Barb threw me into a hug and squeezed tight. She got some tea from the kitchen, and we sat on the couch.

“I was so happy to hear you were still in town and coming back for a second visit. I wish that son of mine could’ve stayed longer,” Barb said.

“I wish you guys could’ve had more time together too. I needed to talk to you without him, though.”

She studied my face. “Everything okay?” I shook my head and burst into tears. She let me cry into her shoulder. “Whatever it is, honey, you can tell me. You’re my daughter, there’s nothing you can’t tell me.” She looked me in the eye as if to show me what she said was true.

“I’m pregnant, and I don’t know how to tell John. This is not the best time at all. We never talked about kids. I know that’s weird because people get married, and they talk about kids. Most before they even get married but not us. Not once.”

She smiled, and compassion filled her eyes. “Sweetheart, this is amazing news.”

“Why doesn’t it feel like it?”

She handed me a tissue. “Probably because you weren’t expecting this. Babies don’t always come when we expect them to.”

“I keep thinking about my mother. I know you were best friends, but I don’t remember how you met.”

“Your parents moved into town a little after we did. Mike’s company moved us around a lot. Neither your mom nor I knew many people. I met her in the grocery store when Talon bumped into me because Malcom was chasing him. Your mom was so embarrassed. I told her it was fine. Her boys were beautiful, and I hoped to have a couple of my own someday. After a brief conversation, we learned we were both new. She invited me over for coffee and chit chat.”

I blew my nose. “Was this before John and I were born?”

“Yes, in fact at the point I met your mother, Mike and I believed we’d never have kids.”

“Why is that?”

“I was told I was physically unable to have kids. I told your mother, and I remember very clearly that she hugged me. I know this might sound crazy, but I felt this strange energy or warmth from her. And she told me not to give up hope on one day getting the baby I wanted. About a month later, I found out I was going to have John. He was my miracle baby.

“As you know, you were born three months after him, and we were so excited to raise the two of you together. Mike’s company moved us away before John was a year old, but we’d fallen in love with the town. Now that we had John, we wanted to settle down. When he turned three, Mike told his company he wanted us to stay put, or he’d quit. They gave in, and we made this home.”

I couldn’t tell Barb, but I knew what my mom had done. My mom’s gift to Barb had given me my husband. We talked for a while longer, and I soaked in every word as she told me about my mother. I finally got up to leave.

Barb grabbed my hand. “Allie, trust John. He’s loved you from day one. He’s going to love this baby too. I can’t wait to see all three of you together.”

I thanked her before climbing in my car to drive away. I tried to stall my return. I dreaded going back, but I knew it was time. I sent John a message letting him know I was delayed a few weeks.

I helped Ms. Lilly close out the store and took her to the airport to join her kids in Arizona. I told her I’d make sure the small number of items she wanted would be shipped to her. She gave me the option of staying and owning the bookstore. The temptation was fierce, especially now that my baby was at stake. I turned her down, and we shared a tearful goodbye.

I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my father. I talked him into New Year’s at the community center where the town had a Scrabble tournament every year. Dad won second place. I snapped a picture of him holding his trophy, smiling. I wanted to remember him this way. On our way out, we bumped into Lisa Anderson. They dated through high school, and she was now a widow. I caught the way my dad smiled at her, and I worked the rest of the week at convincing him to ask her to coffee.

After hanging up the phone three times, the fourth time I dialed before he could hang up. He nervously glanced at me. He quickly asked her out, and she agreed. The following week they went to dinner, and a couple of days later we had a family dinner. Watching my dad laugh and now forming a new relationship was worth the trip on its own. I no longer saw him drink even a beer. He appeared to have a renewed purpose.

I needed to go back. If my mother’s story had taught me anything, it was that destiny always finds a way to spin a web to you. In one way or the other, this war would eventually reach out and find my baby and pull him or her into the midst of it. I needed to end it before that happened. Not only that, but if the Khalbytians were able to develop the human version of the virus and release it on Earth, my baby would have nowhere to be safe. It’d be a much sadder version of my mother’s decision.

Reluctantly, I packed my bags, and Dad helped me load them into my rental. I was going to miss him, and that was something I never expected. I was grateful for our time together and the rewritten version of my father. I debated whether I’d let Talon know, but I knew that lengthy explanation would come with details he would fight me on. I gave Dad a big hug. At first, he stiffened then he relaxed and hugged me back.

I could hear regret or maybe longing in his voice. “Take care of yourself, kid.” He let go.

I climbed into my car. Part of me wanted to stay with my dad and further heal the loneliness in his heart, but I hoped Lisa would help with that now. I hoped that maybe somehow through my visit, he could begin to bring peace to the turmoil that burned his spirit. He gave me a brief smile and a wave as I drove away. I didn’t let John know this would be the day I was returning, but I figured he’d know when I was in close proximity. He seemed to always know, as if he could pick out my signal from the thousands on base.

I stepped out of the craft and sighed, looking at the docking bay that had become part of my new home. I missed my old first home already. The human heart in my chest longed for Earth even though I’d left only hours ago. I looked at the control center and smiled when I spotted Gabriel. He stared intently at a screen until I finally caught his attention.

He ran to me and gave me a big hug. “Althea! Our team has missed you immensely. Glad to have you back. I’d have thought John would be here. He mopes around like a lost puppy dog. Won’t even do bowling night anymore.”

I smiled. “That’s a bit tragic. How are you guys getting along without him at bowling night? If I’d known I’d affect bowling night, I’d have stayed on the station.”

“It’s fine. We win a lot more. Can I get you anything? Should I page John?”

“You don’t need to.” I heard John’s voice behind me.

I looked up to see him standing in the doorway. There was a good chance he’d sense something as soon as he touched me. I wasn’t ready for him to know. He closed the distance between me and unavoidably wrapped me in a hug.

“I’m sorry if it was too soon. But I’m glad you’re back. How are you?” He looked me over as he spoke.


I knew he could feel the apprehension I felt at his touch, and I guessed it was why he kept our hug short lived. He didn’t seem to sense the baby. If he did, he kept quiet, perhaps because Gabriel was gawking at our interaction. John grabbed my bag and reached for my hand. We walked back to our quarters.

“You going to head to sickbay for your return scan?” This was a protocol after we’d been in battle or on a mission.

“I was on vacation. I don’t need a scan,” I protested.

“I’d like you to go. Make sure you’re completely healed up.”

“I’ll go later. I want a bath and a nap first.”

John picked up a tablet on the stand next to our couch. “Alright. I’ve got a few things I can work with on my laptop. I’ll be in the living room if you need me.”


The bath and nap left me recharged, and when I woke up, John was placing dinner on the table. Spaghetti and meatballs. We ate in silence, but I could feel him studying me the entire meal.

When we were almost finished, he spoke, “How’s your dad?”

“He’s alright. I think my visit really helped him finally move forward. I’m glad I got that time with him.”

“That’s good.”

Our conversation carried an awkward tone. John seemed to be picking his words carefully. We kept a level of formality that we hadn’t had since before getting together.

“I’m going to go see Jasper in about a half an hour,” I informed him.

“Good, I’ll come with you.”

“No, I’d like to go alone.”

He pressed his lips together and turned away. I was still being resistant to him, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. I helped clean up the table despite John’s insistence on me having nothing to do with it. I left John in our quarters and walked to sickbay.

Jasper lit up when he saw me. “You look amazing! That Earth air did you some good. Why don’t you come in for a check-up? We’ll see how you’ve healed up.”

I followed Jasper into an examination room and sat on the table. I knew he would find a remarkably healed body with a tiny stowaway on board. I said nothing. Maybe the test was wrong, but this would give me confirmation either way.

Jasper scanned me then stopped and scanned again. “Althea, you’re pre…”

“Pregnant. Yeah, I know.” I took a deep breath.

“You didn’t say anything.”

“I wasn’t sure. I only had one positive test, and I’ve been waiting to get back here to find out for sure.”

“Let’s take a look the old-fashioned way.”

He brought over the portable ultrasound machine. Cold goop slid over my lower abdomen, and Jasper waved the wand across it. The grey and black screen began changing with each movement he made. I held in a breath, and my tears threatened to spill over. My baby made little jumps, and their hands flew rapidly about. My beautiful baby, I knew I would protect at all costs. This must have been how my mother felt when she saw my older brother and when the choice to leave this war behind presented itself, she couldn’t resist.

“You’re about ten weeks, which means conception was about eight weeks ago,” he explained as he scanned. That put me right on time for the greenhouse incident. He finished measuring my little bean then stopped suddenly. “Wait a minute.” He glanced closely at the screen. “There’s two of them.”

My eyes went wide, and I sat up slightly to view the screen better. “What?!”

“Twins. You’re having twins.” He pointed to the screen. He zoomed out, and I could see two tiny heads. “Congratulations! Does John know?” He wiped off my belly with a towel and helped me sit up.

“No, only you. I don’t know how to tell him. I thought maybe he’d sense the baby, but so far he doesn’t seem to.”

“Probably too small and he’s not expecting them.”

I’d really made a mess of things. Jasper assured me both babies looked amazing, and my body had healed splendidly. I didn’t tell him how my body still ached. I didn’t want to be kept any longer. I walked back to my quarters, not knowing how to tell John I was about to make him a father during the worst possible timing.

Chapter 14

John- January 15, 2017

Allie returned from seeing Jasper and only told me she checked out fine and was going to bed. I wondered at this point if she would even tell me if there was something wrong. I felt hopeful after the night we shared in the greenhouse, but now she seemed distant again. I thought her time on Earth would’ve brought her old self out more. Maybe her old self had died on that platform.

I crawled into bed next to her, and she turned away from me. I kissed her cheek and tried to get some sleep. I really wanted her to turn around and start kissing me. I needed to feel her again the way I had in the greenhouse. That night was one of our most intimate moments. A release of the built-up scars and fear from her capture. I’d felt her relax as though she was finally okay again, but now she was back like Earth had done nothing to restore her.

The week passed, and much of our interactions were awkward. Talon and Seraphine brought over dinner, and Allie seemed distant with them. She picked at her food. I could feel her anxiety that she physically hid well, and she was holding something back. Talon shot me a look.

I could guess what he was thinking. He was most likely frustrated that she seemed as out of it as when she left. Surely, he could see she looked healthier. Her cheeks were no longer sunken and more than bones built her arms. Talon and Seraphine hugged her goodbye then motioned me out into the hall. I closed the door.

“What’s going on, John? You told me she was doing better,” Talon said.

“She was. Maybe it was Earth itself. I don’t know, but she seems to be going backward since getting back.” I didn’t know what other explanation to give them.

“We need to figure this out.”

“Let’s give her some time to adjust back to life here,” Seraphine said.

Talon reluctantly agreed to give her more time. I knew he was feeling at a loss like I was. Maybe I’d lost my wife after all. Part of me pictured her telling me she was leaving permanently. Things weren’t working out for her here. I honestly wouldn’t blame her. I went back into our quarters, and she was already in bed.

I longed for my wife more than I ever had. But I wanted my touch to bring her comfort; if it brought her anything but that I’d avoid it. I crawled into bed, and she turned to me. I kissed her forehead and pulled her against me. She buried her face and kissed my chest. She relaxed which brought me relief. I felt something strange. A presence other than ourselves. It felt distant and close at the same time.

“Allie? What happened on Earth?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Something is different. I can sense something is here.”

I could feel the anxiety building in Allie. “You feel them, don’t you?”


“The babies.”

I pushed myself up, trying to look Allie in the face better. “Babies?” My voice cracked.

“I didn’t know how to tell you. I thought you’d sense them the moment I came on board.”

“You’re pregnant?”

She glanced away. “Yes.”

“Wait, you said them? More than one?”

“Yes, twins. Jasper confirmed last week when I got back.”

“I’m going to be a Dad?!”


I squeezed her tighter. “Best news I’ve had in months!” I felt giddy. Until that moment, kids weren’t something I ever knew I wanted so bad.

“No, it’s irresponsible.” Allie’s insistence came out as sadness.

“So, what if it is? They’re here. Given a chance, I wouldn’t undo them. We should have them the same reason we got married because if we stop living for war, we’ll never live at all.” I honestly didn’t care if it was irresponsible, these were my babies. I wanted them beyond pretty much anything.

“Yes, but marriage doesn’t involve creating new life that could suffer immensely because of the war.” She added this with worry cracking her voice.

“Lack of suffering is never a guarantee for anyone. These babies might be perfectly fine, while one we had on Earth has great suffering. And that’s beside the point. I don’t regret these babies. But I can understand if it’s too much right now. What do you want to do?”

She placed her cheek back against my chest. “I want them, that’s not the issue here. I’m worried for their future. I want them so much I need to make sure their future is the best it can be. That’s what I feel anxious about.”

I kissed the top of her head. “Then that’s something we’ll worry about together. I already love them.”

“Me too.”

We laid there, soaking up the intimacy of the moment. I held her tightly, and she nestled as close as she could get to me. If I could freeze time, I would. I willed to stay stuck here with my wife’s beating heart pressed against my chest. We drifted to sleep at peace. By breakfast, we were deep in an argument.

“You can’t go into battle pregnant with twins. You’ll have to stay on the base where it’s safe. You don’t know if something were to happen the babies would be okay.”

“I’m a healer. My body heals anything I touch. I trust it’d keep them safe. The fleet has missed me long enough. I need to get back into things. You really think I’d put them at risk? The moment I saw them on the screen, I knew I’d cross hell to keep them safe.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think you need to resume your old post helping Jasper in sickbay. You can still heal incomings, but only to the degree he okays.”

She was frustrated and annoyed, but she gave in. I kissed her and thanked her. My family was my priority, and I needed her and my kids safe more than winning any battle.

She grabbed my hand. “You better always come back to me then. I left you alone to fight too long already.”

“You worry about you and them, and I’ll worry about making sure I’m there for their birthday.”


“With everything I have.” I pulled her into another kiss. There would be nothing keeping me from my family. A new resolve formed in me, that I now fought so Allie and I could raise our kids on Earth with a won war far behind us.

We invited Talon and Seraphine to dinner so we could have yet another awkward family chat.

“Althea, Talon and I were talking about how I think a girls’ day is in order. Maybe the spa and a shopping trip for some new clothes.” Seraphine approached the subject cautiously.

They were still expecting to see a repeat of our last dinner where we’d all mistaken Allie’s quiet for her still being in a fragile state. Instead, it was apprehension about telling everyone about the babies.

“I do need some new clothes now.” Allie spoke like she hadn’t around Talon in months.

He looked up from his plate, astonished, as he expected it not to work. “Why don’t you girls go tomorrow afternoon?”

Allie nodded, and Talon seemed happy with himself.

“So, we asked you here for a reason. I brought back a stowaway from Earth.” Allie smiled and waited for them to catch on.

They both peered at her confused, clearly not grasping what she was attempting to


“Someone snuck on board with you, and you’re happy about it?” Talon’s relief transformed into returned concern.

Seraphine stayed quiet but looked over Althea’s face trying to analyze her expression for answers. “You mean you’re…?” Seraphine stopped. She’d figured it out but was surprised enough to doubt herself.

Allie nodded and smiled. Seraphine smiled back, but I could feel her worry magnify. She jumped up and hugged Allie.

“Okay, what am I missing?” Talon shot baffled looks at the three of us.

“Your sister is pregnant, Talon,” Seraphine said, annoyed at Talon’s denseness.

Talon looked at Allie then me. I could sense the anger he wanted to keep at bay. Anger was a common theme with him lately. He still pummeled Khalbytians long after their deaths were apparent. Allie’s ordeal had created a super soldier with a personal vendetta to inflict as much slaughter against the Khalbytians as possible. Jasper and Meredith cleared him for duty, and Admiral Parks saw the clearance as being enough for him to be on duty again.

I figured right now his anger was directed toward me as he wanted Allie fully pieced back together. Anger toward her wasn’t in the equation. He didn’t know what to say. A few months ago, he would’ve spoken his mind no matter how upset it’d make Allie.

All that would come out of Talon’s mouth was, “You feeling okay, sis?”

“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks! By the way, I’m having twins,” Allie said it casually as she scooped another spoonful of mashed potatoes.

“It’s good to see your appetite back, Althea. You had us worried for a while.” Seraphine tried to break the tension, but it didn’t work. We all sat in silence, finishing our dinner.

“John, let’s go for drinks.” Talon motioned me to the door.

Even though I outranked Talon, I somehow knew this wasn’t a request. I also knew Talon didn’t drink. I gave Allie a quick kiss and headed out the door. Seraphine stayed behind to chat with Allie.

Once the door closed and we were far enough down the hall, Talon spoke, “Man! What were you thinking? Of all the irresponsible things you could do, you had to go and knock up my sister with twins?!”

“Yes, because I thought why not get two for one.”

Talon scowled. “Not only is it irresponsible in this war, but what do you think it’s going to do to Althea after she’s finally making some recovery.”

“I guess I think it’s going to make her a mother.” Talon wasn’t amused by my sarcasm, but I continued, “What exactly should we do now? What’s done is done. Neither one of us would take them back.”

I knew he would eventually arrive at the conclusion he was an uncle and go with it. It wasn’t the first time Talon thought he knew the better for his sister and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.


Knowing Allie and the babies were safe back on base kept me more focused on missions. The further she got into her pregnancy, the more she liked having me closer to the base, but being an admiral, I was often needed elsewhere. We waited until I had some leave for her big anatomy scan. The ultrasound tech smeared gel on Allie’s growing belly. The screen came to life as the first twin bounced around.

“You want to know the sex?” the tech asked.

Allie and I agreed we did. We’d dealt with enough life surprises, and Allie was in full nesting mode, wanting to have some specific things ordered from Earth. The tech went through each system, scanning and measuring.

“Twin A is a boy.” She pointed at the screen to the part that indicated she was right.

I beamed. I would have a son. I squeezed Allie’s hand, and she smiled back at me.

“Everything looks good with twin A. Strong, healthy boy,” the tech confidently told us.

She moved the wand elsewhere on Allie’s belly and knew precisely where to find our next little one tucked in tight. The baby sucked their thumb and had their arm across their forehead


The tech scanned and measured. “A healthy girl. Congratulations. One of each.”

I could sense Allie seemed more apprehensive about the girl, but I couldn’t guess why. I was sure Allie would love the babies no matter what. It was an emotional time for both of us but especially Allie.

I went back out on missions, and Allie stayed on base, preparing the nursery and helping Jasper. He told me it was useful having her there. More divisions could benefit from Allie’s healing. He always made sure to monitor the twins when Allie was healing to ensure they weren’t in fetal distress. She would take long naps after healing sessions, but she was careful not to drain herself too much.

Chapter 15

Althea- May 9, 2017

At my twenty-four-week baby appointment, Jasper told us he was concerned about my weight. I hadn’t gained enough for twins. This made John go into bugging me about eating, but constant

nausea made it difficult.

He started in as soon as we left the appointment. “Aren’t you supposed to be having cravings? I’ll get you whatever you want. I’ll even ship whatever from Earth.”

“It’s hard to have cravings when you feel sick all the time.”

“Why don’t you talk to Jasper about some meds that might help?”

“Because nothing I’ve tried has helped. Why would I want to take medication if it does no


“We have to get food in you somehow.”

“I eat. I promise I do.”

He still looked concerned. I wasn’t sure why Jasper had to bring it up in front of John. John already had first-time Daditis. It’d flare up every time he was told something new about pregnancy or parenting.

I was a mix between feeling irritated with him hovering and wanting him close. The truth was I did want him close. I felt safer with him around, and I often wanted him to hold me. The struggle only stemmed from his worry adding to my stress. We discussed it and he gave not bringing things up a good effort, but the worry remained written on his face. He left for a mission, and I decided it was time to find the Book of Ages. Dramto said it would be in the Saturn base library.

Walking proved more difficult as one of the babies always loved to be under my ribs squishing my lungs flat. The other loved to spend their days using my bladder as a trampoline. Along with all of that came the sharp rib pain that felt comparable to when I’d actually broken my ribs. I huffed to the library, chiding myself that I’d climbed mountains with better endurance than I was taking a simple stroll to the library.

The library impressed me every time I walked into it. It was by far the most extensive library I’d ever seen. At a computer, I typed Book of Ages into the search engine. The screen showed zero matches. I walked around, aimless and overwhelmed. I went farther back than I ever did with John. A wooden door came into view. I turned the knob and found it locked.

“Can I help you?” a voice behind me asked.

I whirled around and there stood a Loctorian. I’d only ever saw a handful on base before. He wore a dark green robe but left his hood down. He revealed less deterioration than the other Loctorians I’d seen. In fact, his skin looked almost perfect.

“I’m looking for a book that I was told is here, but the computer says there are zero matches,” I said.

He pointed at the wooden door. “The book you are looking for is behind the door in front of you.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m the Keeper. I know where all the books are.”

I shook my head. “No, I mean how do you know what book I’m looking for?”

“I know things. I knew you would be here today. I’m a time shifter. I see different possible futures, and I can go into the past or future. I also know who you are, Althea Cooper, with her mother’s eyes. Or rather, you changed your name when you married John Trammel. You carry a boy and a girl. The girl will also have your eyes, and in certain possible futures, she will carry your gift. The futures in which you choose to live.”

I froze for a second. “You mean my daughter will have to fight and choose to sacrifice herself if I don’t?”

“Yes, in some futures. In most, she dies young as the Khalbytians win the war, and in that outcome, most Loctorians and humans die.”

Fear inched its way into my heart. I sucked in a breath as my voice quivered. “What will happen if I choose to sacrifice myself?”

He extended his long-fingered palm at me. I placed my hand in his.

The room faded into a backyard on Earth. Two children were playing on a swing set. The boy looked like I remembered John but with darker hair and the girl had lighter hair but purple eyes like mine.

“Dinner!” I heard John’s voice call them.

They ran inside. Seraphine brought spaghetti to the table. My dad, John, and Talon were at the table. A baby sat in a highchair, and she had blonde, curly hair. A little boy who looked very much like Talon sat at the table next to a redhead girl who could be Seraphine’s clone. This was my family. They were all here eating dinner without me. The Keeper released my arm, and the library returned.

A tear rolled down my cheek that I quickly brushed away. “They seem so happy. I want them to have that future, but I’m sad that I won’t get to live it with them.”

“They will miss you very much. They want you to live it with them, too. They will have great difficulty dealing with the fact that you can’t.”

“Is there any future where I live and things turn out good?”

“There are some where you live, and things stay good for a while, those are the ones I see your daughter with your gift.”

I knew what he really meant was in the best case the cycle would continue, and if we were lucky, my daughter would live long enough to be put in the same position I was currently in.

Without me asking, the Keeper unlocked the brown door and let me inside. He flipped the light switch. The books in this room only extended one story high, which was the capacity of this room. I searched the shelves and saw several books titled The Loctorian Chronicles, The Anierisian Chronicles, and other species names.

“Are the books in here more fragile?” I read the spine of a few more books.

The Keeper walked to a shelf and pulled out a brown, leather-bound book. “No, they are kept in here to be out of time. This is a time capsule. This section is called the library of records. Some of these have not even been written yet. Once they are put in here, they have always been in here.” Time travel gave me a headache, and I avoided trying to make sense of what he meant. He placed the book in his hand on a reading pedestal in front of us and motioned me over.

“This is the Book of Ages. You touch the right page, and it will show you the past as I showed you the future, only it is what happened not glimpses of possibilities. The page you want is three thousand forty-three.”

I opened the book to the page he told me then I saw a place for my hand, so I placed it on the page where instructed. The room dissolved into a desert with large sand dunes all around. The burnt scent of plasma weapons filled the air. A battle was close. Three uniformed men carried guns around their shoulders, and the middle one reminded me of Talon.

I realized the man was my dad, and he looked very young. He flung sweat off his forehead then grabbed a gulp from his leather canteen. Gunfire pierced the air, and the soldiers pointed their guns in the direction of the noise. Behind them ran a young woman probably around my age. Her blonde hair fell in a braid behind her. Upon taking a closer look, I realized she was my mother. She wielded no weapon but she flew toward the plasma fire.

She removed the helmet of a Khalbytian and melted him. She dropped to the ground, flying under another. She sprung upward, removing his glove then turning him to mush. Her movements were intense, and she took down four Khalbytians. The three soldiers stood there with their mouths wide open.

My father kept his eyes glued to my mother. “Who is that?”

“I believe that’s Moira Fausto,” one of the other soldiers said.

“Her energy is amazing!”

When the battle ended, my dad found her at the camp and introduced himself. “Bastian Cooper.”

“Moira Fausto.”

The vision flashed to their wedding. My mother’s beauty astounded me. Her lace dress flowed to her ankles, and her sleeves landed on the edges of her shoulders. She danced down the aisle with a bouquet of calla lilies, and my father beamed. I’d never seen him so happy. I watched them say their vows. I grew weepy again, but this time, it was only happiness for the blessing of witnessing this moment. The vision changed to someone’s quarters. My parents were yelling.

“Moira, I don’t care what Tocric says; you can’t die for the Loctorians. We’ve already fought their war. I need my wife more than they do!” Dad pulled Mom close to him. His brow furrowed, and he shook his head.

“Bash, I could save millions of innocent people. Children.”

“Not my wife. Odds are another high-level healer will come along, and they can sacrifice if they choose.”

“What if no one chooses? What if this war at some point reaches Earth?”

Dad took a deep breath. “Then we can deal with that then. At least go talk to Jasper. He’ll tell you it’s a crazy idea.”

“He may be a doctor, but he’s only been one for a few years.”

Jasper knew my parents but had never said anything. My dad marched my mother to sickbay, and it was unreal seeing Jasper so young. He had the start of an afro and no beard, which made it so I didn’t recognize him at first. Dad told him about Tocric’s plan.

“I think it’s too much of a risk, and we don’t know if it’ll even work. It’s not like it’s been done before,” Jasper said.

My mother placed her hand on my dad’s arm. “Will you two at least hear Tocric out?”

The vision flashed to a Loctorian talking to the three of them, and I assumed he was Tocric. He explained the brain procedure he’d perform on my mother and how he knew it would work. He used big medical words that probably only he and Jasper understood.

“I’ll run some tests, and I’ll share honestly if the numbers match what I need them to be.” Tocric took some blood from my mother and scanned her. “Were you aware you are carrying a child?”

My mom and dad both widened their eyes and shook their heads. Jasper got the ultrasound machine out, and sure enough, there was the tiny baby that would grow to be my brother Malcom. I still recalled several memories of him, and I remembered him being kind. Anytime I couldn’t sleep, I’d run into his room, and he’d read me a story. He was the reason I first realized books were magical. I often wondered what he’d be like if he were still alive.

My mother blinked tears away as she watched the ultrasound wand roll across her belly, illuminating her baby on the screen. I knew that feeling because I’d lived it. They all agreed that nothing should happen until my mother delivered the baby. After that, it took one conversation, and my father convinced my mother to leave the war behind. They thought that was their happily ever after, but it was a tragedy. Now I was faced with the same choice. My dad foreshadowed another high-level healer.

He and my mother didn’t know it would be their own daughter who’d be pulled to the obligation of fulfilling what they were unwilling to. I knew better. The line was clearly drawn for me. The daughter I carried was fated to die young unless I broke the cycle. I returned to the library and removed my hand from the book. I took a deep breath, taking in what I’d seen. I was grateful for the visions of my mother, as most of her had faded from me over the years.

“Thank you for your help. Seeing my parents for myself was amazing,” I said.

“I hope you found what you need to help you with your choice.”

I needed to talk to Jasper. He was the only one I knew of who knew my parents here on base. Also, I never knew my mother’s maiden name. Talon told me that a Mr. Fausto had recruited him. I also remembered Talon brought him and his father to our house for dinner one time. Admiral George Fausto returned the day after the dinner to spend the day with me. The admiral had told me his daughter had died. Maybe his daughter and my mother were the same person. The visions gave me more questions that I was determined to have answered. I waddled into sickbay and told the nurse that I needed to see Jasper.

She looked at my swelling stomach. “Are you having any contractions, bleeding, or leakage of fluid?”


“Feeling the baby move okay?”


“Purpose for the visit?”

“I need to talk to Dr. Monroe. Nothing urgent.”

“I’ll put you on the list. Have a seat in the waiting room.”

I sat down, and ten other people were waiting. I decided to come back and slipped out. John would be home soon, and there was nothing for supper. On my way to the food warehouse, I ran into Margo from a cooking class I’d been taking. I wanted to be able to expand the dishes I could make. Not only for John but as a mother, I wanted to be able to give my kids delicious meals.

“Althea aren’t you the most adorable thing. You’re so tiny and cute. All babies,” she said, looking my belly over.

“I feel enormous but thank you for the sentiment.”

Margo kept blue streaks in her raven hair, and they went well with her brown eyes. There was a unique softness to her face, and I thought her quite pretty.

Margo stopped me again as I started to leave. “Do you have some time? I wanted to watch that new horror movie they have playing in the theater, but I don’t want to go alone. There’s a showing in about ten minutes.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.”

We ventured to the theater and picked seats in the exact middle. Gore used to bother me, but after experiencing so much of it in person, I was numb to it on screen. After the movie, Margo and I left laughing at how not scary the graphics were.

“Althea, I had a blast. Have you made dinner for your Greek assignment?” Margo asked as we left the theater.

“No, I was going to ask my friend Gabriel for the best dish his grandma ever made. He’s Greek and has told me his Grandma always made the best food. She grew up in Greece.”

“I have a dish in mind. You want to go practice?”

I thought for a minute and finally said, “Sure, that will be perfect. I needed to pick up supper, which was where I was headed when I ran into you.”

We went to the warehouse to pick up the ingredients and took them back to Margo’s quarters. I wanted to surprise John and didn’t want him to walk in on the middle of our prep work. We put all the groceries away.

“Let’s give each other mani/pedis.” Margo went and got a large plastic tote full of various creams, oils, and polishes.

“I haven’t done that in a really long time. This should be fun.”

I was loving the unexpected girls’ day I was having. Plus, Margo offered to paint my toes, which would make them attractive for John to look at since I was having difficulty seeing them anymore.

I picked a berry purple for both my hands and feet, and she selected sky blue. After playing around with our nails for a while, we decided it was time to get to work on the dish. We chose Greek chicken. We marinated the chicken in various spices and put it in the oven. While we waited for it to cook, we talked on the couch.

I learned that Margo had a crush on Deron, and she was shocked to find out he was on my team. I put it in the back of my mind to bring her up to Deron and see what he thought. Maybe I could land her a date. The timer beeped, and we pulled the chicken out. The amazing smell of the chicken proved too strong, and it sent me bolting for her bathroom.

A few minutes later, Margo knocked on the bathroom door. “You okay in there?”

“Yes, just need a minute. It’s this stupid morning sickness. Everyone kept telling me it’d be over by the end of the first trimester, but it’s stuck around like an unwelcome visitor.”

“Alright, dear. Let me know if you need anything.”

“Okay, thank you.”

The queasiness lingered so I didn’t want to leave quite yet. I heard voices in the other room and opened the door a crack to hear Talon and John.

What are they doing here? What are they doing back so soon?

I glanced at the clock on the bathroom wall. It was past eleven at night already. How could that be? It hit me. I hadn’t looked at a clock since I’d left my quarters for the library. I didn’t even know how long my vision had lasted.

Margo said, “Yes, she’s here. I think the chicken was a little strong of a smell, so she’s in the bathroom currently, but she said she’d be out in a minute.”

I shut the door and felt sick again, giving the toilet another round. This morning sickness could leave at any point, and I wouldn’t complain. I wanted to hide in the bathroom. I was about to get a lecture from John and Talon, and I wasn’t in the mood. I wanted to go to bed at this point. Once I felt stable enough, I took a small sip of water from the sink. I took a deep breath and left the bathroom. Both Talon and John jumped up from their spots on the couch as I came out.

John started right in. “Allie, where have you been?”

I showed him my nails. “Getting a manicure.”

“Jasper says you stopped by sickbay but left before he could see you. I had a message waiting from him when I got back to our quarters. He was worried because he couldn’t reach you. I couldn’t find you anywhere, so that’s when I asked Talon to help.”

Crap! I forgot to take myself off the sickbay list.

“Well I’m fine, and I made you chicken, but you’re going to have to get it. I can’t take the smell. Thank you, Margo, for the amazing night. I hope we can do it again sometime.”

“Me too,” Margo said.

I walked out the door to head home, embarrassed that my husband and brother had shown up at my new friend’s house. I was also embarrassed I’d thrown up at my new friend’s house. Talon and John followed after me to continue their lecture.

“Allie!” Talon called, and I kept walking. He caught up to me. “Why didn’t you answer your

com device? That’s the only reason we showed up at your friend’s, because you weren’t


“I think I might have left it in the library,” I said, not stopping and feeling out of breath yet


“You can’t leave that places. What if you need to reach sickbay?” John spoke as if he was

telling me new information.

“I’m with John on this one. It’s unnerving to find out you can’t be located and you’re not

answering your com device,” Talon added.

Then I lost it. “Talon, you’re a tracker, you can find me almost anywhere. Look, the two of you need to back off! You showing-up like this isn’t okay. I’m not a helpless pregnant person. I can take care of myself. I may look like a whale trapped on a beach, and I huff and puff everywhere because I have babies stuffed up into my rib cage. I still feel sick every day, but I’m fine! Nothing that billions of women haven’t gone through for centuries. I was having fun with a friend. That’s all.” They both started to open their mouths and I stuck my finger at them. “No, no more! From either of you.”

I walked faster to my quarters. Once inside, I brushed my teeth and put my pajamas on. I heard the front door open. I faced the wall away from the entrance to our room.

John climbed into bed. “Allie, I’m sorry. I was out of line, and I’ve smothered you lately. Not being able to find you scared me pretty bad. I overreacted. I mean, I could feel you were happy and that should’ve been enough.”

“Why wasn’t it then?”

“The last time I lost you, it was devastating. It’s almost a phobia now. My response wasn't rational. It’s not a good excuse, but it’s the only explanation I can give.”

I scooted closer to him, and he wrapped his arms around me. His words bothered me more than they should’ve because I had no idea how much of a future we had left together. I hated thinking of him sad without me around. I wanted to know he’d be okay. I thought about the family dinner the Keeper had shown me. He looked happy. Maybe he’d be fine. One of the twins kicked his arm, and he put his hand on the spot to feel them more. He kissed my head, and we fell asleep together.

I woke up to the smell of French toast. My stomach growled, and I grabbed the plate John made me. I put syrup on my breakfast, and the sweetness caused nausea to sweep over me. I held my breath, trying to regain control of my body. I pushed the plate away and left to sit on the couch, defeated.

“Something wrong with it?” John called from the kitchen.

“No, it’s amazing as always. The syrup is too much.”

“I’ll make a fresh one.”

“No, I’m not hungry now.”

“I think we really need to see Jasper. I know you think I worry too much, but you have to think of the babies too. You have two of them and you. You need to take care of yourself for them.”

I hated that he was right, and I was getting tired of feeling this way. I didn’t even fight John on coming with me; as annoying as he could be, I missed him. I walked in, and Jasper was at the check-in desk, talking to a nurse.

He glanced up. “Althea, I was told you came to see me yesterday. I’m sorry we were so busy, and you had to leave. Let’s get you checked in, and I’ll be in in a bit to see you.”

The nurse weighed me and got my vitals. She put us in a room, and we waited for twenty minutes.

Jasper walked in, scanning my chart. “You’ve lost another five pounds which puts you at a loss for weight gain. Are you eating?”

I shook my head, and Jasper frowned.

“That’s why we’re here. She can’t keep anything down,” John said.

“How long has this been going on?”

I decided to go with the truth. “Weeks. I’ve been able to get a little in to keep things okay, but it’s been more difficult the last few days.”

Jasper typed into a computer. “Why did you never mention this?”

“Nothing you gave me in the past helped so I figured I was a hopeless case.”

“I have something you should try, but first let’s give you some IV fluids.”

The nurse came in and hooked up an IV. I sat in the recliner with my feet up. John had to leave for a briefing but promised he’d be back to check on me in a bit. This would be good. I could talk to Jasper like I wanted to yesterday. Jasper stopped by my room, carrying an aqua-colored transparent stone.

He handed me the stone. “Every time you feel nauseous, I want you to sniff this. It’s a Razenian stone, and it’s worked pretty well for many of my patients. In a little bit, I’m going to have the nurse bring in some soup and soda. I want you to smell the stone for a couple minutes then try to eat and drink.”

“Jasper, this wasn’t the reason I came to see you yesterday.” I changed the subject, wanting to make sure we had the conversation we needed to have.

“Something else wrong?”

“No, I found out through a Loctorian called the Keeper that you knew my parents and that they were involved in the war.”

Jasper raised his eyebrows. “Yes, I knew them quite well, but I made a promise to your father that if you or your brothers were recruited, I wouldn’t mention them fighting in the war. He didn’t want you to know they were counted as deserters. He feared for a long time that they would get to you. I saw Talon, when he was fourteen, walk in for his physical before capsulization, and I knew he had to be Bastian’s son. Your dad was one of my best friends.

“We had another best friend named Malcom. He died in a Khalbytian prisoner of war camp. Your older brother was named after him. I was devastated to hear about Moira and Malcom passing. Your parents were so much in love. Your mother saved your father from a deep depression.

“He’s a level-seven heightened. That brought too much of an immersion into reality, and he couldn’t take it. He drank because it numbed all his senses. Your mother taught him the better side of having all his senses magnified. She made it bearable for him. Before her, he was always drinking.” Jasper paused as if reflecting on his own words.

He continued, “At one point after a particularly difficult battle, he tried to kill himself. Your mother stopped him, and she made him swear he’d never go there again. I’ve always thought that’s why he hung on after she passed. He loved her too much to break the promise even though she wasn’t around to know either way.

“I was with him the day he found out all of you were in the car accident. He didn’t know how bad but thought you all would be fine because your mother was a healer almost as high a level as you are. When Talon came to live on the base, I invited him to play racquetball.

“I wanted to help guide him and make sure he was okay. I felt I owed that to my friends. Talon did an excellent job keeping you out of this mess for a long time. When he called me in a panic that they activated you and you were unconscious, my heart dropped.

“Your entire family wanted you nowhere near this war. I can’t say I blame them. Everything you’ve endured has been too much, but you bounce back with such grace. You have a lot of Moira in you. Nothing brought her down, and she was the light your father needed. She did more than fix his physical wounds. She pieced his soul back together.”

“I’ve never asked you. Do you have an ability?” I asked, suddenly curious.

He vanished in front of me, answering my question.

He reappeared. “I’m a level-five chameleon. Nothing too impressive, but it allowed me to slip through battle, collecting the most vulnerable patients and getting them to safety. I never could hide others so a lot of the time it’d look like patients were flying themselves through the air.”

His description made me smile, and I laughed slightly. “Where’d you meet my dad?”

“We went to West Point together. We both scored high on the ASVAB and were placed in a unit together with Malcom. Eventually, all three of us were recruited for the war. Your dad was the funniest, happiest man I’d ever met before they activated him. He always thought being that heightened was a handicap, not a gift. I worried when I found out my son Deron was a level-five. But that seems to be a balanced level. Enough to be useful but not too much to cause an overload.”

“I found out my mother’s maiden name was Fausto. Talon told me he was recruited by a Mr. Fausto. Do you know if there’s a connection?”

“Ryan Fausto. He’s your uncle, your mother’s younger brother. Your grandpa, George Fausto, is an admiral close to Pulsar Base. He and Ryan were prideful of your family being high-tiered. Ryan and Moira got into a big argument before she left about her wasting her potential. He is a level-seven tracker like Talon. I’m sure he brought in Talon out of pride. He knew two level-sevens were bound to have children at high-tiers.”

“I know about the option my mother was given to cure the virus.” I decided to just say it.

He shook his head. “I was hoping you wouldn’t learn that part. Your mother would be devastated if she knew the burden was now on you. Althea, that path isn’t meant for you. You’ve done enough for the war, saving so many. You have two babies on the way, a husband and a brother who need and love you. I can’t see your family endure more loss.”

“If I could save millions, including Earth, wouldn’t my one life be worth it?”

“No, as I learned from you, even one loss is too many.”

“But one compared to millions.”

“A cure needs to be found, but we have no idea if it’ll really work. Sims can be wrong, and then you’ll have left your family for nothing. Your family has gone through enough devastation as far as I’m concerned. Have you talked to Talon and John about this?”

I glanced away. “No, you know them, they wouldn’t handle it well.”

“No, they wouldn’t. They would handle it about as well as your father did about your mother.”

“You won’t tell them, right?” I hoped I hadn’t made a mistake telling him.

“Whatever you tell me I keep confidential, but there may come a time you need to tell them what you’re considering out of fairness to them. If you plan to take their wife and sister away from them, then the right thing is probably to let them know why.”

“Jasper, I’m going to have a daughter. What if you’re sitting here in twenty years having the same conversation with her?”

“I plan to be retired by then.” He smiled at me, easing the tension.

I laughed. “What if some other doctor is?”

“We don’t know the future. Even the Loctorians only see glimpses. We can change our fate.”

“Yes, but at what consequence?”

The nurse brought in my food, and I sniffed the stone for a few minutes then took a few bites and felt fine.

“Now finish that soup. Those babies need their mother for a long time to come.” I received

Jasper’s message loud and clear.

I would have to find Tocric and make him aware of myself if he didn’t already know. A visit to Earth was also in order, but I would have to wait until after the babies were born. I was nearing the third trimester quickly, and twins could come early. I left sickbay feeling refreshed. I would have to keep this rock super close to me.

Chapter 16

Althea- June 18, 2017

I was thirty-two weeks pregnant and wondering if my belly could possibly grow any larger. I wasn’t sure how my body could stretch for another eight weeks. I could no longer reach my feet, and John helped me in the shower. Putting on socks and shoes proved comical when John couldn’t help.

Since Jasper gave me the stone, my pregnancy had no other issues. I waddled everywhere, and lots of people stopped me every time I left the house. My belly appeared to be a giant target that screamed for people to rub it.

The entire station seemed excited about the twins. John and I were well known on base, and everyone acted invested in my pregnancy. I never lacked chairs as they were quickly provided when I walked into a room. I missed my friends since I no longer went on missions. I was glad that tonight was game night. I walked into the rec center and plopped into a chair. Morgan was the only other one to arrive early.

He shot a ball into the pocket of the pool table. “How’s it going, Al?”

“Good. Might be stuck in this chair the rest of the night. Can’t complain, though, it’s a pretty comfortable chair.”

He gave a little laugh and knocked his next ball in. When he was finished, I decided I’d join him for the next one. Deron walked in and saw me struggling to get out of the rather low, cushioned chair. He ran over and helped me up.

“Thank you, Deron. I might have stayed stuck there for the night.”

“No problem. How are you feeling?”

“Alright, considering I closely resemble a walrus whenever I walk around.”

“Nah, more like one of those cute little arctic penguins.” He smiled at me, and I smiled back.

I walked over to the pool table and quickly realized certain moves wouldn’t be compatible with my belly. I watched Morgan play a couple of games.

“Shouldn’t you be home and in the kitchen?” Colin teased me.

“Barefoot does seem preferable to shoes at the moment,” I responded quickly with a smile.

“Seriously, Colin!” Seraphine seemed more offended by his comment than me.

Colin laughed and shrugged. Lila and Gabriel walked in holding hands, and I had a feeling that there would be an engagement announcement soon. A few things Lila told me hinted that way. I was beyond happy they were still together. They were each other’s match, and that was clear every time I saw them together.

I mainly sat and watched everyone bowl, but merely being there with all of them was what I needed. Each of them kept the dark things in my mind from winning. Their support and love made getting out of bed more manageable, so even though moving was complicated, watching them have fun was enough. Everyone on our team was there except John. He had work to do but messaged me that he’d try to make it for at least one game.

Deron turned on the music, and my friends began their dance party. Even though dancing used to be my favorite part, I stayed planted. I didn’t dance anymore; it never felt right after my capture. It was as though a significant part of me evaporated with each torture session I’d endured. I wasn’t sure if my mind would ever be in the right place again. No one would know this. They all were confident in my recovery, but I only hid behind the illusion that I was better. I was okay with that for now.

“Why aren’t you dancing?” Gabriel pointed the camera at my face.

“That’d be because I’m a giant blimp and can barely walk, let alone dance,” I told him, laughing slightly.

He moved the camera down to reveal my bulging belly. “Only slightly blimpish in a very cute way.”

I narrowed my eyes at him and laughed again. I made fun of my bloated state as much as the others did. If you couldn’t laugh, then what was the point of anything?

“I think this is the first official time the twins have been on camera. Care to introduce them?” Gabriel asked.

I pointed at my abdomen “This section is Elim. He loves to jump on my bladder. I think he

might be into extreme sports someday. This section up here is Avalon, and she prefers the snuggly comfort of my ribs. And I desperately can’t wait to meet them.”

When I thought about my babies, happiness engulfed me. I lit up whenever I was given the opportunity to speak about them. Their presence was a salve to my heart, and they weren’t even born yet. I loved them, and they were my life now. John walked up and sat next to me.

He kissed my belly and talked to the twins. “None of us can wait to meet you two.” He grabbed my hand.

I leaned my head on his shoulder. “How was your work?”

“Got caught up. How you feeling?”

“Huge is pretty much the only answer at this point.”

“No, you’re perfect.”

My com device went off. Admiral Parks wanted me to go to her office. I glanced around to see no one else looking at their com devices. Maybe they were too busy to notice.

“Did Admiral Parks send you a message?” I asked John.

He looked at his com device. “No, why?”

“She wants me to go to her office.”

“That’s weird. It’s so late, and you’re off mission duty.”

He was right. The only base calls I received anymore were from Jasper. Admiral Parks had never asked for only me to come to her office. I struggled to get off the couch.

John jumped up to help me. “Want me to go with?”

“No, I better see why she wanted only me first.”

“Alright, call me after you talk to her.”

I gave him a quick kiss. “Okay. Stay and enjoy yourself. You work enough that you need the fun.”

He nodded. I was glad to see him walk over and pick up a pool cue. He used to play all the time but hadn’t in a while. The enormity of our base became clear as I walked the endless hallways to the admiral’s office.

“Althea, thank you for coming so quickly. I know it’s late and I hope I didn’t wake you. Please have a seat.”

I slid into the chair in front of her desk. “No, I was at team game night.”

“That’s great. I love how close your team is. I don’t really have to worry about conflicts with

all of you too much. You seem to handle them internally.”

“Yes, we’re family.”

“I wish all the teams could say that. Might cut back on a lot of the drama. Anyway, I called you here because the council wants to speak with you.”

“Me? Why would they want to do that?”

She shrugged. “I’m not sure, but they’ve requested you for a meeting for tomorrow afternoon.

I know, however, you’re quite pregnant with twins. The council doesn’t always understand

humans, so they don’t really understand how their request might be problematic. Dr. Monroe will have to clear you, of course, but the council is pretty insistent. It seems to be an important matter that they won’t disclose to me.”

“The bigger issue will be getting John’s approval. He’s not going to be happy about this.”

“Yes, I figured he might take issue. Especially since the council has requested you go alone. I argued that would be unwise given how pregnant you are, and they said you could bring one medical personnel with you, but they must stay on the ship. I know this is a lot to ask.”

“Obviously I need to go. The council rarely asks for anyone, and when they do, it’s important.”

“Why don’t we call your husband in and possibly Talon?”

“Yeah, both are probably a good idea.”

Admiral Parks and I waited for them to show up. I knew what was going to happen as soon as they both walked in and I wasn’t sure how we’d convince either of them. I could’ve left without telling them and explain that it was a council order, but I didn’t feel that would be right to do. A

knock hit the door, and Admiral Parks told the guys to come in and have a seat. She told them

what she’d told me, and they both frowned at her.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” were the first words out of John’s mouth.

“Yeah, what’s the council thinking? What if she goes into labor on the shuttle?” Talon added.

“One medic isn’t going to be able to handle delivering twins.” I could hear the worry in John’s voice.

He carried the typical first-time dad apprehension. The three of them sat there for the next half an hour debating everything. No one seemed to ask my opinion, and I found it annoying.

I grew tired and wanted to go to bed, so I finally spoke. “I’m going to go talk to Jasper about it. If he thinks the twins will be safe, then I have to go. The council doesn’t call people for minor things.”

I walked out and Talon and John joined me.

“Allie, you can’t go. Too much could go wrong at this point,” John said.

“I need to know what they want.”

At sickbay, I told Jasper my predicament and that I was only allowed to bring one medic who had to stay put in the shuttle. Jasper listened to Talon and John’s concerns.

“I’ll take her myself,” Jasper said.

We all looked at him in surprise. The consensus was Jasper lived in sickbay at this point. He’d left for a week one time, and everyone thought something terrible happened to him.

“You’d go with her?” John sounded unsure that he believed Jasper’s proposal.

“Yes, I’ll call over a couple doctors to fill in. The council calling her is a big deal, and I don’t really trust any of my medics to deliver premature twins if the moment were to occur.”

John still didn’t like the entire thing, but Jasper going with was the best-case scenario. Talon trusted Jasper more than pretty much anyone, so he was okay with it after that. That night we were in bed, and John still wasn’t thrilled about me leaving.

I confronted him about it. “You need to quit worrying. My body heals rapidly, and I could heal the babies too. Almost every pregnancy complication is voided with my healing ability.”

“Not if your shuttle explodes, or a Khalbytian weapon disintegrates you, or you get hit in the stomach.” He went on to list several rarer contingencies.

“Wow, you really thought that through.”

“That’s my job, to think about anything that could harm my family so I can protect all of you. It’s difficult to protect all of you if I’m not there.”

“We can’t always be together, so you have to trust me that I’ll protect myself and our babies in your absence. It’s not easy for me when you go off to battle, and I’m not there to heal you. It’s scary thinking about Admiral Parks and someone else showing up at my door to tell me you’re gone, and I don’t even have the chance to heal you. But we could drive ourselves mad if we focus on losing each other. If that’s all we keep on our minds, we’ll miss the moments we have each other. Those are the important moments.”

“You’re right. If I’m in constant fear of losing you, I’ll miss enjoying the times you’re right next to me. I get it, I really do, but I’ll be glad when you’re back from the council.”

“Me too.”

The next morning John walked me to the shuttle.

Jasper clasped John’s shoulder. “All three of them will be fine. You have my word.”

“Thank you for doing this, Jasper. I know you’ll take good care of my family.” John gave me a kiss and hugged me for a couple minutes. “Be safe. I love you.”

“I Love you too.”

Jasper and I climbed into the shuttle, and I let Jasper navigate, as his experience far outweighed mine.

I sat back in my chair and watched the stars fly by on the view screen. “Thank you for taking me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get John and Talon to be okay with me leaving. I could’ve left anyway, but things wouldn’t have been good when I got back. I respect their concerns.”

“I wasn’t too fond of the idea myself. The council has unusual requests sometimes, and this one is no exception. If things were reversed, Bash and Moira would’ve taken care of Deron. Not only that, but I consider you and your brother family.”

“We feel the same way about you.”

Jasper told me some stories about my parents, and the shuttle ride was worth it for that alone. I didn’t know a ton about my mother and hearing about a time when my dad wasn’t a lost soul was something that made me happy.

A soldier met our shuttle, and due to the council’s request Jasper stayed put. I was more curious than nervous about meeting the council. The soldier led me through a narrow cave. After walking for some time, we arrived in an elaborate great room with marble floors and golden pillars. A brown, rectangular table spanned directly in front, and the thirteen robed members sat facing us. A soldier directed me to sit across from the council. Brown hooded robes adorned the council members, except for one who wore blue.

“Althea Trammel, we welcome you. Can we get you any refreshments?” Killreth wore the blue robe and spoke for the group.

“No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

“We have gratitude for your arrival. We are quite pleased to meet you. You have held great importance to us long before you were born. The children you carry also hold great importance to us.”

I didn’t like him bringing my babies into this as though the council couldn’t wait to get their

hands on them for some manipulated purpose.

“I was told you have an important matter to discuss with me,” I said.

“Yes, it is of a personal nature. I would like to speak with you alone.”

Killreth stood up and asked me to follow him. He led me to a side room. The room held a small table, a couple chairs, and several computer consoles. We sat and Killreth pushed his hood behind his back, which surprised me. The council always stayed hidden entirely in their robes, only occasionally revealing a hand or two.

Killreth looked like every other Loctorian I’d seen. His face appeared slightly worn from

Dissipation. He looked much older than others I’d seen with deep-set wrinkles.

“I have called you here for a personal favor concerning my youngest daughter. She arrived in my old age and is the joy of my life. I lost her when Khalbytians invaded the colony she and her mother lived at. I believed her to be dead. A few weeks ago, I discovered she is alive, but she will not come to see me. I would like you to help me convince her.”

“Why me? I’m not sure how I can convince her without established trust. That could take some time, and I’m due to have my babies in the next few weeks.”

“She already trusts you. Meseri has seen that she will listen to you. His vision is not clear, but he sees your involvement in me seeing her again. You see, it is a strict rule that the council cannot leave the council chambers out of safety. I cannot go to her until my term is up. But I so want to see her.”

“Why do you think she already trusts me?”

“You know her. I saw it in a report from when the Khalbytians took you. Her name is Rackishimti.”

“Racki? Yes, I know her. We were captured together. Why won’t she come see you?”

“She is scared to leave the girls she is with. They are all scared to come to the council. I have hoped you could convince them all. If they leave, she will follow.”

“I will go see them and see what I can do.”

“I am pleased. I owe you a great gratitude, Althea Trammel.”

I was excited that I would get to see my cellmates again. I often wondered about them but could never find them in the database. I wasn’t sure I could convince Racki of anything, and I was definitely not going to force her into anything she perceived as traumatic, but I’d do my best. The council sent three soldiers with us as a precaution.

“How are you feeling? Any contractions?” Jasper checked me over when I got back to the

shuttle. He couldn’t help himself. He was a doctor, and I was his only patient at the moment.

“Just those fake ones.”

He scanned me and said everything looked good. I wasn’t at liberty to divulge the mission, and Jasper only wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing anything strenuous. I called John, dreading the conversation. We were both hoping it’d be a quick visit. He’d be unhappy I was going on an actual mission, and one I couldn’t give details for.

“Seriously, Allie. Just come home. The council can find someone else to do whatever it is they think they need to send my very pregnant wife to do.”

“Actually, they can’t, but it’s confidential, so I can’t tell you why. Trust me when I tell you I’ll be careful.”

“Fine. But come home soon. Let me talk to Jasper.”

I handed Jasper my com device.

Jasper gave report on my condition. “Yep, I’m monitoring her regularly. She and both babies are checking out great.” Jasper paused for a minute then spoke again, “Yes, I’ll let you know if

anything changes, but for now I have no concerns.” Jasper handed me back my device.

“Love you, John. I’ll be home soon.”

I could hear him take a deep breath through the phone. “Love you too.” We hung up.

We traveled to the colony planet my friends were on. Hector, the colony leader, greeted us. He welcomed us warmly, and his wife Rosa grinned at my belly.

“You are glowing. Very beautiful! Baby soon?” Rosa asked me.

“A few more weeks. I’m having twins.”

“Oh, wonderful!”

“My daughter Eleanor speaks highly of you. I haven’t told her or her friends you were coming, as I didn’t want to disappoint them if you turned down the council. I want you to know we favor the girls’ choice. As you, they have been through a lot, and we’d be resistant to you forcing them to the council,” Hector explained.

“I am in complete agreement. I’d never force them. I care very much for them.”

“Great, that’s good that my main concern of your arrival was unwarranted.”

An orange sky stretched above and pink fluffy clouds floated in wispy patches. Burnt orange grass wined flat against the ground. Tall trees with no leaves surrounded the village. The weather felt warm, which made me think the trees simply never had leaves rather than them being disturbed by winter.

A woman showed us where we’d be staying. I found myself in a cute little adobe cottage that matched the rest of the structures around the village. I changed into a short yellow sundress to stave off the confining heat. After I changed, a stout woman, with black braided hair, greeted me. She wore a pink, flowered dress.

“I am Gloria. I will be your hostess as this is my house. I am very pleased to meet you.”

“Pleased to meet you, Gloria. Thank you for your kindness in allowing me to stay with you,” I said.

“The pleasure is all mine. I’ve been told you are having twins. This is wonderful. I see you are very tiny. I’ll fatten you up during your stay.”

“Thank you. That would be very kind.”

“May I give you a hug?”

I nodded. “Yes, that’d be fine.”

Gloria threw her arms around me, and we hugged each other. Some people you know the minute you meet them they will become family. Gloria was one of those people for me. She gave my belly a rub and smiled at me. One of the twins kicked her hand.

“You have strong babies. They’ll be beautiful, like their mama.”

“Thank you.”

Gloria showed me how to make sopapillas, and we ate them with honey and chatted. They were fresh out of the oven and melted in my mouth. I had no doubt that they would be a new craving.

After an hour of getting acquainted, Gloria grew serious. “My granddaughter is Eleanor. My oldest son’s daughter. She’s told me about you. She said she owes you her life. So I thank you.”

“I feel I owe Eleanor my life. She was a great comfort to me when we were captured.”

“I see your capture in your eyes. The same thing I see in her eyes. You both hide it well, but it is there. You’re strong girls.” Gloria gave my hand a squeeze.

“I don’t always feel strong. I still see every bit of it, certain things bring it back stronger than others,” I admitted.

“You kept going after all of it. You are strong. No doubt of that. You live in spite of the

memories. You have great courage.”

Gloria and I talked until a knock thudded on the door. Gloria opened it to reveal Jasper. I

introduced them. Gloria directed him in and offered him our sopapillas, which he readily accepted.

“These are wonderful,” Jasper raved.

Gloria smiled at me. “Althea made them with me. She’s a very wonderful girl.”

“Yes, she’s quite amazing.”

Jasper and I listened to Gloria’s stories, and she was an animated storyteller. One of the soldiers came and got us for dinner. Gloria grabbed a rice dish from her oven, and Jasper insisted he carry it for her. We walked to the center of the village on a brown brick road to a grand table.

Bright carvings of flowers and animals were etched into the red table. The chairs were intricately designed and as bold in color as the table. Adobe buildings ran on each side of the table. The buildings were closely spaced, and clothes hung from wires from the roof of one building to the next.

There were probably around forty people, and each one carried a dish to share with the table. My mouth watered at the sight of enchiladas, tamales, and other various dishes. I kept the stone that Jasper gave me close and sniffed it for a couple minutes.

“Althea!?” I heard a squeal from across the table and glanced up.


I hurried around the table. She threw me into a tight hug then pulled back to look at me. I saw her tears matched mine.

“Look at you! You’re absolutely radiant!” She ran her hand over my belly. “What are you doing here? Don’t get me wrong, I'm so glad you’re here! But how?”

I decided to get straight to the point. “The Loctorian Council sent me. They want me to convince Racki to come back to her father, who is on the council. Don’t worry, I told them that I wouldn’t force her. It has to be her choice.”

“I agree, they’ve tried to get her to go there for weeks. She doesn’t want to. She wants to stay with us. She doesn’t even remember her father.”

“I was told all of you can come with. Where are the others?” I looked around to see if I was missing them.

“They’re inside. They’ll join us in a minute, but let’s surprise them.”

I followed Eleanor inside one of the houses close to the table and saw Natalie and Racki.

“Look who decided to pay us a visit!” Eleanor called to them.

Natalie and Racki ran for me and all of our arms entwined.

“You’re alive! We were told it looked like you’d be fine, but we were sent home before we saw you. And look at you, you’re having a baby.” Natalie gave my belly a rub.

“I am so glad the Fates have allowed you life.” With our translators, I could finally understand Racki.

I glanced around. “I’m glad to see all of you. I’ve missed you greatly. Where’s Erin?” They all frowned and avoided my gaze, and my eyes formed more tears. “She pass…” I could barely say it.

Eleanor interrupted, “No, but medics took her away. Everything felt meaningless to her after what they did to her. She couldn’t cope. The third time she tried to kill herself, she was nearly successful. My father felt if she was going to live, she needed more help than we could give her. They took her to a Loctorian medical facility, and we haven’t seen her since. She begged me to let her die before they took her, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t.” Eleanor broke down, and I held her tightly. The other two threw their arms around both of us.

I understood where Erin was coming from, as I wasn’t unlike her. If things had been different, I would’ve found myself in that same dark place. Right after I was rescued, my family was probably the only reason I didn’t end my own life. I didn’t want to cause them more pain, so I pushed myself to breathe. I focused on only that. They’d worried because all I did was stay in bed, but really, that was a victory because I chose to stay alive.

Eleanor wiped her tears. “We are so happy you are here, Althea. Let’s go eat dinner.”

We sat at the grand table, and I fell in love with the close-knit community this colony

encompassed. I could see why the others wanted to stay here. The meal was therapeutic as the entire table shared stories that were met with boisterous applause and laughter from all around. If only it’d been enough for Erin. I refused to forget about her. I needed to know what happened to her, but for now, I ate with my friends. After dinner, I sat in Eleanor’s living room and told Racki why I was there.

“Please, Althea, I do not want to go to my father,” she said.

“I’m not going to make you. It’s your choice. I do believe he means well and cares about you. He wants to see you.”

“I do not know him. If he cared for me why did he not see me before I was taken?”

I tried my best to persuade her. “He is part of the council and can’t leave the council chambers, but you’re correct, he should’ve made an effort before to see you. I know how you feel, Racki. My father ignored me all my life. My brother had to take care of me since I was very young. After my capture, I went back and saw my father, and it was the best thing I could’ve done. We have a good relationship now. I can’t promise things will go as well with your father as they did with mine, but I think I would’ve regretted never knowing.”

“I will think about it,” Racki finally told me.

“Tell us about this baby of yours.” Natalie changed the subject, and it eased the building tension.

“Babies. I’m having twins, a boy and a girl. I’m due in a little over seven weeks.”

Natalie looked at my belly. “Can I feel them?”

“Sure.” I moved her hand to a spot the babies loved to kick.

“Oh, that’s awesome! I’m so happy for you.”

Eleanor and Racki took turns, feeling the babies next. We talked well into the night, and I hadn’t stayed up this late in a while. My eyelids drooped, but I didn’t want to stop our slumber party. I stayed up another hour before calling it a night. The beeping of my com device woke me up early.

“Hey, babe,” I said to John, yawning.

“You okay? You sound tired.”

“That’s ‘cause I am tired, but I’m fine.”

“You getting enough rest?”

“Yep, plenty.” I regretfully yawned again.

“Sounds like you are.”

“I am. I just woke up is all.”

“Oh, sorry if I woke you. Tell me you’re on your way back.”

“I would if I could.”

“How long are they expecting you to stay gone? You’re almost thirty-three weeks. I know Jasper is with you, but it’d really bother me if I missed their birth.”

“I know. I’m going to hold them in until I see you again.”

John laughed. “Seriously though, when are you coming back?”

“A couple days maybe.”

“Ugh. Don’t like the maybe. Take care of yourself, okay?” I could hear the annoyance in his voice.

“I will, I promise. I miss you and love you.”

“Miss and love you too,” he said.

I hung up and got to work on getting out of bed. An elaborate breakfast waited for me beyond my bedroom door. Gloria hadn’t been joking about trying to fatten me up. I enjoyed an egg dish—Gloria told me it was called Huevos Rancheros—and while I found it a little spicy, it was incredibly delicious. I needed to have Gloria write me up a cookbook, or maybe I could sneak her in my bag and take her back to base with me. After breakfast, I found my friends. We spent the morning making clay pots, and the swirl of the clay forming relaxed my mind.

Two more days passed, and I enjoyed learning the colony culture. I wished John and I could move in and make this our home. The idea of raising my babies in a community like this one held strong appeal. On the fourth day, a Loctorian shuttle landed, and most of the town walked out to greet it. My heart nearly stopped when Lucius descend from the back hatch of the ship.

Eleanor studied my face. “What’s wrong?”

“That’s Lucius, the guy I told you tricked me into joining the war. I have a feeling the council isn’t pleased with the speed of my progress and sent him.”

Racki hid behind me. “No, Althea. Don’t let him take me.”

“I won’t, Racki.”

I walked up to Lucius. “What are you doing here?” I glared at him.

“Seems Killreth is growing impatient and I’m plan B.”

“It’s only been four days.”

“Yes, and I’ll have her to the council within hours. Rackishimiti, your father has made several attempts to get you to come with. You will…”

I stepped in front of her so Lucius couldn’t finish his manipulation.

“No, this isn’t right, Lucius. She should have a choice.”

He laughed and stepped close to me. He put his hand on my face and kissed me. I slapped him and jumped back.

“I always enjoyed kissing you, and that slap is quite the turn on. Let me return the favor.”

He slapped my cheek hard. I felt the pain instantly cool as my body healed it.

“Lucius, you coward. You feel like a man hitting a pregnant woman.” Jasper stood at my side.

“Only gave her back what she gave me. Althea, let’s go talk. And doctor, don’t interfere. That goes for all of you, stay put.” Lucius manipulated Jasper and the crowd.

Everyone froze, and no one followed us into Lucius’ shuttle. We sat in a standard shuttle with five chairs facing the view screen. A metal door led to the bathroom, and a couple of pulldown beds folded along a wall. A little kitchenette made up the back of the shuttle. In the kitchen was a small dining set with two chairs.

Lucius pointed at one of the chairs. “Sit. I’m not barbaric enough to make a pregnant woman stand. Your kids are going to be pretty close in age to my kid. Yours will be a few months older.”

“You’re having a kid?”

“Yep, due a few months after yours. You seem surprised.” He put some water in a pan and

placed it on a stove.

“You don’t really seem like the romantic type.”

“I’m pretty sure you know this, but babies don’t get here by romance.”

I scowled at him. “What, did you manipulate someone into being with you?”

“Nope, I don’t manipulate for that. Makes it boring. It was just a fling but can’t complain about gaining offspring.”

“Lucius, let me take Racki back.”

“Racki? Cute nickname, and no. I need a win from Killreth. He’s the ultimate person to have favor with. Also, it’s sweeter. My winning means you lose.”

I stiffened. “Why do you hate me so much?”

“I don’t hate you. In fact, I’m a little fond of you, and I find you insanely attractive even in the state you are now. It’s your brother I hate. I can’t get to him any other way than through you.”

“What do you have against Talon?”

“Everything. He took away the only person I ever loved, and I hate him for it.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him, completely confused.

“Oh, I see your brother never told you. He never told you Seraphine was mine and he stole her.”

“What? You were with Seraphine?”

“Yes, her and I joined the war together after being on the streets. All we had was each other. Then they put Talon on our team, and he took her from me. I loved her and still do.”

“Seraphine made her own choices. She has that right.”

He got up and poured the boiling water into two mugs and put a tea bag in each one. He handed me one. “Chamomile, right?”

I nodded. “You remembered.”

He tapped his head. “Photographic memory. Seraphine would’ve never made that choice if your brother never showed up. And I hate him for more than just stealing Seraphine, even though she’ll always be the biggest thing he took from me. He also destroyed my career, which is why I need all the council wins I can get.”

“How did he destroy your career?” I sipped the tea. Even though Lucius made it, chamomile always comforted me and took me back to being a little girl. Talon would fix it for me when I couldn’t sleep.

“Your brother never tells you much, does he? You should remember but as you said Seraphine had choices, but you didn’t get the same. You got to have your memory wiped clean, so you don’t even remember. Don’t you ever wonder why Talon stays at the rank of Captain? He has an endless list of war accomplishments but is never promoted.”

“He told me he didn’t want to be.”

“And your husband did?”

He had a point. John fought being promoted, so Talon not wanting to be wasn’t really reason enough for why he remained Captain. Then it hit me—Seraphine was the same story. Brilliant accomplishments but only the rank of Captain.

“What do you mean I had no choice because my memory was wiped?” I asked.

“College wasn’t the first time you met Seraphine or me. You met us both long before that when you were ten. I tried to activate you into war, and neither Seraphine nor Talon took too well to that. They stole a shuttle, attacked a Loctorian base, and stopped your activation. As punishment, they were given reprimands that would never allow them to be promoted higher than Captain.”

I took in a slow breath. Lucius could be lying, but my gut told me he wasn’t. “How did that ruin your career? It sounds like it ruined theirs.”

“I took you without permission and the council frowned on that.”

I squinted my eyes. “So, you kidnapped me and are angry my brother went to great lengths to get me back?”

“Aren’t you mad? He had your memory wiped.”

“I don’t know how I feel. I need to talk to Talon first.”

“You’ll find everything I told you is true.”

“Lucius, let me take Racki, and I’ll give you credit. I don’t need the credit. I need my friend to be okay.”

“Fine. I’ll give you an hour, then I’m taking her.”

My head pounded as I exited the shuttle. I’d ask Jasper for some pain meds on our way back to the council.

Jasper made a beeline for me. “You okay? Did he hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine. I need to talk to Racki.”

I went with the truth and told her that Lucius gave me an hour to convince her to go back with me, or he’d be taking her by force. “I’m so sorry, Racki. I really tried, but I failed you.”

“No, it is not you. You have done all you could. I will go back with you. I have little choice, but I would rather go with you.”

Eleanor and Natalie decided to go with us. Eleanor’s parents were sad she was leaving, but they believed it was her choice. I told Gloria goodbye.

Gloria wrapped me in one of her stress-relieving hugs. “I have loved meeting you, beautiful one. You take care of those wonderful babies.”

“Thank you for everything, Gloria. I’ve loved meeting you.”

We rode back to the council, and my brain rammed against my skull. I laid back in a chair and closed my eyes. I fell asleep and woke up when one of the soldiers let us know we’d arrived. Only Racki and I were allowed to proceed. Racki gripped my hand as we walked into the council. Killreth jumped up as we approached.

“My daughter, you have come home!” Killreth exclaimed.

He walked around the table to greet her, and Racki hid behind me.

I squeezed her hand and turned to Killreth. “The manipulator Lucius is who you have to thank for her being here. He told me she could go with me, or he’d make her go with him. She agreed because she’d rather go with me, but Racki is scared. She wants to go home with her friends.”

“I can make you happy here, Rackishimiti. You will be taken care of and safe.”

“I want to go home. Please, if you care as you say, you will not make me stay,” Racki begged.

Killreth pushed off his hood. “I will not make you stay, but I offer you to visit. Your friends may stay, too, then you may go back with them.”

Killreth had two soldiers get Natalie and Eleanor. Killreth gave all of us his word that he’d let them go if they stayed a week.

“We are so glad we got to see you again,” Eleanor said.

Natalie rubbed my belly. “Bring those babies to see us.”

Three soldiers walked me back to my shuttle. I needed to lie down again. My head now felt like a giant hand was squeezing it as a stress ball. I climbed into the shuttle and Jasper programmed navigation for Saturn base. We’d have a couple hours. I sat down and closed my eyes.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Jasper asked.

I opened my eyes and saw he had his scanner in hand. “Nothing. I have a headache. I was going to ask you for some meds, but it slipped my mind. Having trouble concentrating.”

Jasper scanned me. “Your blood pressure is through the roof. We need to get that down.”

“I’m sure it will go down once we’re back on base.”

The tightness in my chest told me my anxiety was paying a visit, and I tried to even out my breathing. I wished I could punch the sharp waves far away from my chest and stomach. I hated the scary restlessness they brought.

He gave me three pills to take. “Lucius stressed you out pretty good?”

“When does he not? He told me some things. He said he kidnapped me when I was ten, and my brother had my memory wiped of the entire thing.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

I bit my lip and frowned. “You knew about it?”

“Yes, Talon brought you to me after he got you back. Lucius tried to activate you, but when activation occurs that young it kills the patient. The brain isn’t developed enough. Talon and

Seraphine got to you just in time.”

“Why would Lucius do that if it would kill me? If he wanted me to die, he could’ve accomplished that in several other ways.”

“Back then, a group of Loctorians was experimenting with an additive to see if they could activate younger humans. Lucius volunteered you. The additive was proven later not to work. You would’ve been killed if Talon and Seraphine hadn’t stopped the process.”

“They sacrificed high ranks and have formal reprimands. Despite all they’ve done for the war they’ll never be recognized as they should.”

“That’s true. And you know what, neither one of them regrets it for a second. Talon and I talked about it once, and he told me he’d take having you over any honor the Loctorians could pass his way. Seraphine, I know, feels the same.”

“Why did he have my memory wiped?”

“Twofold reason. The first was the event was extremely traumatic, and he didn’t want you dealing with that at ten. Second, the council said you could be kept out of war until you were eighteen but only if you didn’t remember. Talon didn’t want to fight the war, but he stayed in because they told him if he did what they asked, you’d be safe.”

“I knew he protected me but not to that extent. He never told me. Seraphine never told me what she did either.”

Jasper handed me a glass of a blue liquid to sip. “They didn’t want you to know. Saving you was enough for them.”

“Lucius said Talon took Seraphine from him and that’s why he hates my brother.”

Jasper shook his head. “Lucius lost Seraphine himself. She broke up with him after he kidnapped you. She and your brother were just friends at the time. Neither of them realized they loved each other until what Lucius did to Seraphine.”

“What did he do to Seraphine?”

“They never told you that either? I’m not sure I should say. I think it’s Seraphine’s story to tell. You get some rest and try to relax. I’ll recheck your blood pressure in an hour.”

I nodded off and woke up when Jasper told me it was time for my next scan.

“Medication didn’t work. Your blood pressure is still very high. I think I’m going to have to admit you.”

“Come on, Jasper. I can literally heal my own body instantly.”

“At the very least, I have to put you on bed rest. Yes, you can heal, but you and your babies aren’t immortal. I don’t know what a stroke would do in your body. My guess is you would heal any damage, but I don’t like guessing with your life or the twins.”

“You can’t put me on bed rest. John will have a fit and say he was right and be all upset.”

“You and your babies are more important than you being right and your husband being wrong.”

“He already drives me crazy. My whole morning sickness thing almost did him in.”

Jasper laughed a little. “Becoming a dad is a scary thing for a man. Trust me, his concerns are normal. When Kayla was pregnant with Deron, I knew everything that could go wrong. It didn’t matter how rare I knew they were, just knowing about them made me drive her crazy. I was a wreck, to be honest.”

“You?” I couldn’t see Jasper being that worried. He was always collected and calm.

“Yep, drove my wife about as nuts as John is driving you. But he’s a good man. He loves you and those babies more than anything. You’re his world, and that’s the only reason he worries.”

“I know. He told me he mulls everything over so he can protect us.”

“I would say that’s pretty accurate, but what scares him more than any of that are the things he’s powerless to stop. This war has taught him there’s so much he’s powerless to stop.”

“Could you not tell him about my blood pressure? Let me tell him if I have to.”

“That’s your call. You have my confidentiality.”

“Thank you, Jasper. Thank you for this entire trip.”

We arrived back at the station and Jasper wanted me to go to sickbay. He needed to get my blood pressure down more, or it would be birthday for the twins. After trying a couple different things, Jasper finally got it to a level he was okay with. He told me he wanted me in every day to make sure it was going down, and as long as I promised to take it easy, I could go home. I walked to my brother’s, and Seraphine answered the door.

She hugged me. “I’m so glad you’re back. Now John and Talon can quit whining about it. How are you feeling?” She looked me over.

“I’m alright. I was surprised John didn’t meet me. He can usually tell when I arrive.”

“He and Talon are at a conference, but they should be back tonight. Come in and sit. Put your feet up. You look tired.”

“Babies are getting bigger, but I manage okay.”

“Was it a good trip? Talon and John have both thought it was crazy the council sent you on a mission. I told them to trust you and let you make choices for yourself.”

“It was an okay trip. I wanted to thank you for always being a good sister to me. Always having my back.”

“Of course. You do the same for me.”

“Seraphine?” I hesitated, not sure if I should continue.

“What is it? Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, it’s not that. The mission the council sent me on Lucius was there. He told me you, and he used to be together; that’s why he hates my brother because Talon stole you from him.”

“Yeah, we were a long time ago, but Talon didn’t steal me from Lucius. Lucius did some things that made it so I couldn’t be with him. Things I couldn’t look past. Lucius was very abusive and almost killed me. He would have killed me, but Talon stepped in. Lucius never came

near me again. More than Lucius hates Talon, he fears him.”

“I had no idea. I knew his morals were skewed, but almost killing you makes me really angry.”

“Yes, Lucius has been an angry person for a really long time. He had an abusive history. Him and I both did, that’s how we first related to each other. I was so starved for love that I accepted it wherever I got it. That’s all I wanted, but the funny thing was when Talon came along, I missed that he really loved me. I pushed away the one person who really loved me.

“Lucius wanted something different. He wanted approval at first. To be someone important because no one ever thought he was. As time went on, the love I found became something healthy and good. The attention Lucius found became more distorted and wrong.”

I shifted in my chair. The anxious waves were still hitting but I didn’t want to alert Seraphine. “I think it goes to show you how people can take similar circumstances and turn them into something completely different. You can become angry and bitter, or you can turn it into something that makes you stronger. You’ve always been the strongest person I’ve ever known. This gives me a little more insight into why and how you became who you are."

“I don’t know. I don’t always feel strong. I mean, look at you, Allie, everything you’ve overcome. You’ve bounced back amazingly.”

I studied the ground. “I guess so.”

“You feel differently?”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not over any of it. That I’m still on that ship and it’s all happening again. Little things trigger it. A smell or a sound and I’m back there reliving it. I’m not sure it’ll ever fully go away.”

“I understand. That’s why I was so terrified of the Anierisians. When I was in their fog, it brought all of it back. They had the power to bring me to the spot I was most afraid and vulnerable. They brought me to a place I felt I could conquer nothing. I was forced to live inside my trauma.

“I think maybe you need to see the fact you’re getting out of bed as a victory. You’ve made so much progress, but I get that it doesn’t completely go away. We just get better at coping with it. But if you need help there’s no shame in asking. If you need help, get it. I’m here no matter what time or what’s going on.”

“I know you are. I’m so glad you are the one who became my sister,” I told her intently.

“I feel exactly the same way.”

We both cried as we hugged each other. The front door opened, and Talon walked in.

He looked at us and frowned. “Uh oh, what happened?”

“Nothing. We’re having a sister moment, and you interrupted.” Seraphine smiled.

“Aw okay. I’m going to get out of this uniform. I’m glad you’re back, Allie. How are you?”

“I’m alright. Glad to be back.”

“See you later, sis.”


There was so much more about Talon and Seraphine I didn’t know. They had an entire lifetime before I even knew they were together. I decided I wouldn’t tell Talon or Seraphine I knew what they’d done for me when I was ten. They kept it a secret for a reason, but it only cemented how amazing they were to me. We talked a while longer before I grew tired again. I went home, showered, and fell asleep. I felt John’s arms go around me, and he held me tightly. I put my hands on his arms, so glad to feel his embrace.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you, just couldn’t help myself. I’ve missed you.” John kissed the back of my head.

“I missed you too. Very much.”

John’s arms soothed my anxiety slightly and my head felt less heavy. He was a sanctuary from my dark thoughts. I fell back asleep. I hadn’t forgotten about Erin, but the timing would have to be different. Jasper still felt bed rest was needed at least for the next few weeks. Leaving the base again wasn’t in the cards until after these babies were born.

In the morning, I needed to tell John some things. I didn’t trust Lucius, and I needed to be honest with John to protect our marriage. I also knew what Jasper’s report would include, and I wanted John to hear it from me. I found him in the living room drinking his coffee and going over war reports.

“John?” I knew the emotions I carried, and my tone would instantly alert him.

“What is it? You need to go to sickbay?”

“No, I need to talk to you.”

“Is this about your mission? I was about to read the reports, but you want to tell me yourself first?”

“Yeah.” I sat down next to him on the couch.

I told him the mission then stopped at the part where Lucius showed up.

“I can’t say I’m happy the council put you through that stress,” John said.

“John, that isn’t everything. Lucius showed up, and he kissed me.”

“He what?!” John’s face went red, and his jaw clenched.

“I slapped him, but then he slapped me back.”

“He hit you?” John’s voice held anger and shock morphed into one.

I nodded. I told him what Lucius told me and how the rest of the mission went.

He put down his reports and pulled me to him. “I should’ve put my foot down and told Parks and the council it wasn’t happening. I had a bad feeling about the entire thing. You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, just really happy to be home with you. I needed to go, John. Without those women, I don’t think I would’ve survived my capture. Someday I have to go find out what happened to Erin.”

“I understand. Someday when the right time comes, I agree you should go. How much of a low life do you have to be to hit a woman, let alone a pregnant one?”

“Lucius isn’t known for his moral character.”

“Yeah, but that was low even for him.”

“I did slap him first.”

“Are you kidding me? Only because he kissed you. He had no right to touch you, and I’m glad you stood up to him.”

“I didn’t want to upset you by telling you. I’m sorry.”

He squeezed me tighter. “Don’t apologize for being open with me. I want you to tell me these things. Always tell me these things. I can handle it.”

“You’re right. There’s kind of something else, but don’t overreact.”

“Oh shit, Allie. Just tell me.”

“I wasn’t going to, but you have a right to know. I kind of am sort of on bedrest.”

“What?! Why? And why wouldn’t you tell me?”

“Because you worry so much, and I hate it. Jasper’s worried about my blood pressure, but I’m not. I can heal instantly.”

“Okay, well you’re not the doctor so would you do me a favor? Would you take care of my wife and babies, please? They’re all that matter to me.”

“Yeah, I’ll do a better job. I promise.” I smiled at him, and his frown transformed into a grin. “I should let you get back to your reports.” I got up to leave.

John grabbed my hand. “Reports can wait. Right now, I need to hold you.”

“You feeling okay?” I chuckled.

“Not really. I’d like to kill Lucius, but I want you in my arms more.”

I leaned back into him, and we laid on the couch, unwilling to move for most of the morning. I never liked him worrying about me, but I never felt safer or more loved than when I had my head against his chest, and he held me the way only he could.

Chapter 17

John- July 11, 2017

Allie had pretty much everything ready and was in full nesting mode for a couple weeks now. Her blood pressure had returned to normal, and I was pretty sure it was only a problem because the mission she’d gone on was incredibly personal and stressful. Since Jasper let her off bed rest, she’d taken that as a sign to get caught up on all the work she thought she was behind on.

She insisted that everything in our quarters needed to be thoroughly disinfected and organized. I tried to remind Allie the biofilters did an excellent job so tidying up a bit was probably sufficient, but she vetoed that by sending a frown my way.

When the rest of our team caught wind of her coming full force off bed rest, they all stepped in. All of them showed up at our door, and Seraphine broke everyone into assignments. Every time Allie would get up to do something, one of them would jump in and do the job before she could. I walked in to find Morgan with his head in one of my bottom cupboards, scrubbing the very back corner.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Al says germs are hiding back here and was going to clean it herself, so I volunteered.”

I laughed a little. “Thanks, man, for taking care of our most obscure germs.”

“What else are friends for?”

I found all the others doing various jobs, and Seraphine put me to work on laundry. Our team was amazing, and Allie got her clean house. I was pleased she hadn’t lifted a finger. Seraphine painted a grand mural of the Maine coastline on one of the walls in the nursery. Allie requested that specific scene because she wanted the twins to have a piece of our home in their nursery.

The next morning, I woke up and felt the twins kicking my hand that I’d placed on their mother. I enjoyed this activity and could stay there indefinitely with my wife sleeping soundly while I felt our babies’ movements. I pulled myself out of bed.

Allie kept her eyes closed. “I’d turn over and kiss you, but that would take me a long time, so I’m only going to let you know that’s what I desire.”

I moved around the bed to kiss her without her having to move an inch. “Get some sleep. I have a uniform to put on.”

“Be careful, John.”

I heard and felt her worry and wanted it gone. “Always. Don’t give it another thought.”


Our team was being sent to the Richares sector for another alliance negotiation. As we docked, we were greeted by Schwopols. Schwopols were a species that could pass for human except their skin appeared to be completely tattooed with intricate designs. When I first heard about them, I assumed their species tattooed themselves as a rite of passage, but it turned out they were born with the elaborate designs already intact. Their hair looked like thick plastic fibers and ranged from a burnt red to dark brown.

We wanted them to join our alliance because the planets they occupied were good stepping-stones to reaching Khalbytian territory. The Schwopol ambassador greeted us, firmly shaking our hands. He’d studied human customs well and knew handshakes were a standard human gesture in many of our cultures. This was an interesting reversal as I was used to being the one to learn proper formalities of the culture I was negotiating with.

The Schwopol were a friendly species but resistant to war, which was why they needed to be persuaded. My track record was nearly a hundred percent on alliances but based on what I’d read, they’d be challenging to crack. I almost audibly groaned when I walked into the negotiation room, and there sat Lucius. The Loctorians must have seen this alliance as incredibly unlikely. He was there to manipulate one way or another.

Whose death are you here to rig this time? I emitted the message to him telepathically, being careful not to let anyone else in the room catch on to my anger.

His mouth formed into a satisfied smirk. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.

That didn’t sit easily with me. We finished off the day’s negotiations, and I decided to confront him. I knocked on his quarters. When he opened, I pushed my way inside and slammed him against the wall.

“What is your conniving ass doing here?” I exploded.

“I’m doing my assignment as always. Making sure the pawns move across the chessboard as needed. Checkmate hanging in the balance and all.” His tone reeked of arrogance, traits he was well known for.

“And of course it doesn’t matter how you get to checkmate.”

“Exactly. If you have to knock some pawns down, then so be it. You ought to be thanking me. If I hadn’t taken care of Kais, those would be his twins. Hell, they could’ve been my twins. Your pretty little wife gets around. I enjoyed kissing her a couple weeks ago on that joint mission we were on,” he sneered.

I resisted the urge to explode his brain matter all over the walls. “Seems you’re even more of a piece of shit than I originally thought. Hitting a pregnant woman, that’s a new low for you. Touch my wife again, or harm my team in any way, and I promise you, I’ll send your head on a platter to the council to see if maybe you can get the attention you grovel for.”

“Showing your cards before you have anything to leverage. You have Talon to thank for all of this. I’ve been collecting the debt he owes me.”

“You mean the debt of saving Allie from you kidnapping her and almost killing her? Or the debt of Seraphine having a brain and realizing Talon is by far the better man to be with? Lucius, there will be a day when you need a friend, and at the moment all you’ll find are enemies.”

I headed back to my own room. We were able to secure the alliance after five days. I wanted to think we were that good, but part of me wondered how many mind games Lucius played to ensure things tipped to our favor. We were staying an extra day to see a couple of monuments that the ambassador wanted to show us on behalf of his people.

We visited some ancient ruins. We were told to step only on the dirt paths, as the rocky floor of the monument would crumble if there was too much strain. The Schwopol built their cities hundreds of feet off the ground and reinforced them frequently. The off-ground cities were to give more appeal than the marshy swamp below. Some of the more ancient areas had platforms that were degrading. The architecture was Romanesque and reminded me of a trip I took to Europe with my great-aunt when I was a kid.

As we were admiring the large slate columns, Khalbytians poured in from every direction. Unexpected Khalbytian fights weren’t unusual and we should’ve remained on guard. Laser fire ripped through the air. Gabriel collapsed dead, and Allie was light-years away on base. A searing burn ran through my right leg as weapon’s fire struck me.

Another blast hit my right shoulder. I pushed the raw pain of my burning flesh aside and focused. One at a time, I brought them into their darkest fears by pulling hysteria to the forefront of their consciousness. I stumbled to the ground as a third shot landed on my lower left side. I could see Seraphine working hard on projecting until the rest of the Khalbytians began firing at themselves. They collapsed dead on the ground.

I struggled with breathing, but I stayed conscious enough to relay orders. The ambassador, Gabriel, and Deron were dead. A laser burn ran across most of Talon’s right arm, leaving it blood red with patches of black ash. Morgan’s upper arm held a blistering, charcoaled hole about the size of a grapefruit. Seraphine, Lila, and Colin were uninjured. Lucius yelled and fled behind a pillar. The ground around him crumbled.

I hesitated, half because the overwhelming pain and half because I wasn’t sure I wanted Lucius saved. Talon looked at me, awaiting orders. Lucius was too far out to manipulate us into saving him. He was entirely at our mercy.

After hesitating for a moment, I handed Colin the rope in my bag. Colin threw the rope to Lucius. Lucius pulled tightly on the rope, causing the ground in front of Colin to break apart. Colin fell off the newly formed cliff, plunging to the swamp below. Lucius secured a device to the side of a dirt hill behind him and began scaling upward. He made it to the top and into a waiting shuttle.

We were a hobbling mess of a team, and this wouldn’t sit well with Allie. She was thirty-six weeks pregnant, and our injuries were catastrophic. Talon went to help me to the ship, but I shook my head and pointed at Gabriel. Even if he couldn’t be brought back, he deserved a proper burial.

On the way back, Talon helped me into a medical bed and scanned me to see the extent of my injuries. “I’m going to fold instead of going through hyperspace. I’m not letting my sister become a widow today. Stay with us.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I mumbled.

Besides our own injured, seven others from a support team were wounded to various extents, and there were six casualties in total: Gabriel, the ambassador, Colin, Deron, and two members from the other team. With the help of Talon, we retrieved Colin from the murky swamp below. The Schwopol denied our offers to bring the ambassador back for healing, but it sparked a greater fusion for the alliance.

My wife would try to bring everyone back as well as heal the injured, which made me feel unsettled, especially so close to her due date. Allie needed to conserve energy, not use it up. Lila sat next to Gabriel. She placed her head next to his shoulder as she cried. Seraphine walked over and placed her arms around Lila, and Lila grabbed Seraphine’s hand. A wooziness flooded me, and I gave into unconsciousness. I woke up to the beeping of monitors and rapid movement. Medics wheeled me to sickbay, and Jasper scanned me.

“John!” Allie frantically called my name.

Before I could stop her, she put her hand over each of my wounds and sealed them. The rawness slowly rolled away until the pain diminished. My skin looked fresh and new. She hugged me tight, and I squeezed her back.

“When are you going to take leave?” I didn’t care that my words would annoy her.

“How can you even say that? You come in all battered and expect me to leave your recovery to chance!” She pushed her lips together and let out a puff of air.

“What about your blood pressure?”

“My blood pressure will be higher with injured and dead family and friends.”

She’d already been in sickbay, which meant she was probably healing others already, and that made me like the situation even less. Medics rushed in an ashen Gabriel. Allie gasped and bolted for him. I grabbed her hand, and she stopped to look at me. I knew what her look meant. I couldn’t stop her from trying.

Allie put her hand over his large head wound. She spent a long time intricately tracing each of his pathways and forging them together. For a while, it looked like there wouldn’t be much she could do, but she didn’t give up.

Gabriel gasped and blinked rapidly. Lila reassured him he was okay and in sickbay. Medics wheeled Deron in, and Jasper bolted for his son. The usually strong doctor was losing composure. Allie put her hand on Jasper’s shoulder then she brought Deron back to life. Jasper thanked Allie as he hugged his son.

Allie grimaced briefly, and I could sense she was in pain. No one else caught it, and she tried to hide it. She was doing too much.

“Althea, you need to go home and rest.” I was about to make it an order.

“I will, I promise, after I fix everyone up.”

“It’s too much. You have to think of the babies.”

“We’re fine, John. Trust me.”

Allie brought Colin back and healed everyone she could. One of the supporting team’s member was unable to be brought back. Every now and then, I felt waves of pain coming off of Allie. Something was wrong. She slid into one of the private rooms, and I followed her. She stumbled and grasped the side of the bed, shutting her eyes tightly.

“Allie, you have to get to bed.” I put my arm around her to help her on the bed.

“No. Don’t…I don’t want…to move.” She gasped the words out, and her body shook.

I ran out of the room and brought Jasper back.

He scanned her. “The babies are stable. Your heart rate is high. Are you having any pain?”

She nodded and grimaced as I felt another wave wash over her.

Jasper stuck his head out in the hall and motioned a nurse over. “Kendra! Hook Althea up to the monitors, get her a gown and start an IV.”

Allie dug her hands into the sheets and slouched over the bed.

I stood next to her. “Jasper, what’s happening?”

“I’m pretty sure she’s in labor.”

She just did some major healing. She won’t have enough energy. I sent it to Jasper’s mind so Allie wouldn’t hear my concerns.

She’s strong. Her body knows what to do, and we’re ready if she needs help. Jasper’s com device lit up and he said he’d be right back.

“John?” Allie cried.

“Yes, sweetheart.”

She fell into my arms. I held her as she shook and cried. During a brief break in her contractions, the nurse helped Allie into a gown and onto the bed. Allie curled up as the waves of pain were coming closer and lasting longer. She closed her eyes and grasped tightly to the railing next to her bed.

“My back. It hurts,” Allie yelped.

I rubbed her back gently and helplessly watched her writhe in pain. She was getting no breaks between contractions.

Allie’s knuckles were turning white from grasping the bar tightly. “I need to push.”

The nurse shook her head. “It’s too soon. There’s no way.”

Allie’s water broke and the nurse checked her.

The nurse’s eyes went wide. “Get Jasper! Now!” she called to a tech who walked into the room.

Jasper ran in and checked Allie, and I could feel his surprise. “Allie, it seems all of the healing has put you in labor, and you’re already ready to push. You’re having what we call precipitous labor. Means the babies are coming very fast. I need you to scoot forward on the bed and on the next contraction you can begin to push.”

Allie looked at me, and I could feel her fear and pain. I held her hand. “You’ve got this, baby.” I had to keep my anxiety at bay for her.

I could feel her intense waves of pain continue one right after the other. She was exhausted as she pushed. Jasper instructed Allie on what to do next, and with a couple more pushes, my son was born. He gave a strong cry, and the nurse took him to a warming bed. Allie still writhed in pain, and her eyes drooped in exhaustion. The monitors began to alarm. Baby B was in distress. Her heart rate was dropping quickly, and Allie was spent.

“We need to get this baby out fast!” The nurse yelled and put oxygen on Allie.

Jasper felt Allie’s abdomen. “Baby B is sideways. Prep the OR for an emergency C-section!”

Everything happened rapidly, and nurses began unhooking wires and throwing them on Allie’s bed.

One of the nurses began pushing Allie’s bed toward the door. “We’re going to take you to the OR now.”

Tears slipped out of Allie’s tightly closed eyes. “John?”

I squeezed her hand. “Right here. Everything is going to be okay. I love you.” I kissed her forehead.

The nurse wheeled her away. I stood there watching until she disappeared out of sight. The cries of my son turned my attention to him. Two nurses had him on a tiny bed with a bright light shining on him. He turned bright red and screamed.

One of the nurses waved me closer. “Come here, papa. He’s one handsome guy. Born quickly, but everything looks great. He’s a whole five pounds, nine ounces. We’ll watch his temperature and blood sugar close since he was a little early. He’s breathing great though.”

I peered down at him and smiled through tears. He was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. They wrapped him like a burrito and placed a blue hat on his head. The nurse carefully picked him up and placed him in my arms. His alert eyes looked back at me.

“Hello, Elim.” I greeted him by trying out the name we’d chosen. My tears wouldn’t stop as I peered into his eyes. I had my little man. Now I just needed my girls.

Talon stood behind me. “I have a handsome nephew. How’s Althea and my niece?”

“They took Allie to surgery because my daughter is in distress. Allie didn’t have much energy left. After all that healing, she went into labor. I was worried it’d be too much.”

“She’ll be fine, John. She’s tough and stubborn. It’ll take a lot more than this to knock her down.” He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Man, he’s pretty awesome.”

“Yeah, he really is.”

This boy gave me purpose. I would fight the war for him and his sister so that they would never know war or its consequences. Talon and I sat on the couch in the room talking to Elim. Jasper walked in after about an hour. I read his emotions, not willing to wait for his words. He felt calm, and relief washed over me.

Jasper reported, “Allie and baby girl came through the C-section great. They both should be fine.”

“When can I see them?”

“You can see your daughter now. Her breathing is great, but we’ll watch both babies close for any issues. Allie needs a bit more time in recovery.”

A nurse wheeled my daughter in a little clear cart, and Talon took Elim from me. The nurse handed her to me, and my girl mesmerized me.

“She’s four pounds, fourteen ounces. Doing well,” the nurse said.

“Avalon, I’m your daddy.” It looked like she was almost smiling. Her eyes were closed, and she slowly opened them. Allie’s beautiful shade of purple peered back at me.

I grinned proudly at her. “You’re as beautiful as your mother.”

Talon stood next to me and talked to Avalon. “Bet you’re going to be as stubborn as your mommy, too. I hope so; give your mom some of the trouble she gave me.” He smiled at her.

A couple hours passed, and I was anxious to have my wife back. Talon and I fed the twins bottles and waited. When they cried, we walked them around the room and talked to them. Talon appeared to be enjoying the twins as much as I was.

Finally, a nurse told me Allie was awake and I could see her. Talon left to find Seraphine. Two other nurses wheeled the babies in their little carts behind me to see her.

Allie was wrapped in several blankets with only her head peering out. She was pale and her eyes drooped, but she smiled when I walked in. She was still too weak to hold them, but I put each of them close to her. She smiled as tears flowed.

“They’re beautiful,” Allie said with amazement in her voice.

“Like their mama.” I looked at the twins then her, smiling.

Allie grinned. “I didn’t do that all on my own.”

I kissed her cheek and told her she could rest, that the nurses and I would take care of everything. Reluctantly, Allie agreed. She slept through the rest of the day and the night. Her C-section incision had healed almost immediately, but her body needed to recharge from all the healing and labor added on top of that.

The next morning, Allie was anxious to hold her babies. I placed them in her arms. What I felt from Allie overwhelmed me. The powerful love she felt for our kids mixed with my own brought a tender family moment. Seraphine and Talon stopped by.

“Hey, kiddo, you’ve looked better.” Talon teased his sister.

Allie smirked and rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

Seraphine asked to hold them. Allie nodded, and Seraphine picked up Ava first. Talon picked up Elim. I could feel Talon’s pride, and both he and Seraphine were excited. Any reservations they’d previously carried had vanished. In the afternoon, Gabriel and Lila stopped by. Gabriel looked amazing for having died the day before. Lila couldn’t get enough of the twins.

“Better watch out, Gabriel. Eggs are dropping over there,” I teased.

Lila shot me a half-annoyed, half-amused look and put her attention back on the babies.

“Allie, I wanted to thank you for bringing me back. Sorry it put you in labor.” Gabriel sounded a bit sheepish.

Allie shrugged. “Honestly I think it was time. I’d go back and do it again. Think of it more as you brought me my babies sooner.”

Deron, Morgan, and Colin walked in carrying balloons, teddy bears, and flowers. Morgan handed Allie the bouquet of blue and pink flowers. “We couldn’t wait to see our two new team members. How are you feeling, Al?”

She smiled at her flowers. “Tired, but very happy.”

“I have to say, you’re definitely the toughest badass any of us know. Bring back the dead and deliver twins all in the same day. Thank you, by the way.” Deron conveyed the exact thoughts running through my head.

“Yes, thank you, Allie. None of us would be here without your willingness to use up your energy,” Colin said.

Allie nodded. “Yep, it’s what I do. Only want all of you around, so you all make saving you quite easy.”

We chatted for another twenty minutes. Allie’s eyes struggled to stay open and I knew she needed another break. I asked the others to lunch and sent the babies to the nursery. At lunch, Gabriel announced that he and Lila were engaged. When I got back to Allie, she decided we should try and video chat with my parents. The connection wasn’t the greatest, but it was enough that they could get a glimpse of the twins.

“You did a wonderful job, Allie. They look absolutely perfect.” My mom was beside herself at the sight of her new grandbabies.

Allie gave a sleepy smile. “Thank you!”

“The two of you did great work,” my dad said.

My mom added, “Please bring them soon. I can’t wait to get my hands on them. Allie, you get some rest. We love all of you.”

“We love you too.” I disconnected the chat as the channel became distorted.

After five days, Jasper became convinced that Allie was recovered enough and let her go home to our quarters. That’s when the real exhaustion set in. Allie would feed one baby, then the other would wake up. The first few weeks were a blur and Allie walked around with her eyelids half closed. Our team was great about helping where they could.

I climbed out of bed one morning when the twins were four weeks old. Allie was asleep, sitting completely upright in front of a laundry basket. She had a sock in each hand, and her head was flopped to her shoulder. The twins were sleeping in bouncy chairs next to the basket.

I picked her up, carried her to bed, and spent the rest of the morning juggling bottles and diapers. I tried to relieve Allie when I could, but being an admiral, there always seemed to be something I needed to be involved in. When I relayed the laundry incident to Seraphine, she set up a schedule where our team members rotated afternoons so Allie could get a nap.

When the twins were four months old, Allie told me she was ready to join the team again. It’d been well over a year and a half without her on missions. I liked the idea of her safe at home with our babies, but I knew it was time for me to give in to her request. Having Allie gone for months had reinforced the immense benefit she brought to our team.

We missed the twins when we were away, and they were growing fast. Avalon had my light brown hair but with ringlets. Elim had his mom’s darker hair with my hazel eyes. They were both perfect combinations of Allie and me. Allie transitioned back into missions and battles quicker than I expected her to. She did well, finding balance between life as a mother and life as a soldier.

The twins were nearing their first birthday when I was called away on another diplomatic mission, and the rest of my team stayed on base. I had to leave base by two in the morning while my little family slept. I kissed Allie on the cheek and looked in on my sleeping babies. I grabbed my bag and put my mind on my mission.

Chapter 18

Talon- June 26, 2018

I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and saw it was only four hundred hours, yet I was jarred awake. Seraphine and I were holding hands; this was a habit we often did unintentionally in our sleep. It was as though our unconscious bodies called out to each other until we found each other to touch in some manner.

I gently released her hand, attempting not to wake her, and pulled myself out of bed. Something was off, but my com device held no messages. I concentrated on the general location of my sister and felt she and her babies were still in their quarters. John was scheduled to leave for a mission, and when I concentrated on his location, he was where I expected him to be.

I scanned the database for any urgent news, and it was, for the most part, empty. There was concern about a Loctorian crop being destroyed by a newly discovered mite-type creature, hardly anything worthy of me losing sleep over. I was tempted to send out a message to my entire team for a status update, but that would be too much, especially at the early morning hour. Instead, I sat on the couch and read.

About twenty minutes after waking up, my com device lit up, and alarms started blaring. Base under Khalbytian attack was all the message read. Seraphine ran out of our bedroom, having been jolted by the alarm. I called into the emergency response number, and a recording notified me Khalbytians were aboard the station and to follow invasion protocol. I needed to get to Allie and the twins. John wasn’t on board, and attempting to fight with two babies in tow would prove difficult for anyone.

“Allie and the babies!” Seraphine said, her eyes wide with worry.

I called my sister’s com device.

She picked up on the third ring. “I have Elim and Ava loaded in the stroller.”

“Stay put. Seraphine and I are going to make it to you.” I hung up.

I concentrated and saw my sister still in her quarters. Seraphine and I grabbed our weapons. Seraphine projected through the hall to make sure it was clear, and we bolted for my sister’s. I tracked our path, making sure we wouldn’t run head-on into Khalbytians. We heard screaming ahead then several civilians ran past us.

“Khalbytians! Run!” a woman screamed as she ran past us.

Sure enough, I tracked two Khalbytians marching straight for our position. They were wearing bio-suits because the base was kept too warm for them to survive. This gave me more urgency to get to my sister. Her ability required touch to kill the Khalbytians, and that wasn’t something she could accomplish through bio-suits.

This would also mean we’d have to keep our weapons on the highest setting to be able to break through their suits. Adding that to humans running everywhere, this was going to be a difficult battle.

Seraphine projected, and they took themselves out. We needed to get up three levels to reach Allie and the twins, but the elevators were on emergency stop. We’d have to take the climbing shafts. We made it to a panel, and I told Seraphine to go first. I didn’t want a Khalbytian reaching in and grabbing her. I would use my ability to make sure the way up was safe. The climbing shafts were basically wide cylinder openings with metal bars that stuck out, acting as a ladder. I tracked our way up the shaft until we made it to the level Allie’s quarters were on.

“Wait. The level is covered with Khalbytians,” I told Seraphine before she pushed the panel open. I concentrated on my sister and saw her fighting off two Khalbytians in her quarters. “Khalbytians are in her quarters. We’re going to have to wing this.”

Seraphine projected and took care of the enemy in the immediate vicinity. We ran for Allie’s quarters and I fired, taking out three more opponents in our way. Allie’s front door was wide open, and she was gone. I concentrated on her again and saw her rapidly pushing her stroller down the hall. She was stuck on this floor. No way could she get two babies up or down the climbing shafts. I always thought we needed stairs on Saturn base, but I was always told the Loctorians hated stairs and was given no further explanation.

Gabriel caught up to us. “Lila and I went to find Allie and the twins. We were separated during an attack, so I continued on, hoping to find both of them but Allie’s quarters are empty. I take it you’re tracking her?”

I concentrated on Allie again and saw she was now being chased by five Khalbytians. She wasn’t pushing the stroller. There was no way she’d leave the twins. I concentrated on Ava and Elim and saw she’d left them with Lila and one of the base nannies named Wren. They also had several other children with them. We made it to where they were hiding.

Lila filled us in. “Allie took off to lead the Khalbytians away. I told her not to, but she did anyway.”

“Of course she did,” I said in frustration at my sister’s continual impulsiveness. “Gabriel, can you hide the kids?”

“Yeah, I got this. You go.” Gabriel made the group go invisible.

Seraphine and I ran to where I tracked my sister. I let go of her location to concentrate on where Khalbytians were. I fired as they came into our view. Seraphine and I took ten out. We were almost at the end of the level when my com device rang.

“Talon, I got word the base is under attack, and I’m on my way back. Tell me Allie and my kids are safe. I can’t reach Allie,” John spoke before giving me time to say anything.

“Ava and Elim are safe. Gabriel is hiding them. I’m tracking down Allie. She decided to use herself as bait before I could get to her.”

“How bad is it?”

“Bad. The base is covered with Khalbytians. I’m not sure how you’ll get in. Good luck. I have to find your wife.” I hung up.

I concentrated on Allie, and she was already two levels up and fighting off a group of Khalbytians. Seraphine and I ascended in the climbing shafts and made our way toward where I knew Allie was. We fought several Khalbytians on the way. The base was a madhouse. People screamed and ran chaotically. No one seemed to be following protocol for base invasion, but rather, panic ran rampant.

A soldier from ops nodded to our right. “Looking for your sister? She’s that way. She healed my head wound then took off.”

It didn’t make sense that she was still running and not returning to her babies. I concentrated and saw her running through the kitchen of the pub. She was staying ahead of us. We needed to head her off. I focused on all the ways to get to her and took off through the flower shop to the right of us.

Naomi the shopkeeper hid behind the counter, and she almost fired but paused when she realized it was Seraphine and me. Her two small boys huddled behind the counter. We used her back exit, and it landed us in front of the pub. I ran to the backside of the pub just in time to see Allie disappear into a climbing shaft. I chased after her and spotted her one level up.

“Allie! What are you doing?” I yelled.

“Gotta get to the control center,” she yelled back but didn’t stop.

“Why? What good is that going to do? They’re all wearing bio-suits.”

“Something I read in the library.”

She climbed out four more floors up. When I climbed out, she dropped on the floor, having been shot by a Khalbytian. I fired, hitting him and evaporating his suit. I fired again, and he collapsed dead. I ran to Allie, and her wound was halfway healed up. She jumped up before her body finished healing and kept going.

“Allie, you going to explain more?” I asked.

“If we can tap into the frequency of the com devices in their helmets, we can play a high pitch frequency in their sensitive ears. With the close range to their ears, they’ll either drop in agony or take off their helmets. We raise the temp even higher, and they melt or are disabled enough that we can take them easier."

“You think it will work?”

“It’s an unproven theory from a brilliant scientist. Thought it was a good time to test it out,” she said.

I cleared the path for her as well as helped navigate. Seraphine helped take down Khalbytians, and we made it to the control room. Morgan stood by the door as Allie had called him for help. I used my command codes to open the door.

“Allie and Morgan, go. Seraphine and I have watch,” I said, and they set to work.

Ten minutes passed, and more Khalbytians descended on us. They all dropped to their knees. Several removed their helmets, causing them to melt. Seraphine and I took out the rest that thrashed in pain. About an hour of clearing the disabled Khalbytians, we searched for the injured and dead. Allie went through and healed everyone she came across. I looked at my com device and saw John was calling me again.

“Allie’s fine, just healing everyone,” I notified him.

“Yeah, I’m on base and can feel her now. Where are you at?”

“Deck sixty-two. Fourth sector.”

With the elevators working again, John made it to us in about fifteen minutes. He bolted for Allie. She finished healing a woman’s arm then ran for him.

John hugged her tightly. “Scariest call of my life, hearing the base was under attack knowing my family was on board.”

“Yeah, this one was too close,” she admitted.

I could tell by her voice she was tired, but she refused to go back to her quarters until she had healed every one she could. The Khalbytians were making things increasingly personal and leaving us violated, first through taking my sister and now by stepping foot into our home. I was tired of the threat they brought to my family. In the end, I couldn’t allow them to win.

John helped an exhausted Allie to their quarters. I walked back with them to ensure they wouldn’t need any further help. Allie drooped in John’s arms from so much healing but seeing her revitalize at the sight of her twins reminded me why our fight was so vital. I needed Seraphine, Allie, and her family to make it to the end of this war. I needed the same thing I always did. I needed them to have the good life they deserved.

For the next two weeks, everyone on base came together to restore the base to normal. More than three dozen people on base lost their lives, and we attended many funerals. There was a new sense of unity. Anyone on base knew war was why we were on Saturn base, but the day the Khalbytians attacked, they reminded us that the war wasn’t an abstract concept that made up our careers. It was personal.

Chapter 19

John- July 3, 2018

I woke up and realized it was Saturday, and we had no missions for a while. I heard the twins babbling to themselves on the monitor. They were eleven months now. Allie was sleeping, and I wanted her to rest as much as possible. She was still recovering from healing so many during the Khalbytian attack. I got the twins up, dressed, and fed. I turned on the classical music Allie insisted would make them geniuses and put them on the rug with all their toys.

I sat back in my chair to read. Elim pulled to stand next to my knee, and I clapped with excitement, as it was his first time accomplishing this baby goal. He smiled proudly at me, and I scooped him up in my lap. He grabbed at the pages of my book and tore one a little. I set the book on the end table and began talking to him.

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. She was the most beautiful princess anyone had ever seen, and there was a prince, and he loved the princess very much, ever since they were very small. They found themselves in a new land where they had to fight evil monsters and dragons. They fell in love and lived happily ever after. The beautiful princess is your mama.”

“Ma ma ma ma,” Elim babbled in what I figured was approval of my story.

I looked up to see Althea at the end of the hallway smiling at us. She wore her bathrobe and pajama pants.

“I didn’t know Daddy was such a charming storyteller,” she said.

She went to start on breakfast, and I put Elim back on the floor to help her. She fried eggs for an omelet. She’d forgotten the milk, and I grabbed it from the fridge. I handed it to her, then kissed her cheek as she stirred the pan. She paused her task and kissed my lips gently.

“You look gorgeous today, babe,” I said.

“You’re a little crazy. I haven’t even brushed my hair yet.”

“Doesn’t matter, you slay the right out of bed look.”

She shook her head, smiled, and kissed me again. We sat down for breakfast.

When we finished eating, Allie walked over to where the twins were playing. “Talon and Seraphine want to know what we want to do for dinner tomorrow night.”

I guess it’ll be Sunday tomorrow, won’t it?”

“Yep, every Sunday is family dinner night.”

“Maybe we should go out. It’s been a while. We could try that new restaurant that Greg Mathers opened on deck five,” I suggested.

“What kind of food?”

“I believe it’s Indian.”

“That sounds delicious. I’ll check with Seraphine and Talon but sounds like a plan.” Allie took her plate to the sink and walked over to the phone to call Seraphine.

A little later, she came back and said they thought it’d be perfect. My com device went off, and I was called to meet Admiral Parks. I sighed. So much for the perfect Saturday with the family. I let Allie know, and with a quick kiss, I left her with the babies.


“How’s the family?” Admiral Parks asked.

“They’re doing great.”

“Wonderful. I called you here because we’ve received some intel that the human version of Dissipation is nearly completed. We need your team to try and destroy the research facility where the cure is being devised. This won’t be an easy mission, and it means taking a cruiser deep into Khalbytian space. I want to make it clear the danger level of this mission is high. Therefore, it is strictly voluntary.”

“May I bring it up to my team?” I was hesitant to decide for the entire team.

“Yes, I think you should do that. John, there’s something you should know. There are two reasons we picked your team first. One, you’re the best we have, and two, your wife is one of the only humans to spend that much time in the Khalbytian environment and survive it. I think her intel may prove valuable.”

I nodded. Rehashing a trauma that almost destroyed Allie wasn’t on my priority list. But I also knew that dealing with Khalbytians was unavoidable if she was going to be in the war. My biggest concern was her being submerged in the same environment she’d been horrifically tortured in. I feared it would prove too much and cause her another breakdown. I saw in her nightmares what they put her through. The fact that my wife could continue in the war at all was a testament to her strength and courage. I found Talon instead of talking to Allie right away.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea to even bring it up to her. She’s finally back to normal, and we want to risk a relapse?” Talon sounded as doubtful as I was.

“I think we should let Allie decide for herself rather than assume she can’t handle it. If she’s proven nothing else to any of us, it’s that she’s incredibly strong. She has her demons like all of us do, but it doesn’t mean facing them will make them any worse.” Seraphine’s words were valid.

I left their quarters to talk to my wife. I opened our door and heard Althea singing from the twins’ bedroom. I stopped right outside their room, listening to every word of her song. Her voice glided into my ears, and I could stand there all day and never tire of hearing her. I peeked in, not wanting her to stop at the sight of me.

She rocked Ava and sang her to sleep. Elim slept in his crib, but as usual, Ava struggled more with accepting naptime. I was awestruck at the sheer perfection of my wife. I felt fortunate never to have remembered a time in my life without her.

When she finished her song, I walked in. She was looking lovingly at Ava’s face and glanced up with a smile as she saw me. Ava finally fell asleep, so I gently took her from Allie’s arms and placed her in the crib. I pulled Allie to her feet, and we quietly tiptoed out of the room. We sat down on the couch to talk.

“Everything okay with Admiral Parks?” Allie asked.

“Kind of. She wants us to go on a mission into Khalbytian space. They’ve identified a research facility where they believe the human version of Dissipation is being developed. She’s making the mission voluntary.” I waited, studying Allie’s emotions. I could tell she felt some aversion to the concept but nothing extreme.

“You going to call a team meeting?”

“Yeah, but I wanted to run it by you first.”

“Obviously I’ll go with whatever the team wants.”

“You sure?” I doubted her words were what she wanted.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t want to reopen old wounds for you.”

“Every battle and mission we go on brings that possibility. Seeing a Khalbytian at all brings that as a possibility, but it’s the risk I accept when I decide to keep fighting.”

“Okay. I’ll call the team meeting then.”

“I’ll have Wren come over to watch the twins.”


Seraphine and Talon agreed to host the meeting in their quarters.

“I think it’s clear if anyone can do this, it’s us,” Deron stated confidently.

Gabriel nodded in agreement. “I mean, we’ve been a team for years now. We work well together. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Everyone else went around and gave their opinion in agreement to go except Allie. Talon and I both studied her. I knew our thought processes were similar. I couldn’t sense too many emotions from her.

“Alright, let’s vote.” I directed my team.

They all raised their hands, even Allie. We’d leave the next day, and everyone went back to their quarters to get plenty of sleep and pack. I worked in bed on war reports. Allie came to bed after getting the twins to sleep.

I pulled her close. “You sure you’re good with this mission?”

“Yes, destroying the human version of the virus is vital. Our team can handle it.”

“I can request you sit this one out.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m part of the team. I don’t pick or choose missions. I go where my team goes. I’ll be fine.”

I kissed her. She moved her hands gently touching my neck. She let out a soft sigh as I pulled myself closer to her as though my touch was her home, and the only place she ever wanted to be. My connection to Allie was intense and surpassed the physical plane. We had an intertwining of our minds, and the depth of it stayed long after our passion ceased. The force of it left us both breathless and tethered to each other. Allie kissed my chest. Our connection still vibrated through my body, and I kissed the top of her head.

“I love you, husband.”

“I love you.” I returned the sentiment feeling it barely scraped the surface of what I felt for her.

We slept facing each other. Blissfully mindless for a few hours that we’d soon be entering the territory of our darkest enemy.

Chapter 20

Althea- July 4, 2018

I boarded the shuttle for our latest mission and tried to keep my emotions level because I didn’t want John to feel them. I kept telling myself I’d be fine. Part of me worried the musty smell of a Khalbytian environment would trigger the violent memories I’d barely learned to cope with.

Talon folded into their space, wanting to make it as close to the research facility as possible. He got us pretty close. We’d stay cloaked until we arrived. We traveled for about half a day to reach our location. There was little intel on what kind of place the research station was. We put on our temperature suits to stay warm in the cold Khalbytian environment.

The planet was nearly all black land. From space, it looked like a dark sphere with just enough illumination to set it off from the blackness surrounding it. Talon tracked the lab and set us down a few hundred feet away.

John relayed the plan. “Let’s try to keep this discreet. The virus is top priority. Anyone handling it, remember viral protocol, we don’t need any of us bringing it home. If Khalbytians catch us, I want Gabriel to get Allie and Talon out of the area while the rest of us hold them off. Talon can track to the lab, and Allie can be there if there is a second ambush. She can get Talon back on track if he’s taken out.

“Talon, you know how to set the explosives. Once the explosives are set, the three of you will have fifteen minutes to get far enough away from the lab. These particular explosives will set a barrier that keeps things contained, so there is no risk of viral leakage. You need to be a 150 meters away to be out of the barrier.”

We made it through a side door that Talon led us through.

“Khalbytians are surrounding us. They know we’re here,” Talon said.

“We got it. You three go,” John ordered.

Gabriel made himself, along with Talon and me, invisible, and we slipped out as the gunfire began. Once we were far enough out, Gabriel let go so we could see where Talon was leading us. We ran through winding red rock tunnels, and I tried to ignore how much they resembled the walls of the cell I was in when captured. The stomach-turning musk wasn’t helping me ignore my surroundings. I was aboard a ship my entire capture, but it seemed the Khalbytians liked to keep their ships the same as their bases.

We made it to the lab. Two Khalbytians were looking into microscopes. Gabriel made us invisible, then he released me so I could melt both Khalbytians simultaneously, one with each hand. They dissolved into a pile of goo. Breathing became increasingly difficult, and the lab seemed to be shrinking. A platform to my left looked very similar to the one I was laid on. I tried to calm myself, but the environment felt toxic and suffocating. Talon stayed focused on his task, but Gabriel’s eyes were locked on me.

Talon’s concentration must have impeded him from tracking as two Khalbytians ran in and fired at him, hitting him in the head and back. He crumpled to the ground, dead. Adrenaline surged through my body, and I became furious they’d killed my brother. I launched at them, dodging their fire. With a single touch from my hands, they melted one right after the other.

I needed to get back to Talon and bring him back, but I couldn’t breathe. There must be something in the lab killing me. I dropped into a corner while internally screaming at myself to get to Talon. I couldn’t move. My body froze, like when they’d laid me on the platform.

Don’t scream! Don’t scream! Don’t scream!

I had to stay silent as to not attract more enemy fire, but all I wanted to do was scream. I slumped to the ground, pressing my back against a wall. I dug my hands into the slimy floor, and my heart slammed against my chest. Gabriel ran for me and dropped so he was eye level with me.

“Allie, look at me. Breathe through your nose and let it go out your mouth. I want you to do that five times.” His voice flowed out gentle.

“Gabriel, I’m dying!” I gasped at the air and found no oxygen.

“Allie, look at me, see, I’m breathing. Nothing in the air is going to hurt you. I need you to take a deep breath in through your nose and out your mouth. Focus on my face.” He continued speaking. “You’re safe, Althea. I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”

I concentrated on his eyes and slowly regained control of my breathing.

He grabbed my hand. “When you’re ready, we’re going to walk over to Talon so you can heal him, and we can complete the mission. Let me know when you’re ready. Until then, take deep breaths. In through your nose out your mouth.”

I followed his instructions and gave his breathing technique a few rounds. My heart rate steadied. I hands shook, but I pushed through to get to Talon. Gabriel helped me to my feet. We walked over to Talon. My brother dead was another image to add to the list of experiences that would haunt my sleep. It wasn’t the first time, but it never got easier. I healed his wounds, then brought him back.

He sat up, confused, and looked around. “What happened?”

“Khalbytians killed you, and Allie brought you back. We can talk about it later, right now we need to get these explosives set and get out of here.” Gabriel hurried his explanation.

Without any more questions, Talon set the explosions, and we bolted. I dropped nearly every Khalbytian that got in our way. Talon and Gabriel shot the rest. Talon led us out to the ship where he said the others were waiting. We made it back and felt the rumble of the explosion. Morgan navigated us out of the atmosphere and into hyperspace. I healed a leg wound on Deron and an arm gash on Lila. Once we were far enough out, Talon folded us out of Khalbytian space.

“What happened back there? You took a little longer than we anticipated?” John asked.

“I died, and Allie brought me back. That delayed me setting up the explosives,” Talon said casually.

Seraphine looked up from her console. “You what?”

“Khalbytians shot him in the head and back. Allie took them both out, and she healed Talon.” Gabriel added more detail to Talon’s version. I was grateful he left out my little incident.

Talon typed into a console. “By the way, thanks, sis.”

I nodded. “All I ask is that you don’t die when I’m not around.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“I’m with Allie, you better not pull that again,” Seraphine said.

Talon smiled. “Yes, dear.” He pulled Seraphine into a hug, and she kissed him.

Talon got us pretty close to base, and it only took us two hours to make it back. When we got back, we completed the debriefing and sickbay scans. That was the norm after a battle or mission. John completed paperwork as the leader of the mission. I told him I’d catch him at home later and set off to find Gabriel. Gabriel and I sat down on his couch.

“I wanted to thank you for what you did for me on the mission,” I said.

“Don’t mention it. I was surprised how well you held it together up until that point. If I’d gone through what you went through, I’m not sure I would have even gone on the mission. I remember the moment I realized the Khalbytians had gotten you. Our entire team was in this fog. When you went back to Earth, I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d stayed. What I’m trying to say is the strength and courage you showed through all of this is admirable. A panic attack is more than understandable.”

“How did you know what to do? You knew the exact thing to say and do to calm me down, and you immediately knew what was going on. I didn’t even know what was going on.”

“That’s because you were in the middle of it. What you were afraid of was completely real at that moment. You weren’t fine. Even if there was no danger at all, you weren’t okay because what you were experiencing was real to you.”

“I’m glad you were there. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“I’m glad I could be there for you.”

“Do you think this could be our secret? Could you not tell John, Talon, or Seraphine about my panic attack?”

He grinned. “What panic attack?”

“Thanks, Gabriel. They already worry too much about me. I feel like I have to continually prove I’m not going to shatter.”

“I get it. It’s between you and me, and it’ll stay that way. But hey, if you need help, get it. What you went through is something I’m not sure many people would have come back from. None of us have to know about it but get help if you need it. I think I speak for the entire team when I say we’re here for you too, and you have nothing to prove to any of us. We are all very aware of how strong and brave you are.”

“Thank you, Gabriel.”

What Gabriel and everyone else didn’t know was that I was already getting help. I saw Meredith once a week and was taking antidepressants. Meredith had changed my meds a few times seeing if it would help and some days I think it did. Other days were a struggle, but I was still here.

He gave me a hug, and I slipped out his door. After leaving Gabriel’s, I picked up the twins from Wren’s quarters. Wren was their nanny and cared for the twins when we were away. My babies smiled when they saw me and crawled over to me.

I picked them both up. “You two are getting so big! Mommy missed you so much.”

Ava grabbed my face, and I kissed her hand. Wren helped me put them in the stroller and we went back home. I wanted to have supper ready for John when he finished with the debriefing.

I looked over at my babies as I flipped chicken in a pan on the stove. I knew why I was still here. Every day I pulled myself out of bed to hold my babies. Every day my love for them fastened me to life.

Chapter 21

John- July 4, 2018

There was always more paperwork when someone died, even when they were brought back. Talon voiced his annoyance at the extra scans that kept him in sickbay. He hated having his time wasted. Allie was an amazing healer, and when she healed you, there was almost this extreme surge of energy, as though she pieced you together better than you were before you were injured.

I needed to get back to my wife. I felt her on the Khalbytian base. There was a point she was terrified so much that I’d almost left the others to find her, but before I’d made a choice, I felt her calm. She’d given no clue to her extreme emotions other than Talon dying, but that didn’t make sense. She knew she could bring him back. It quite possibly could be a touchy subject. I would have to tread carefully.

I walked into my quarters and smelled garlic chicken. I couldn’t wait to eat every bite. The twins were in their highchairs. They were almost one, and Allie liked the idea of us eating as a family. She cut up small pieces of food, and they happily chowed down.

I sighed from eating too much. “You outdid yourself again.”

While Allie cleaned up dinner, I gave the twins their baths and dressed them for bed. I grabbed a couple of books from the shelf and put the babies on my lap. Allie was strict about the bedtime routine. She insisted it helped them go to sleep better. I wouldn’t argue with her. I liked having my wife to myself all night.

Allie stood in the doorway, smiling at me as I read to them. She grabbed Elim and kissed him on the head. She placed him in his crib, and I did the same with Ava. We heard them babbling to each other as we walked to our room.

Allie grabbed a couple of towels. “Let’s take a shower.”

She would get no protest from me. I followed her into the bathroom. She dropped her clothes to the floor and turned a little, giving me a mischievous grin. I hurried to remove mine and followed her into the shower. The water fell over our bodies, and Allie kissed me as she rinsed out her shampoo.

We were both busy with war duties and now being parents. We turned the small tasks of every day into moments to stay close to each other and to keep our connection strong. We climbed into bed refreshed from our shower.

“I think we need to go through and declutter. Margo is having a rummage sale to benefit one of the Loctorian orphanages.” Allie turned over in bed as she spoke, and I wrapped my arms around her. She kissed my arm.

“Sounds like a good idea. We can donate some money too. We’ll work on it tomorrow.” I breathed in the scent of her freshly washed hair.

“Yeah, I think tomorrow is our best bet. I think I want to have the twins’ birthday party next Saturday, and it’d be nice to have the house squared away for that.”

“Maybe we should reserve one of the party rooms,” I suggested.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea.”

I hesitated before starting into the next topic. Finally, I asked, “Allie, did something happen on the mission that’s not in the report?”

I felt brief anxiety, but it diminished as quickly as it had risen in her. “Why?” she asked in avoidance of an answer.

“Because there was a bit when I felt you were terrified.”

She waited to answer, and I felt her pushing her anxiety back down, trying not to let me pick up on it.

“My brother died,” was all she gave me.

“But you knew you could heal him.”

“It was still scary. What if I couldn’t for some reason?”

I could tell she was lying, but I also knew she wasn’t going to elaborate anymore. If she didn’t want to tell me, I wouldn’t push it. Allie hated being backed into a corner by what I sensed from her. She probably felt like proving the mission didn’t bother her at all, because she didn’t want to make me think she couldn’t handle things. The best thing I could do now was affirm she was safe and that I loved her. I drew her closer to me. I felt her breathing even out and knew she was asleep, safe in my arms.

The next day we started decluttering the house after the twins went down for a nap. I maneuvered through the vast amount of items we’d stuffed in the closet over the years. I moved a couple of things on a shelf and saw a small box in the far back corner. I stretched to grab it and when I opened it, I saw pictures of Kais and Allie laughing. There were more with them looking at the camera. One of the pictures I’d seen when I cleared out Kais’ things on the mission he’d died during.

There were also three pressed flowers and a card. Allie had kept those things all these years. Kais was Allie’s boyfriend who died by sacrificing himself for some kids on a mission our team had gone on. Allie and I had never discussed Kais and, as far as Allie knew, I never knew about them. She kept it a secret from everyone.

I’d given her three months off after his death and hadn’t told her it was because I knew she was heartbroken. I made excuses as to why she wasn’t needed on missions for a while. I felt terrible about the entire thing.

Kais was an honorable man, and if he hadn’t been there that day, Allie would have been the one charred to the blanket. I owed him a debt I’d never be able to repay. I put the box back and placed other boxes in front of it. I didn’t want Allie to know I found it. She could have her privacy for that part of her life.

We compiled six boxes of items to take to Margo. I borrowed a luggage cart from one of the packaging centers and put the boxes on it for smooth delivery. Allie talked Seraphine and Talon into also accomplishing spring-cleaning for the orphanage. I stopped by their quarters to pick up what they had. Four more boxes later and I’d compiled quite the load for Margo.

I handed Margo the envelope with our donation, and she was so happy she hugged me. I relayed that Allie said she would help with the rummage sale and to contact her with the details. I waved at Deron on my way out.

Allie told me he and Margo were dating, and Deron later told me it was thanks to Allie setting them up. Allie seemed to have a knack for bringing the right people together. She paid attention to what others needed or wanted and helped when she could. I went back to our quarters to spend time with the twins while Allie went to pass out invitations and buy some things for their party. When she returned a couple of hours later, she had her arms full of sacks. I jumped up and took a few to the table.

“I think we’re going to have to reserve the party room as you suggested. I passed out about fifty invitations, and almost everyone said they were coming,” Allie informed me.

I thought we’d have a good turnout. I was well known as an admiral, and Allie had healed almost everyone on base. Not only that but Allie always took the time to listen to everyone when they were struggling. I often had a hard time pulling her away from a hurting friend to get her to come home. She carried too much weight on her shoulders at times.

Allie decided on a dragon and unicorn fairy tale theme for the party. She and Seraphine spent a lot of time decorating, and Seraphine painted a fairy tale scene on an extra-large canvas. There was a shiny castle in the background, with a little prince riding a dragon and a princess riding a unicorn.

The prince and princess looked remarkably like Elim and Ava. Elim had a dragon cake and Ava a unicorn one. There were two balloons at each of the twenty tables. A buffet held seemingly endless food.

About a hundred people showed up. In the invitations, Allie suggested donations to the orphanage instead of presents. I thought that was a good idea seeing as the twins had plenty of everything already, and with the number of guests, we wouldn’t have been able to fit all the presents in our quarters.

Ava loved the attention. She laughed and babbled at anyone who talked to her. Elim was a different story. He hid from everyone and cried when someone he didn’t know talked to him. Colin brought his nice camera and took pictures for us. Gabriel filmed as usual, which I knew was the journalist in him emerging.

He’d captured many memories of our team over the years. Recently for our anniversary, he’d helped me compile a montage of moments he’d filmed of Allie and me over the years. Allie had loved it so much she cried and watched it three times in a row. Wren took the twins for their nap so we could clean up the party room. Several friends helped us pick up.


Right after the twin’s first birthday, Allie told me she wanted to take the twins to see her dad. I was too busy mapping strategies for a vital system to join them.

“Don’t be gone months,” I said.

Allie kissed me. “I promise. Give me a week, tops.”

“Okay. Have fun.”

“John, I want to take the twins to meet your parents too. Your mom has sent a few messages begging me to bring them. Since you can’t come, I didn’t want to ruin the moment the twins meet them if you wanted to be involved.”

“No, that would be great. My mom has been begging me as well. I have no idea when I’ll finally get back out there.”

I bent down to the double stroller and kissed each twin on the head. “You two take care of your mom.”

“Bye. Bye. Daddy.” Little Ava’s voice melted me. She was an extremely early talker. Elim gave it a good attempt and said, “Dadadada,” with a wave.

I watched them leave, thinking about how grateful I was for each of them. My family was what kept the chaos of war away from my sanity. It was the everyday waking up next to Allie and me holding her as we read on the couch. It was the twins greeting me at the door with squeals of “Daddy!”, bedtime stories and having them fall asleep, feeling safe in my arms. It was the look Allie gave me that made me realize how completely in love she was with me. It was the forever I could give to her laying her head on my chest, as I smelled the perfection of her hair. Those ordinary moments were the reasons I got up every day and fought the monstrosities known as Khalbytians.

Chapter 22

Althea - July 20, 2018

The twins slept as I took an uncharted detour to the pulsar system. Seraphine and Wren rode along with me. I needed Wren to help with the twins while I took care of some things. Seraphine was back up and volunteered her assistance.

The place I was going first was a lab on a desert planet deep inside Loctorian space. Through research, I’d discovered the Loctorian named Tocric was there working feverishly on a cure. I needed to know if I could indeed eradicate the virus. When we stopped, Seraphine watched me carefully.

I told her I was meeting an old friend to catch up before heading to Earth. The lab was home to several families, and they had facilities to keep the twins occupied. I asked Seraphine and Wren to take the babies to the playroom we’d found on the directory. I set off to find Tocric.

With direction from a receptionist, I located him in the central lab. The lab had several tall, black tables with stools lining each side of the tables. Microscopes and other various items covered the tabletops. He studied the contents of the microscope in front of him.

He was missing some fingers, and the state of the virus on him was more severe than the other adult Loctorians I’d seen. He was still able to function, but I saw him get up and hobble to another microscope. I walked closer, and he glanced up. His face was worn, and I could tell he’d had a long life.

“I’m Alth…”

Tocric went back to viewing his microscopes. “I know who you are. You are Moira Cooper’s daughter.”

“I have some questions. I know you worked with my mother and were convinced she held a cure. I’m here because I want to know more about what happened.”

He looked up from his microscope. “Yes, she held the cure. I ran thousands of simulations. She could have stopped the virus, but the sacrifice was too great. Your father couldn’t lose her, especially with the little one. There were those in the council who thought we should have forced her, but I was not willing to. It needed to be her choice. Why should you humans sacrifice to save any of us? You already die in our battles.

“Some of the Loctorians resented your mother. I held them back for a long time, but there was one, Marsc. He decided to take what your mother did not want to give. He found your mother on Earth. He tried to remove her core, but he did not know enough, and by the time he returned with it, it was too diminished to do any good. He murdered your mother and wasted her gift.”

I narrowed my eyes. “My mother died in a car accident.”

“Are you sure? We don’t always see what we remember.” He spoke in riddles.

He asked for my hand, and I gave it to him. The lab walls faded into snowy hills, and icy roads. I heard a car turning the corner, and it looked familiar. It was a small, dark blue car, and it glided slowly as the snow fell around it. Three Loctorians were blocking the road.

The car violently swerved a couple of times before it propelled forward, hitting a large rock. The force at which it swerved and hit the rock made me think one of the Loctorians had telekinetic energy, which shoved the car head-on into the boulder. I moved closer to the car. I could see inside. My mother’s head pressed into the steering wheel. A cut on her forehead dripped blood, but it slowly sealed over into perfect skin.

She pulled herself up and reached for me in my car seat. My five-year-old head was smashed against a shattered window. My mother touched me, and I woke up crying, then she reached for Talon. She touched his hand, and he awoke with a start.

My oldest brother had hit his head on the side window, and his vacant eyes told me he was dead. Talon noticed Malcom too, and the realization that spread across Talon’s nine-year-old face wrenched my heart. Talon attempted to comfort me in typical Talon fashion. Our mother told him to take me and run as far and as fast as we could. Talon quickly obeyed. He helped me out the broken window next to me.

Young me cried for my mother and tried to hold on. She told me everything was okay and to go with Talon. We ran, and the Loctorians didn’t stop us. They were after another target. I now knew why Talon and I didn’t freeze or have frostbite after walking so long in the snow. We’d baffled the experts, but my mother’s healing energy had stayed with us a few hours past her healing us.

My mom turned her attention to my older brother, but she was pinned and couldn’t quite reach him. The car morphed shape, freeing my mother. An invisible force ripped her from the car.

She screamed. “Please let me heal my baby! He doesn't have to die for you to get what you want. I promise I won't fight if you let me heal him. Please!”

One of the Loctorians injected something into her neck, and she went limp.

He threw her on the hood of the car. “You will not fight us either way.”

“It was you. You called Bastian away. You made him think it was Calinger.”

“He would have seen us too soon.”

My mother gasped out, “He would have kicked your ass. You’re a coward.”

My mother screamed as the Loctorian made a large incision across the top of her head.

I yelled, “No!”

I had to stop them. I could heal her and my brother, change the way things turned out. The Loctorians couldn’t even hear me because I wasn’t really there. The middle Loctorian searched for something in my mother’s head. When he found it, he placed it in a vile, and they disappeared. I ran over to my mother.

She laid dying on top of her car alone, and my oldest brother was dead inside at the young age of ten. If only I could reach through time, and this would be real. I could have restored them both. A different story would be written for my family. My mom’s eyes looked at me as though she could see me.

“Can you see me?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said weakly.

I tried to touch her to attempt to heal her, but my hand went straight through her like I was a ghost. I sat next to her. At least she wouldn’t be alone.

“Mama, it’s me, Allie. Tocric sent me back to see what happened.”

A tear fell down her cheek. “A mother always knows her child. I love you, my Althea. So very much.” I could tell her words required a great deal of effort.

“I love you too, Mama.”

I placed my hand as close as I could to hers, and even though she couldn’t feel it. Her hand twitched, and she slowly moved it closer to mine. She knew. Her eyes went vacant, and she was gone. I cried uncontrollably. The snow faded around me, and I was back in the lab. Tocric watched me.

I sniffled. “Was that real? Did my mother really die that way?”

“Yes, I swear on what I have left that was the past and not, what you humans call, fiction.”

“Could she really see me? Did she really know I was there and not die alone? I could interact with her but couldn’t touch or heal her.”

“Yes, your consciousness was sent through. You could not heal her because your physical body was not there. I can project through time and space similar to a Projector, but they are bound to space alone. Your mother knew you were there. The interaction was real.”

“The Loctorians didn’t notice when I yelled at them.”

“They did. They did not care because they knew you were a projection.”

“How did you know what happened? Were you there?” I was still trying to gain composure after the vision.

“No, my ability allows me to travel to events I was not present for. A few Loctorians have these abilities. It was DNA from ones like me that they used to merge with what we call the human core. The core is an underused portion of the human brain, a blank slate. This made it ripe with possibilities and took to the gene therapy naturally. We saw humans as our salvation to fight the Khalbytians.

“My research led me to study each of the emerging abilities, and it was then I discovered the core of a high-tiered healer could cure even the virus when applied directly to the rest of the antidote. It was the missing piece and could be massively replicated using light mineral once it was configured together. Your mother was the only one powerful enough who possessed enough energy in her core to accomplish this delicate matter. I have found no one since.”

“I am like my mother. I can heal, and I am a high-level. A while back, I was captured by Khalbytians and told by a Khalbytian named Dramto that he believes I possess the same ability as my mother, and I could be the cure.”

This caught Tocric’s attention. He unfolded his scanner and began scanning my head. He asked me for a vile of blood, and I complied. As he analyzed the data from my tests, he looked as stunned as I could imagine a Loctorian looking.

“I have stayed in this lab for years now, and I gave up looking for a healer that I missed you. You are an even better match than your mother. I have not seen these levels in anyone.”

“So I can cure the virus?”

“Yes, but you will die.”

“I understand.”

“Are you kidding me, Althea?!” I startled at the sound of Seraphine marching toward me, ready to drag me out of the lab.

I tried to keep my anger controlled. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough. Enough to know I’m not going to allow this Loctorian to perform fatal brain surgery on my sister. What about your kids? John? Talon? They need you. This war needs you.”

“With me doing this, there will be no war to be needed for.” She had to see my point of view.

“You’re coming with me, or I’ll have John and Talon here with a fleet before anything can be done.” Seraphine closed the gap between us and grabbed my hand.

“You must go. Now is not the time.” Tocric nodded toward the door.

He placed a device and note in my pocket, avoiding Seraphine’s gaze. She hadn’t seen what he’d done. I followed her out, and we found Wren with the babies. We boarded our craft and Seraphine programmed in the coordinates for Saturn base.

“No, I’m going to see my father still,” I stated defiantly.

“Really, that’s still on the agenda? I thought that was a ploy for your secret kamikaze mission.”

I knew Seraphine would stop me if she had to. If she hadn’t followed me, I’m not sure where I’d be at the moment. I was caught up in the vision and saving everyone. I needed to say goodbye to my family better than I would have. As angry as I was that she invaded my privacy, I was glad she intervened for now. Her knowing would prove a problem. Unless I could convince her otherwise, John and Talon would soon know.

“Can we keep this to ourselves?” I begged.

“You mean you don’t want me to tell your husband and brother how willing you are to commit suicide?”

“It’s not like that. It’s not like I have a death wish. But if I can stop the virus and end the war, it won’t save Loctorians alone. Humanity will be saved as well. I won’t have to worry about the virus being modified and killing my family, or Elim and Ava growing up and having to fight this war. My mother tried to fight her destiny, and it found her anyway.” I told Seraphine about my vision.

“You can’t die. We’ll find another way, but we need you in this fight. We all do. We’ll end this war together, and you, me, Talon, John, and the babies will go back to Earth and live our happily ever after.”

She was wrong. There would be no happy endings unless this virus was cured and the Loctorians had tried for decades. I’d felt years ago, when a Loctorian orphan named Zalseph had died, that I was meant to find a cure. I hadn’t known it would be by these means.

We stopped on Earth, and I told Seraphine and Wren they could enjoy some of the base amenities. I would take the twins alone and see my father. Seraphine gave me a look, showing me that she was still hurt at what I was considering. I wouldn’t be surprised if she contacted Talon and John while I was gone. I was far from confident she would keep our side trip a secret.

I did have a detour I didn’t mention because I thought Seraphine might want to join me. I was going to pay a visit to the uncle I’d only met once before. He was the uncle that brought my brother into this entire thing.

The twins were happy most of the trip, and they babbled to each other in the back. I pulled down the long drive to my childhood home, and I could see Achilles by the house chasing a squirrel. I unbuckled the twins and led them to the front door. I’d sent my dad a picture of the twins right after they were born but never got a response. I’d known I probably wouldn’t. Sending messages into space wasn’t my dad’s thing anymore. I knocked on the door and waited for a reply.

On the third knock, I heard him holler. “One minute!”

About ten seconds elapsed when I heard him move the locks and open the door. He looked down at Elim and Avalon. He smiled the biggest smile I ever remembered seeing on his face.

“I was hoping to see them. Lisa!” He called to the back of the house.

I grinned as Lisa came into view. She wiped her hands with a dishtowel. I was thrilled to see them still together. I was even more thrilled when Dad told me they were engaged and were going to get married in Vegas in a couple of months. That was a destination I’d never have picked for my dad vacationing, but Lisa sparked an abandoned part of my father.

He let us inside and pulled an old box of toys from the closet for them to play with. He told me he’d been saving the toys, hoping I’d bring the babies by. We visited for a while, and he insisted we stay for dinner.

Dad had framed the twins’ picture I’d sent him, and it was placed next to his recliner. I made a mental note to send him an updated one. He asked if we could stay the night and I nodded. Seraphine wasn’t expecting us back for a day or two.

That night I snuggled close to my babies. One on each side, I kissed the tops of their heads and ran my fingers through their hair. Elim looked so much like John and seemed to be developing a similar personality. He was quiet but loved to explore. Avalon was spunkier and at one already had a strong vocabulary. You could barely get her to stop talking. I wanted what was best for them.

The thought of leaving my babies so young weighed heavily on me. I didn’t know if they would even remember me. I was a mother now, and that made the stakes higher. I loved them with a fierceness I knew would make it easy to destroy anything that set out to hurt them. I could not risk letting Ava face the same choice someday. Unlike my mother, I had the benefit of foresight. I saw what would happen if I bolted from fate. It was vital the sacrifice and consequences ended with me.

The next day I told Dad I needed to go to the library, and he asked if he could take the twins to the park. With the double stroller, I figured it wouldn’t be too much of a venture on him. We drove into town, and I loaded the babies into the stroller. Before they left, I snapped a picture of him with them. I would go and get it framed before we left.

I found the grey stone archive building and made my way inside. I found a search database that could easily navigate me to where I needed to go. I put in for newspapers the week my mother had died. I read her obituary—nothing out of the ordinary. I wondered who wrote it. Talon had told me our father didn’t come out of his room for weeks after she’d died.

“Find everything you need?” I looked up to see an elderly woman standing there.

I recognized her from my childhood. She had a reputation in our small town of having the best gossip. Most everyone in town lived by the motto of minding your own business. However, if you wanted to know even the smallest rumor this woman was who you’d want to speak with. She grasped a pink cane, and large round glasses slid to the edge of her nose. I thought she may have used the same prescription since the eighties.

I showed her the obituary. “Maybe. I’m looking for information on this woman’s death.”

The old woman strained to see. “Aww. Yes, that’s Moira Cooper. Beautiful blonde, curly hair and striking purple eyes. Tragic car accident. Killed her and her little boy. The other two children, nine and five, managed to be okay—very sad day in our community. The husband didn’t handle it well. He went raving mad. Insisted she was murdered, and it wasn’t an accident.”

“Why did he say that?” I scanned the article to see if there was any mention of autopsy results. I found none and put my attention back on the woman.

“She had a strange head wound. He said someone was trying to steal part of her brain to cure a virus. The autopsy said she had a traumatic brain injury from being thrown from the car. The man couldn’t accept it was a simple accident. I was surprised that he wasn’t locked up at the asylum.”

My dad knew what they did to my mom. No wonder he was enraged when he’d realized I was fighting battles for the Loctorians. The old woman filled in some gaps for me.

I met up with Dad and drove him back to the farm. I told him we needed to get back. He looked disappointed but thanked me for letting him see his grandchildren. I handed him the framed picture I made of him and the twins, and he smiled at it. He ran into the house and brought back a teddy bear and a cloth doll with a purple dress and brown yarn hair. He gave them to the twins, and they smiled back at him. I recognized them as my favorite childhood toys and was happy to see them passed on. I called John’s mom, seeing if she’d want to watch the twins. I told her it wasn’t a big deal if she couldn’t.

“Are you kidding me, Althea? I’ve wanted to see those babies since you called me and told me they were born. I wish the two of you didn’t live in a confidential location, or we’d have been out to see them when they were born. It would mean a lot to me if you would let me watch them. I know it would to Mike, too.”

I pulled up to John’s childhood home. I barely made it into the drive, and his parents were out the door. They each grabbed a car seat for me and brought the twins inside. John’s mom was so happy she was in tears. She gave me a big hug.

“Thank you for bringing them by. Now if you could get my son to visit.” Barb didn’t take her eyes off the babies.

“He wanted to, but he was on a vital mission.”

Mike hugged me. “We’ve missed all of you very much.”

“They are beautiful, Allie,” Barb said.

Mike grinned at both of them, and I knew they were pretty proud of their grandbabies. I visited with them for about an hour, filling them in on what was new with their son. John’s little brother was a teenager now. He came home from playing basketball with his friends and was excited to see the twins and me. I missed all of them. They were my family long before I ever married John. After getting the twins settled with their grandparents and uncle, I left to find Mr. Fausto.

Through some digging, I was able to find Mr. Fausto’s office. He worked in a towering skyscraper made entirely of glass. The elevator told me there were sixteen stories. The lady at the front desk asked me to have a seat, and she’d see if he wanted to see me.

“There’s a young woman here to see you. Says her name is Althea Trammel.” There was a pause then she said, “Sir? Are you there?” She hung up the phone. “I don’t think he has an interest. He hung up.”

I contemplated whether to leave or sneak in. A man in a black suit and tie walked straight for me.

He stopped as he got close to me. “My word! You look just like her.”

“I’m Althea.”

“I know who my niece is. I’ve been keeping track of you your entire life. You look so much more like her in person. You make me miss my sister a great deal. Let’s go to my office.”

He led me to the elevator and up to the seventh floor. We walked past several offices with glass walls. When we made it inside his office, he closed the blinds and shut the door.

He gestured for me to sit in a chair. “Why have you sought me out?”

“I want to know about my mother.”

“Where to start? Your mother was the bravest person I’ve ever known. She would fearlessly pursue Khalbytians bringing down dozens in a single battle then she’d heal the wounded and bring back the dead. I’ve been told you outmatch her a bit. Our family has high levels of a chemical that helps the gene take better and causes us to place at higher ability tiers.

“Your grandpa, my father, is a great admiral, and he brought us into the war when we were eighteen. Our mother was so angry at him for it she left him and none of us heard from her again. She couldn’t accept our family was meant for greatness. Your mother made your grandfather proud as she excelled at war, and I made him proud by moving up the recruitment ranks. However, Moira broke his heart the day she left the war for a normal life.”

“Don’t you know why she left?”

“Yes, she wanted to live on Earth with that drunk. She insisted she’d changed him, but a drunk is always a drunk. I knew after Moira died he’d slip on taking care of you two, so I made sure your house was paid for every month.”

“Why did you recruit Talon and not me?”

He sat back in his chair. “The plan was to recruit you both, but I saw you had her eyes and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My father was angry with me until I showed him your picture. He saw his little girl again, and the deep regret he felt for losing your mother without making amends surfaced. He talked the council into offering a level fifty-four protection until your eighteenth birthday. The council wouldn’t agree to grant permanent protection. They said you had to be brought in at some point.

“We told Talon the protection was given in his name, which made him think he was the only one who could break it unless he refused to follow orders. That kept him in line. Also, anyone else who knew about the protection thought it was granted to him as well. This acted as a protection for others trying to get us to break it.”

I narrowed my eyes, boring into Mr. Fausto. “He is your nephew and as much of my mother as I am. Why would you do that to him?”

“We needed him in the war to carry on our family prestige. I don’t have any children. That left you and Talon to carry on our line. I’ve heard you have two kids. Their father is a level-seven empath. They should be able to carry on the line as well.”

I stiffened. “I have different plans for my kids.” I pushed my lips firmly together.

“You sound so much like Moira. She dreamed of a world where war didn’t exist instead of accepting our family is very good at war. I guess we will see what the future brings.”

“Is my grandfather still alive?”

“Yes, he’s still an admiral. He’s stationed a couple of solar systems over from Saturn base in the second sector.”

“And my grandmother? You said you never heard from her again, but you probably know what happened to her?”

“Yeah, I track her occasionally. She’s in a nursing home about forty minutes east of here—Long Care Manor. Althea, my father and I are very proud of both you and Talon. You’ve given the family a good name.”

I nodded, trying to mask my disgust. I didn’t want to talk to him any longer. He wanted our family to fight in the war for prestige. War shouldn’t be wanted for that reason. I wrapped up our meeting and hurried out of the building. I wanted to meet the grandmother no one told me about. I looked up the address to the nursing home and used GPS to navigate. Unlike my uncle and brother, I got lost a lot. I had no sense of direction. I pulled up to the nursing home and realized I didn’t even know my grandma’s first name.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Fausto,” I told the lady at the front desk.

“Yes, she’s in room one twenty-five. I’m so happy to see she has a visitor. No one ever visits her.”

A heaviness settled in my chest at her words. A nurse led down the hall past cream-colored walls with flower artwork placed every so often. Some of the residents had wreaths or drawn pictures on their doors. I read the name plaque tacked to my grandma’s door, Jane Fausto.

Jane was mine and Ava’s middle name. I now knew why my mother had chosen it for me. I found it sad they’d never reconciled before my mom died. My mother, on some level, must have held her mother in high regard if she’d found her mother’s name suitable for her daughter.

“Mrs. Fausto, you have a visitor!” The nurse said it with a ton of enthusiasm, like she was introducing my grandma to her favorite celebrity.

My grandma’s hair was grey, curly, and short. She looked like the perfect Grandma from a movie. She sat in a wheelchair with a pink and turquoise quilt folded across her lap. She looked up and saw me.

Her stern demeanor transformed into a joyous one. “My Moira! You’ve come to visit me! My precious girl, I’ve missed you so much!” She sobbed. She held out her arms, and I fell into them. “Let me look at you, my angel. You’ve become a beautiful young lady. I knew your father couldn’t keep us apart, taking you off to fight aliens.”

“She has a bit of dementia. She talks about an alien war a lot. Don’t let it disturb you, it's part of the declining brain function. I’ll leave you two be,” the nurse said as she left.

“Moira, you’ve made my year. I’ve prayed so long for you to come back. Do you forgive me, Moira, for leaving you? Please tell me so I can die in peace.”

I knew then I didn’t need to tell her who I was. I leaned in and gently took her face in my hands. Looking her in the eye, I said, “I forgive you, Mama. Don’t give it another thought, it’s the past and it no longer matters. I love you.”

More tears fell down her cheeks, and she drew me against her. “Thank you! Thank you, my dear.”

I sat for two hours with her as she reminisced about her life. I soaked up every word, knowing I would never get another chance to hear my grandma’s memories. I glanced at the clock and knew I had to get back. I promised John’s parents I’d make it to dinner with them. They insisted on taking the twins and me out to a restaurant. I gave my grandma one last hug.

     “I love you, my little girl.” She released me.

     “I love you too, Mother.”

     She smiled widely as more tears fell. A nurse walked into her room.

     “My daughter forgives me. She still loves me!” I heard her cry to the nurse.

     Before I left, I talked to the front desk about companion care options. They knew an agency, and I set up an account to have someone come and visit her every day for a couple of hours. They would chat with her and help her not be alone, which was something I wished very much I could do myself.

I met my in-laws at the restaurant they texted me. They already had Elim and Ava in highchairs when I walked in. Barb spotted me first. “Althea, I can’t thank you enough for giving us time with these grandbabies. I’m going to miss all three of you.”

“I’ll try to get John out here soon. I know it’s been years. They keep us pretty busy.”

As we ate dinner, we laughed and talked, catching up on the last few years. There was so much I couldn’t tell them.

Then John’s little brother Theodore said something that made my heart stop. “I was in the counselor’s office the other day, and he wanted me to think about joining this ROTC group. He gave me this card.” Theodore pulled it out of his pocket, and I read my uncle’s name. “I wanted to show you so you can tell John. I want to be a soldier like him.”

They were after John’s brother now, which made sense. They would expect him to be a high tier.

“We’ve told him if he still wants to when he turns seventeen we can give it real consideration,” Barb said.

“I think waiting is a good idea. Give yourself time to be a kid.” I tried not to convey my distress. Teddy had just given me yet another reason that I needed to do anything possible to end the war.

“I want to enjoy this son a little longer before he disappears and never comes to visit,” Mike added.

We finished our dinner. I tried to pay but my in-laws refused. I wanted to tell them that John and I had so much money we could live a couple of lifetimes and never run out. The bonuses John would get for successful alliances were enough to sustain us alone. We were given weekly pay and bonuses for every other success we encountered. The Loctorian council seemed to have unlimited resources, and they paid us well. I tried explaining we were doing great, but they wouldn’t hear of it. I hugged both my second parents, and they kissed and hugged the twins.

“Please bring them back soon,” Barb said through tears.

“I’ll see what I can do about getting your son back here soon as well,” I promised.

They helped me load the twins.

I turned to Theodore and said, “Be a kid for a while, okay, buddy?”

He nodded, and I hugged him. I climbed into my car and drove away. I met up with Wren and Seraphine at the Earth base, and we folded back to Saturn base. I wasn’t sure what I would face.

Seraphine gave me no indication of what she planned to do with the information she had. Part of me wanted her to tell. It would save me the burden of telling John and Talon myself. However, I knew they would try and stop the entire thing, which is why I hadn’t told them already.

Chapter 23

Seraphine- July 22, 2018

My mind reeled with thoughts of Althea and her secret plan. Talon would be outraged at what she was plotting. I didn’t know if it was my place to tell him, but I couldn’t let Allie kill herself on a plan that might not even work. Tocric said the sample of her mother that was brought back was removed too long to work.

Maybe it was fine but didn’t work like he thought it would. Allie wanted to waste her life on maybes. I looked at her sweet babies sleeping on cots on the ship. I loved them as if they were my own kids. They were the closest I had, and would possibly ever have, to my own children. I couldn’t imagine those sweet babies losing their mother so young. Althea was beyond stubborn, and it wouldn’t be easy to convince her to abandon the idea. We got back on the station and Talon greeted us. He picked me up and spun me around.

He planted a kiss on my cheek. “Missed you, sweet thing.”

“Missed you too.” My tone must have sounded aloof.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Tired from the trip.”

“Alright, let’s get home. We can skip movie night tonight.”

“No, I think movie night is a good idea. Let’s have Allie and John over.” The words spilled quickly from my mouth.

I looked at Allie, waiting for her to accept my invitation.

“Sure. I’ll ask John, and if he’s good with it, we’ll see you about seven.” I could tell she seemed suspicious of my invitation but didn’t reject it.

Talon tickled Ava, and she giggled. He picked up Elim and gave him a little toss in the air. Elim squealed with laughter. We helped Allie get the twins back, and I went to get supper ready for movie night. I looked over a casserole recipe, and Talon kissed my neck.

“I need to make dinner.” I smiled as he continued kissing me.

“I’ve missed you. Fix dinner in a bit. We have a couple of hours anyway.”

He pulled me to the bedroom. He removed his shirt to reveal his breathtaking abs. I bit my lip and pushed him onto the bed. I overwhelmingly loved this man of mine. He was as tough as nails but gentle when he touched me. He bore a soft spirit under his tough exterior. I was exhausted from the passion that ensued, and I laid on Talon’s chest.

“Talon, I want to have a baby.”

He locked up a little. “Seraphine, you know we can’t. We had this discussion and decided things needed to settle down first. We’re both needed in war, and I can’t imagine you pregnant and going off to battle.”

“What if I stayed on base like Allie did?”

“It’s too risky while war is raging.”

“I think it’s worked out for Allie and John pretty well.”

“Let’s wait until the war calms down. I love my niece and nephew, but I worry for them.”

“What if the war never calms down? I want to make a piece of each of us one person.”

Talon stayed silent. He always felt too responsible for everyone. It was entirely in character for him to be terrified of being responsible for a mini us. Still, my heart longed more and more for motherhood, and at the rate, the war was going there would never be a right time for Talon. We took a nap, and then I got up to finish dinner prep. Before long, Allie and John were knocking on the door.

We sat down at the table. The guys were cracking jokes at each other, and I stared at Althea. She caught my gaze but tried to ignore it. She lowered her eyes to her plate and pushed her green beans around with her fork. She needed to tell them. In my experience, most men missed silent interactions, but John had a leg up.

After he and Talon stopped laughing, he glanced at me and then Althea. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” Allie was quick to say. It probably would have been better if she’d remained silent.

John continued, “I can slice the tension between you two with a knife.” He studied Althea’s face.

“Something happen on the trip?” Talon tried to read us, but he had to try the old-fashioned way.

John locked eyes with Allie. “What’s going on, Althea? I can feel your anxiety.”

Allie hated when she was backed into a corner by John’s empathic ability. With John’s words, Allie got up and left. John’s eyes widened, and Talon’s mouth hung open a little.

“I guess we can postpone movie night.” It was the only thing I could muster.

“Come on, Seraphine.” John didn’t follow Allie. I think he knew he wasn’t getting answers from her.

I sighed. “I don’t know how much I should say. Allie should be the one to tell you both, but I’m fighting it because I’m not sure if she ever will.”

“So, you tell us. How bad can it be?” John stated it calmly, but he looked slightly concerned about whatever we were hiding.

Talon glared at John. “You get my baby sister pregnant again?”

John sharply took in air. He looked at Talon then back at me for confirmation.

I shook my head. “Nothing like that.”

I could see visible relief on both their faces. If only they knew what it really was, they’d wish Talon’s first guess was the real answer.

“I don’t think I’m getting far with you, Seraphine. I better go find Allie and see what I can find out.” John placed his napkin on the table and walked out the door.

Talon stared me down. “What happened on that trip?”

I was weakened by the fact I wanted Talon to know. I wanted him to help me figure out how to convince Allie to give up her dangerous notion. This weakness made it difficult to protect my sister with my confidentiality.

“It’s Allie’s to tell. She needs to tell you and John, but if she waits too long, I’ll have to say something after all.”

“Seraphine, come on.” Talon’s insistence made me waiver even further.

He wasn’t going to let it go. I’d already blown it anyway. I thought Allie would fold when confronted, but she was always stubborn. Things had to be on her timetable, but I couldn’t shake the feeling her timetable was after she was dead.

“Fine but you can’t freak out. I know you. You’ll freak out but you can’t,” I pleaded with him to not react the way I knew he would.

“Seriously, how bad can it be?” he reiterated John’s earlier words.

I told him. I told him about his mother and Allie thinking she needed to have a part of her brain removed. The part that holds her healing ability, and she wouldn’t be able to recover. She would die within minutes of its removal but that Allie was sure it would cure the virus.

“Like hell she’s going to do that!” He jumped out of his seat and headed for the door.

“Talon! Come on.”

“Not even sure why you thought you needed to wait for Allie to tell us. Her mind is obviously not hitting straight. Our mother died in a car accident. She was under a lot of stress when captured. The Khalbytians want her to believe this.”

“Why would they? If they wanted her dead, they could have killed her.”

He stopped for a second, as if considering my words. He continued on, apparently concluding my logic didn’t change what he was about to do. He made his way to Allie and John’s quarters.

John opened the door. “What’s going on?”

“You talk to Allie?” Talon practically paced the room, a lion ready to pounce on any threat to his sister.

“No, she went to bed and won’t talk to me.” John glanced toward his bedroom, looking ready to wake her.

“Get her up now! We need to talk.”

“I’m already up.” Allie stood behind John. She looked at me hurt, and I could tell she felt betrayed.

“Tell your husband what you’re planning!” Talon demanded.

“Why don’t you tell him since it’s clear you’re already aware.” Allie glared at him then her angry eyes moved to me.

“Why don’t we sit in the living room?” John said.

We all found places to sit.

“Tell him, Althea, or I will.” Talon wasn’t doing well sitting. He wanted to fix the matter without hesitation.

Allie sighed and looked up at John. “I found some things out about my mother. She was a healer like I was.” She told him about her parents’ story and how her mother died. Then she paused again before telling him the side trip we’d made. “John, I’m like my mother. I can cure the virus.” Her eyes were full of pleading hope that he would consider her willingness to die.

“What do you mean they know a way to cure the virus? It sounds more like you’re going to let them remove a needed part of your brain on a whim.” John’s tone was a quieter version of Talon’s.

Talon looked at Allie. “That’s exactly what she’s thinking, John. But there’s no way to fix it.”

“It would end the virus and probably the war.” Allie continued to beg all of us for understanding.

“It would kill my wife.” John shook slightly. I figured he was attempting to stabilize his emotions as not to send a shock wave to an unsuspecting victim.

“It would be a small price for what it would do. If you thought about it, you would realize that too.” Her voice grew quieter with each word as though she realized she was losing her persuasion.

Allie probably thought she was saving us all and she couldn’t walk away from that. What she wasn’t grasping was that we loved her so much we couldn’t allow her to be the price of our salvation.

“Your life is the biggest price I could pay. We’ll find another way. You aren’t undergoing fatal brain surgery, especially to attempt something that has never been done before.” John grabbed Allie and held her as if attempting to pull her from the idea.

“It’ll work, John. I know it will.” Allie gave it one last shot.

“No, is my final answer, Althea.”

“It’s not your decision!”

“You’d take yourself away from me? The kids?”

“To save you all? Yes.” She pulled back from him and looked at him desperately.

“Take the thought out of your head. I’m with John. It’s not happening!” Talon tightened his jaw.

Allie excused herself to her bedroom, and Talon and I left. Overall, I found the concept terrifying. Jerap told me years ago that Allie was the key to ending the war. The thought of this possibly being what he meant made me sick.

Chapter 24

Althea- October 9, 2018

I was having a hard time forgiving Seraphine for interfering. John and Talon even insisted I undergo a brain scan from Jasper. They wanted Jasper to show me that the idea of using my brain for the cure was impossible. They wanted me to feel confident that Tocric’s plan wouldn’t work. Jasper told me to let the idea go because medically it was a long shot.

Jasper’s opinion reinforced John’s stance against it, and Talon and Seraphine were on his side. I put it on the back burner, realizing something drastic would have to occur for any of them to accept I was the means of ending the war.

Weeks after our big family discussion, John and I barely spoke to each other. He was mad that I would even consider the idea, and I was disappointed he refused to give it any consideration at all. The tension between us was mounting, and eventually we would snap. He was an admiral, and he was supposed to be impartial with choices when it came to the war. Talon and Seraphine were high-ranking officers as well, and they couldn’t bring themselves to be objective either.

We got back from a mission late and didn’t want to wake the twins, so Wren was keeping them until morning. John and I silently made dinner and ate at the table in more silence, barely looking at each other. I cleared the table, and John put the dishes in the dishwasher. After dinner was cleaned up, John went and sat on the couch. My com device lit up. Margo was crying on the other end.

“What’s wrong? Okay. I’ll be right there.” I hung up and went to put my shoes on. “I have to go. Margo broke up with Deron and…”

Before I could finish, John glared at me. “Damn it, Althea! It’s not your obligation to fix everyone!” He nearly yelled. He’d never once yelled at me in our entire lives.

“No, I want to be a good friend. Be there when people need me.”

“I need you! I don’t even care if that’s a hundred percent selfish! I need you.” His tone was the angriest he ever directed my way. “You don’t even think about what it does to our family!”

He stood up to face me, and his face was full of anger and hurt, the same anger and hurt I thought I was avoiding by keeping all of it from him.

“I do. I think exactly what it’ll do to our family. I torture myself with all of it every night.”

“All that contemplation and you arrive at the conclusion that keeping secrets from me is the best thing to do. You hide things from me. Important things. Things a wife shouldn’t hide. Things a best friend shouldn’t. I can’t even trust you not to do something stupid that will tear our family apart. I can’t trust you won’t choose to die without a single word to me.”

“I hide things because I want to spare you. I can’t handle me causing you pain or sadness in any way.”

“I don’t want to be spared, Allie! I’m in this for better or worse. That’s what I vowed long before we ever stood on that beach. What happens to you happens to me. You are every part of me, and I cannot separate that.”

“Maybe you need to. The stakes are higher than our happily ever after.”

“No stakes are higher than that. The only reason I even fight is so you, Elim, and Ava can go to Earth without war constantly ripping us apart. Anything different I can’t live with.”

“But maybe you have to no matter how much I don’t want you to.”

He ran his hands roughly through his hair. “I can’t do this anymore!”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I can’t be here with you right now. I can’t beat my head against a wall, so you get what I’m desperately trying to tell you.” He put his shoes on and stormed past me out the door.

I stood there, shaken by his outburst. It wasn’t like him at all, and he was so angry and hurt. What had I expected, though? My husband to agree to my death as though it wouldn’t rip his heart to shreds? As though he wouldn’t feel what I would feel if he died?

His dying for a purpose wouldn’t soothe the despair and agony losing him would push into my entire being. I debated what to do and having him storm out left me too restless to stay put, but I couldn’t make my way to Margo’s either. I called Lila, who’d recently gotten close to Margo and asked her if she could go.

“Allie, you okay?” Lila asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. If that changes, I’m here.”

I thanked her, then I took a walk. I went to the library and opened up the roof shades, revealing the glass dome. I sat in the recliner and cried. I heard the door open and saw Seraphine standing there.

She came and sat next to me. “Lila called me. Said she was worried about you.”

“Let me guess, Talon told you I was here,” I said between sniffles.

“Yeah, he only looked at your location and didn’t look at a visual. He tries not to do that unless necessary. Anyway, what’s going on?”

“Things aren’t good with John and me. They haven’t been since our family conversation.”

“I’m sorry.” I could hear the guilt in her voice.

“I tried to be angry at you. But I’m so tired. I don’t have the energy to be angry or fight back anymore. I had to tell all of you eventually, but I didn’t know how. I knew all of you would be against it and I didn’t want to hurt you. But there are bigger things than any of us.”

“I know there are. My brain tells me that. But in my heart, there are no bigger things than our family. No bigger stakes than all of us surviving this war. But I should have given you a chance to tell them on your time. I panicked and that was wrong.”

“What’s done is done. I’m disappointed you told, but I understand why you did. I don’t want to fight any of you. I don’t want John to be mad at me. I don’t want to hurt any of you, but I want my family to live. Back when I was pregnant with the twins, I met a Loctorian here. He told me if I didn’t follow through with the procedure Ava would die young either through war or because she’d be faced with the same choice. What choice do I have as her mother? And it’s not just her. It’s everyone. I’m one person, and we are talking millions.” I started crying again, and Seraphine moved close to me and hugged me.

“Why didn’t you tell us all of this?”

“Because to Talon and John, it won’t matter. You know them, and they would never accept it. Please don’t tell them, Seraphine. Please keep this much between us. They are already angry enough with me.”

“I promise. I won’t tell Talon or John anything more.”

We sat there for a while in silence.

Seraphine finally spoke, “Allie, I have to believe there will be another way. I will consider this may be what you have to do, but I need you to consider it might not have to be. I need you to consider we can find another way.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

Seraphine walked me back to my quarters, and John was still not back. I took a shower and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, John was asleep next to me. I got dressed and went to pick up the twins. I took them to the base park. There were real trees and grass growing in it, and the dome overhead simulated blue skies and a sun.

I pushed the twins in the baby swings. My com device went off, and it was a message from John asking me where I was. I hesitated, fearful he was still mad. I took the twins out of the swings to let them run around. I messaged him we were at the park. Ten minutes later, he walked in.

Elim spotted him first and ran for him. “Dada!”

John grabbed him and tossed him in the air. Elim giggled. John put him back down and walked over to stand next to me. He didn’t look angry. We stood there for about fifteen minutes watching the twins play on the toddler portion of the park. Ava wanted to climb back in the baby swing. John helped her in and pushed her.

Fatherhood came naturally to him. I was incredibly lucky to have him but wasn’t sure I let him know that. The twins began to get fussy, and it was time for lunch. We walked back to our quarters, and I made the twins lunch before putting them down for their nap.

I made John his favorite sandwich and was going to set it on the end table next to where he was working on the couch.

John walked over to me. “I’m sorry. What I said last night was true, but the way I said it was wrong.”

“I understand why you said it.”

“The thought of losing you messes with me.”

I nodded. “I know. John, you’re my everything. I’m sorry if I don’t let you know how much I appreciate you. How much I love you and how much I need you.”

“I feel the same way about you; that’s why I can’t take any of what we just fought over. No more secrets. Whatever is going to happen, we handle it together.”

I didn’t know if I could keep that promise to him, so I simply let him pull me closer. The problem was if my sacrifice was unavoidable, it was about more than sparing him from the pain of losing me. It was about sparing him the pain of feeling he chose my death in any way.

After that, things started to slowly shift back to normal between us. I could tell John didn’t fully trust me anymore, but I also knew there was nothing I could do about it.  I didn’t want to leave my family, which made it easy giving a fair shot to the agreement I made with Seraphine. I wouldn’t rush into anything. However, the day might come that I wouldn’t have a choice, and she would have to keep up her end of it.

Chapter 25

Althea- January 12, 2019

“You really have to go to this conference?” John asked. He was making me breakfast before I left on my trip.

I took a sip of my tea. “It’s a healer’s conference. When is the next time I’ll be able to hear all things pertaining to healers?”

“True, but the kids and I will miss you. I do hope it’s relaxing for you. Philip is going with?” He handed me a plate of French toast and scrambled eggs.

“Yeah, I’m not sure he’s as excited as I am, but he’s going.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you’re not traveling across the galaxy alone. Too much can go wrong.”

“It’s a thirty-minute trip tops with folding. I’m not sure how well my com device will work. They don’t have the hyperspace communication set up well in that sector yet. You should be able to check my conference status check in to know I got there okay.”

I showed him the site, and he wrote down the information. It was easier to upload to the mass database than it was to use com devices. A better communication system was in the works, but it was still a few years off. There was talk that eventually we’d be able to talk across light years as though the person on the other end was in the next room. Distorted conversations would be a thing of the past.

John kissed me goodbye from our quarters. He was taking the twins for their immunology treatment. The appointments and treatments occurred regularly since the twins’ birth. Since they were born and living on a space base, their immune systems would develop differently. The biofilters made it so they’d never be exposed to illnesses, as the average child would be. Lack of illness exposure created issues with leaving the base because it created bubble children with no immune systems. The Loctorian and human scientists had found ways to compensate for this and other physical issues of being born in space. The twins received treatments to build their immune system and other body systems more naturally.

When I got to the docking bay, I learned that Philip wouldn’t be joining me after all. I was glad John hadn’t walked me to the docking bay now. He would worry about me traveling alone, which I knew was understandable. A million things could go wrong in space.

I loaded my bag and went over all my pre-trip protocol. All the systems in the shuttle checked out, and I was cleared to leave. I began to set up everything to fold. Folding was a task I usually didn’t do, but I’d done enough sims and accomplished it in the real world a couple of times.

I couldn’t wait to see my friend Mary was going to be attending. She was a healer I’d met on an aide relief mission a while back. We requested to be each other’s roommates, and it was approved. I looked forward to spending a week getting to know her even better.

I put in the coordinates and initiated the fold. I felt the standard pull of my body seeming to collapse within itself and heard a snapping sound that wasn’t typical. One of my monitors beeped, indicating the fold halted prematurely. My shuttle jolted, and I ended up near a dark planet I didn’t recognize. I tried to initiate hyperspace, but it seemed I’d shorted out my navigation system. No navigation system meant I wouldn’t be able to tell my location.

I took deep breaths, trying not to focus on the fact that I could be anywhere. I had a brother who could find me. Worst case I would stay adrift until John noticed I didn’t check-in at the conference. He’d instantly worry enough to contact Talon, who would then figure out where I was.

I was reluctant to send out a distress signal, as I didn’t want to attract the wrong attention. Plus, I wasn’t in dire straits. I had plenty of rations, and my life support systems were fully functioning. I checked my hyperspace phone and there was no signal. I would have to wait. Hours passed, and I began to grow concerned. John should’ve known by now I hadn’t checked in at the conference. Maybe he was busy and hadn’t checked yet.

I pulled down the bed that was against the wall. I would most likely find rescue by morning.

I wasn’t looking forward to facing John, as he’d know I left alone. He’d point out this kind of thing was why I shouldn’t travel light years alone. I’d point out I was completely fine, and he should chill.

A ship’s alarm startled me awake, and I jumped up to look at the main shuttle screen. I was drifting dangerously close to the dark planet I saw earlier. I should have been far enough away to avoid the planetary gravitational pull. I tried to initiate thrusters but was unsuccessful. An invisible force yanked me at a worrisome speed. I glanced at the clock and saw it was now the next morning. John must not have checked on me at all, which was completely unlike him.

Instead of finding myself catapulted to the surface, my ship glided slowly and landed softly. I scanned the atmosphere and the computer indicated I could survive without a bio-suit. I opened the view screen and saw a black surface with large, blue, tube-like structures winding in every direction. There was enough light that I could see everything clearly. The tubes were against the ground like an elaborate root system with no trees present. The root system went on for as far as I could see.

My shuttlecraft door opened, and I startled. Against my better judgment, I cautiously grabbed my weapon and stepped out of my shuttle. The ground felt like Jell-O. I left no footprints, and the surface was smooth. The blue tubes rose and varied in width and height. Some of the tubes reached my ankles while others were wide enough around that they reached my shoulders. There were no plants or signs of life anywhere.

Why are you here? I heard a voice say something to my mind as I did when John was talking to me telepathically.

“I don’t mean to be. I’m having trouble with my ship, and I was pulled onto this planet,” I told the voice.

Planet? What planet?

“The one we are on.”

You are not on a planet. You are on my back.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not sure how to find the planet's surface. I was unaware I landed on your back.” I scanned for a way off the creature I’d disturbed with my impromptu shuttle landing.

There is no planet surface. I am what you perceive to be the planet. I have a natural shielding around my body. I have made a pocket that is sustainable to your life signs and have brought you here to see why you have arrived in my territory. The voice boomed against my head, and I began to worry. If he could make the environment compatible for me, he could kill me the same.

“It was an accident. I was traveling somewhere, and my shuttle malfunctioned. If it were working, I would leave you alone.”

I am leery of strangers. The last strangers I saw injured me greatly, and I am unsure I will recover. I darken more every day.

“You’re hurt? What did they do to you?”

I thought we could live in peace. I have longed for company, and in my loneliness, I took in a species who lost their planet. What I didn’t know is the reason they lost their planet is that they are a wasteful species. A property I produce naturally helped to make their ships go. They tore me apart to get more of the product, and now there isn’t much left of me. I am broken and can’t make more. You are the first living creature I have seen in a very long time.

“I am a healer. I may be able to heal your damage.”

A healer? What does this mean?

“I can fix living beings who are hurt. If you are okay with it, I will try.”

What does this involve?

“I only have to touch you.”

I will allow this, but if you start hurting me, I will make my environment toxic to you.

“That’s reasonable. I won’t hurt you. Only help.” I touched the ground where I stood, and I felt myself connect.

I could sense his injuries, and they were extensive. I worked, repairing each of his wounds that were bleeding and open. As I cleared each of his pathways, he began to illuminate more, revealing an inner light. I started to tire and felt as if I’d healed dozens.

I forced myself to fix all the damage the alien species inflicted upon this poor creature. I made it to the final patch to repair, and I struggled immensely to focus. I resisted the draining, and I knew I was about to burn out. I finished, and what I’d thought was a dark planet was an illuminated white horizon. The blue tubes glimmered neon blue, and a bright silver liquid pulsed through each tube.

You have kept your word. I am as new, as before I met the wasteful species. Thank you! I have never met a creature so kind.

I stumbled to the ground, and my head swirled with intense dizziness. I perceived something wet on my face and touched my cheek. Blood covered my palm. I pulled my com device from my pocket and used the camera to view my reflection. Blood dripped from my eyes and nose. I was in worse shape than any previous burnout I’d experienced.

You are hurt?

I sat on the ground and held my head. “Using my healing ability makes me very tired, and I have to rest.”

You risked yourself to restore me. Why would you do that?

“I’m a healer. It’s what I do. I help others.”

I fell asleep. Usually when I slept from ability burnout, I was completely unconscious. This time, however, I found myself conscious in some manner.

I glanced around and only saw bright light. I died. This must be heaven.

The creature broke my thoughts. Don’t worry. You are still fine. You are sleeping from healing me. I have brought your consciousness here to converse with you. I find you fascinating. Especially you helping me while causing yourself harm. 

“I will recover. Now we both can.”

I am called Eribiusi.

“My name is Althea.”

I like your name, Althea. I am from a race who travels through space. I left the others of my kind long ago to find new ways. My kind steals souls for energy and traps them.

“Steal souls? You mean they kill species?”

Some do. They are impatient. The better of my people wait for the moment a soul leaves their physical body. I have merged with your consciousness, but I have held you to your body as well.

“If this is energy for you, how do you survive without stealing souls?”

I have discovered other energy sources. Nebulae provide adequate nourishment for my kind. I have been searching for my people, but they are not where I last left them. I don’t know where they are. I thought death imminent until you healed me. I stopped searching and stayed where you found me to die. I owe you a great deal. I would like you to stay with me. I won’t keep you here if you do not wish. I feel we could be good for one another. I will preserve you and keep you alive much longer than your species normally lives. In return, you soothe my loneliness.

“I’m honored you want me to stay with you but I can’t. I have a family I need to get back to. I have children. I miss them, and they miss me.”

I see your children. Your daughter is much like you.

“Yes, people say she looks like me.” I realized he must be seeing my memories.

Don’t humans leave their children to have their own lives?

“When they are adults, children leave their parents. My kids are small, and they still need me. Also, I am already paired with another human, and he would be lonely as you are if I was gone.”

I do not wish that on another creature. As I said, the choice is yours. I am sad that you don’t wish to join me, but I understand. I have repaired your ship. Once your body is working again, I will help you go on your way. I will miss you as you say your family would.

“Thank you, Eribiusi. I hope you find someone soon who will stay with you.”

I do as well, but now that you have healed me, I may begin traveling again to find my own kind. I will not forget what you have done for me. Someday maybe I will be able to help you in some way.

I spent more time with Eribiusi as my body recharged. We grew to know each other in great detail. I felt in one sense years had passed and at the same time, only seconds. With no real sense of time, I began to feel he was an old friend I’d known for eons. He knew all about me as I learned about him. He even shared his darkest fear with me. He told me of one of his kind who went through the galaxy hurting species and trapping their consciousnesses. He was known as Boltornis. As he searched for his people, he also actively avoided Boltornis.

Your body is better now, I believe. I will miss you, Althea.

I wondered how much time had passed and feared it was a great deal. When I got back to my ship, I realized only a few hours had passed since Eribuisi first pulled me to the planet. I thought maybe my instruments were off. I felt I spent months with Eribiusi.

“Eribuisi, do you know the real day and time it is?”

Time is slow with me. Not much time has passed for your kind.

“I hope you find a partner. I have enjoyed meeting you.”

Thank you, Althea. I won’t forget you.

I decided to go to my conference, still wondering why John and Talon weren’t here looking for me. I landed my ship and saw a sign that said no second-day check-ins allowed. I came all this way, I would give it a shot anyway.

“I know there are no second-day check-ins, but my shuttle hit a bit of a hiccup,” I told the lady at the information table.

She typed into a computer. “We’re not supposed to make exceptions. What’s your name?”

“Althea Trammel.”

“Oh, you don’t have to check in every day. Your check-in from yesterday counts. Go enjoy the conference.”

I was confused, but I wouldn’t argue. I went to the main session on how to deal with healing burnout. After an hour, the presenters excused us to lunch.

My friend Mary walked toward me. “Althea!”

“I’m glad we found each other. Somehow, I was already checked in, so I don’t have the conference packet or my room key.”

“I have it. I was worried when you didn’t show, and the speakers announced no late check-ins allowed because as healers we need to be more responsible than other abilities. If we can’t make it on time for a conference, then how can we take healing seriously? I think it’s a bunch of hogwash. Stuff happens. Anyway, here’s your packet.” She pulled my conference material out of her bag.

I now knew why John didn’t look for me. Mary had checked me in, and John assumed I’d made it fine. The conference was small, probably about fifty healers. Other abilities had thousands at their conferences, but healing was extremely rare. We mingled, and it felt refreshing to talk about the burden of healing with people who understood.

The time arrived that I needed to return home, and I felt nervous about folding back. I asked one of the docking captains to set the fold up for me, and it went off without a hitch. John was waiting at the docking bay for me with the twins. I bolted for him, so happy to see him and my babies. I felt I was away from them for a long time, but to them, only a few days had elapsed. I hugged John a little longer than usual.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Perfect. I missed all of you. I need to be home.”

“We definitely need you home.”

John kissed me, and I picked up my babies and gave them each a hug and kiss. John took Elim, and I kept Ava as we walked back to our quarters. John already had supper ready, and we sat down and ate together as a family. I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d have with them, but I wouldn’t trade this time with them, not even for immortality.

Chapter 26

Althea- February 20, 2019

I needed to resolve a predicament. John was reviewing war reports on the couch.

I sat next to him. “I need to talk to you. I know I was gone for a week last month for the healing conference, but I have to go and find out what happened to Erin. Natalie emailed me last week and told me up until two months ago she and Erin were emailing each other. Something has changed with Erin, and none of the girls know why.”

“How long?” he asked, not immediately dismissing the idea.

“A few days, maybe a week.”

“I have time off. I would like to go with you. I know this trip is mainly about Erin, and I would stay out of your way when you needed me to.”

I rested my head on his shoulder. “You sure you want to waste your time off on this?”

“My time off is for you and the kids.”

“I wasn’t planning on taking the twins. It wouldn’t be enjoyable for them, and I need to focus on Erin.”

“I figured. I think I need some alone time with their mother, even if it’s just the shuttle ride there and back.”

“Okay. I’d like that.”

“It’s settled then. We can leave in three days. I’ll put in the request.”

I was excited John wanted to come with me. I didn’t see enough of him anymore. He’d proven himself way too useful to the Loctorians, and they took advantage of his skills. John got us a week off, and I figured that was good. I wouldn’t be able to handle too much time away from Ava and Elim. I would be anxious to get back to them before the week was out, but this trip was important. We stood at the docking bay, getting ready to board our shuttle. Seraphine and Talon were seeing us off with the twins in tow.

“The twins are going to have a blast. Ice cream every morning and bed by midnight. We got this down,” Talon teased. He smiled at my furrowed brow.

Seraphine laughed. “We all know you’re too responsible to allow those shenanigans.”

“That’s before I became an uncle. Now I feel it’s my responsibility to teach them how to give their mother some of the mischief she gave me.”

Seraphine turned to me. “They’ll be fine. I promise.”

I hugged my babies. “Call me if they need anything at all. No matter the time. And remember Elim needs his blue puppy, and Ava likes two stories and…”

John pulled at my arm. “They’ve watched them before, Allie. They can handle it.”

I followed John into the shuttle. He closed the door, and we sat in our seats for launch.

“You don’t think Talon’s really giving them ice cream for breakfast?”

John chuckled. “If he does, I’m sure you’ll find out when they fail kindergarten from the long-term impact it will cause.”

After my last fiasco, I let John handle the controls. I still hadn’t told him about what happened when I went to the conference. He still thought Philip had gone with me. I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up after our explosive fight that partly involved the fact that I keep secrets from him.

When we were kids, I told him everything. He was the first person I wanted to tell anything to, but that was before I experienced how much he loved me. Once I felt the depth of what he felt for me, I knew how badly I could hurt him, and it scared me because of the degree in which I loved him. I wanted to protect him from pain, and I would take all of it on myself if that were the needed consequence. At the same time, I wanted him to know everything, to share all I had with him.

“You’re feeling some pretty serious things over there. You worried about Erin?” John sensed my anxiety but didn’t guess it was about him.

“Yeah, a little. John?” I stopped as my anxiety halted me.

John set down his tablet. “I know that tone. What unexpected and upsetting thing do you need to tell me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Allie, when are you going to learn I’m a safe place to share secrets?”

“I used to believe that. You were the safest place I could pour my heart out. But now I’m scared. It’s different now.”

“You’re right. It should be easier to tell me things.”

“Yet it’s not. It’s harder since, you know.”

“Your capture?” he asked.

“Yeah. I keep a piece of glass between us. I try to keep things transparent but keep you from truly getting close to my buried things.”

“Maybe it’s time to break that glass and trust me that the one person you can expect to care for the fragile things inside of you is me.”

I glanced down at the console in front of me, pretending it held more than a blank screen. “I don’t want you to get mad at me, but secrets make me tired.”

John reached over and grabbed my hand. “Then don’t keep secrets. Let me share some of your exhaustion so you can gain some of your old energy back. The energy I miss. If I get mad, I promise I won’t stay mad; it’s what I feel in certain moments because I love you. But my love for you is already greater than anything I could be angry about.”

“You know when I went to the conference? I didn’t tell you everything.”

I told him the entire story.

“You shouldn’t have gone without Philip. You are terrible at navigation,” he said.

“True. I know I should have told you sooner,” I admitted.

“Yeah, like as soon as the alien creature let you go. What if the creature had kept you anyway? Where would I be then?”

“I’m sorry, John.”

“I guess maybe we’re making progress since you told me before someone else had to. I know when the Khalbytians captured you, it changed you, and you are the strongest person I know for making it back from that. But you don’t have to be so strong you carry everything alone. It’s in my actual job description as a husband and best friend that I share your worst, not just the better. I want to feel your pain so I can lessen it.”

“That’s the point, though. I want to lessen yours. That’s the only reason I keep secrets from you, because they will hurt you.”

“You hurt me more when you keep secrets.” He kissed my head, and I touched my lips to his.

We had another day to get there. We decided not to fold and take our time there. We curled up to each other in bed. Our connection flowed through my entire body. We were so immersed in each other that when we parted, I was no longer complete. I pressed myself as close as I could be to John. I shivered, and he pulled the blanket around us. We slept until the shuttle alerted us that we were two hours away. We stayed buried in the covers, entangled until the computer told us we had an hour to get it together.

We kissed intensely as the water flowed around us in the shower. We took a longer shower than we should have and hurried to get dressed. I braided my long hair since I wouldn’t have time to dry it.

The institution Erin lived at was on an island. The island itself was tropical with yellow palm trees with pink leaves. The bark was furry. Blue and red pebbles covered the ground. The happiness the ground color boasted gave false promises for what lay ahead. A dark grey structure rose in front of us, looking drab and eerie.

An alien with short, spiked, brown hair and turquoise skin greeted us. I told her who we were there to see, and she told me to have a seat because visiting hours weren’t for twenty minutes. John and I sat in a couple of folding chairs made of a rubber-like substance.

We waited until another alien looking the same as the one at the front desk came and got us. The alien led us down a concrete hallway into a large room where many different species of aliens sat quietly in chairs. Most stared at the wall or the ground. A man with an unkempt beard sat in the corner and began screaming. More of the turquoise aliens ran in and injected something into his neck, and he went back to staring at the wall. I grabbed John’s hand tightly, and he pulled me a little closer for comfort. My heart sunk the further we walked, as this looked very much like Erin was still captured.

Another turquoise alien walked up to us. “Admiral and Mrs. Trammel, we are so pleased to have you here. I’m the director of this facility. After that donation you sent us to set up that new wing, I’m thrilled to show you the progress we’ve made.”

I shook my head. “We haven’t made a…”

“We’ll be glad to see it,” John interrupted.

I scrunched my face at John, but he wouldn’t look at me. The director pushed a code into a keypad, which released the large metal door in front of us. The opening of the door led us to a tropical resort, as aliens were bathing in the sun and sipping drinks. These patients looked like they were on vacation.

I pointed toward the door we’d just walked through. “Why are the ones back there kept in such a sad place?”

“Those patients require closer care. We haven’t had the resources to upgrade that area yet. I’m sure you want to see the girl. We thought we were going to have to move her to the lockdown unit, but she seems to be doing better on the regimen we gave her.”

What’s going on? I sent the message to John’s mind.

I’ve been sending checks to make sure Erin received the best care.

What?! And you just gave me a big spiel about not keeping secrets.

We can talk later.

We carried on our telepathic conversation as the director led us down a bright orange hallway. He unlocked a room, and there she sat at a desk. She had a computer and a queen-size bed, and the walls were a soft blue color. I ran to Erin and hesitated. She didn’t even look at me.

I looked her in the eyes. “Erin, it’s Althea. Do you remember me?” She said nothing and continued to stare off with glazed eyes. I turned to the director. “What did you do to her?” Fury ignited in me at her catatonic state.

“We have saved her life. Without her regimen, she attempts to hurt herself.” The director glanced at John as if my anger confused him.

My eyes fixated on the director, and my cheeks grew hot. “Why would she want to live like this?! I would hurt myself too.”

“I promise you she is well taken care of and lacks for nothing.”

I attempted to steady my breathing. “She lacks everything. This is no life. I’m taking her back with me.”

“That is not advisable. Erin has to be on her regimen.”

“Give me her medications and care notes. I’ll have my doctor look them over and decide the best course of action.”

“Allie, we can’t take her from here,” John argued.

I glared at him. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“We can’t allow you to take her,” the director objected.

“Get me a wheelchair, or I will go right to the Loctorian council myself. One of Erin’s close friends is the daughter to Killreth, the highest council member. How do you think she will react when I tell her about this?”

The director ordered staff to bring a wheelchair, and they placed her in the chair and strapped her in. They gave me a month’s worth of her medications and a tablet with her chart on it. I wheeled her to our shuttle and without me asking John carried her in for me and put her on a medical bed. John set the navigation for the base.

“Allie,” John said cautiously.

“Not now. Would you please fold so I can get my friend back to Jasper?”

John listened, and I sent Jasper report on Erin. Medics met us and helped transport Erin to sickbay.

“They have her on enough meds to tranquilize an elephant,” Jasper said, reading her chart.

“Can you help her?” I pleaded with him.

“Mental illnesses aren’t my area, but I know someone who can help her. They have a lot of experience dealing with patients with extreme trauma and helping them learn to function again. She’ll be given help for all of her, and if medication has to be used, it will be done at a level she can still function.”

Jasper said he’d make the arrangements and he’d start slowly weaning down her meds with a consult from his psychologist friend. I walked back to my quarters and saw John reading reports, even though he could still technically have the rest of the week off.

I started right in. “How could you not tell me you were sending money to that place?”

“I wanted to surprise you. The facility said Erin would get the best treatment. What we saw wasn’t what I was promised. I should have gone and seen for myself, but life got busy after the twins were born. After you came back from the colony and told me about her, I knew you couldn’t check on her right away. I located where she was and called the director. He insisted that any money I sent would be used to give her the best treatments and quality of life. She was previously a charity case, so she was only given minimal care. It’s my fault for not confirming what he told me.”

“No, it’s my fault. I should have gone and seen her sooner.”


Jasper got Erin into the facility he told me about, and they would help wean her safely from any unnecessary medications. I took her myself, and it looked like a place of healing. The last place only felt it was their job to keep her alive at any expense. Erin sat in a comfy recliner in her new cheery room. yellow painted walls brightened a flowery quilt on her bed. A slight Jasmine scent flowed from a vent in one of the walls.

I sat on my knees in front of her. “I love you, Erin. I know the pain inside of you is something you want to end. Let these people show you that the pain doesn’t have to be who you are.”

Her eyes moved to meet mine, and I knew she was slowly coming back. It scared me that this might not be enough for her, but it was the best I could give her. John had meant well in his gesture, and in reality, he’d done more for her than I had since the time I’d learned she was at a facility. When I got back from taking Erin, I was anxious to see my friends and family. I walked into my quarters, where John watched a movie.

I kissed and hugged him. “Thank you for caring about Erin. I think I took it wrong at first. I thought you did this big thing behind my back, but instead, you were doing something for me without me asking you to or getting any credit.”

We sat on the couch together, finishing his movie. I married a good man, a man whose love for me was rare and unfaltering. I heard Elim crying from his crib, indicating his nap was over.

John stood up. “I’ll get him. You pick the next movie.”

When he returned, he had both the twins in his arms.

“Mama!” Elim squirmed out of John’s arms and ran for me. I placed my boy in my lap, and he cuddled against me.

“You find a movie?” John asked.

“Let’s go out instead. I miss Talon and Seraphine since we missed Sunday dinner last time. Let’s invite the whole team. I miss them all.”

I called everyone, and they accepted. We were able to get a last-minute table at one of the base restaurants. John and I walked down the hall, holding hands as the twins excitedly bounded in front of us. We sat eating dinner with our family. I looked around at Gabriel and Lila holding hands until their dinner arrived. Morgan and Colin debated insignificant topics and lovingly insulted each other.

Margo arrived with Deron, and they were engaged now. Deron laughed at something Margo said, and I knew they would have a happy life together. Talon and Seraphine were lost in each other’s eyes, still so much in love after all these years together. John cut up Elim’s food and handed Ava her cup. As we laughed and talked, I knew what I told Erin was true for me. My pain wasn’t who I was anymore. It would always be there for me to struggle with, but it no longer defined me, and I was living again. Everyone sitting at this table with me had shown me healing was possible.

I hoped for Erin the place she was at would show her the same thing. I checked on her for some time after I left her at the place of healing. The staff at the healing center kept me up to date on her progress. Finally, I got an email from her.

It read: Althea, thank you for helping me. I’m still not sure I want to exist, but I’m starting to see it as a possibility. -Erin

I smiled and wiped the tears her note brought.

Chapter 27

Althea- March 24, 2020

The twins were two and a half, and I was excited to take them on their first real vacation. Lila and Gabriel were getting married on Earth by the Rocky Mountains. Our entire team was in their wedding, even the twins. Gabriel was from Colorado, and Lila liked the idea of a mountain wedding. Lila chose a park called the Garden of the Gods as their wedding venue. Spring was blossoming in Colorado, and the weather was staying in the seventies.

The Colorado forecast called for perfect skies when we arrived a week early to set things up. John and I were taking three weeks off. His parents were meeting us after the wedding to take the twins on their first camping trip. Camping was something I’d done with John’s family at least once a year growing up. Ava and Elim were at a fun age to start experiencing family trips.

Gabriel’s grandma was the cutest grandma I’d ever seen. She kept her long black hair in a bun and wore a pink sweater everywhere she went. Gabriel locked arms with her when we went out to make sure she didn’t fall.

Gabriel’s uncles roasted a lamb for the rehearsal dinner. His aunts taught Seraphine, Lila, and me how to fix a few authentic Greek dishes before we sat at a giant table and feasted. When dinner was over, I went to the front porch of the house Gabriel had grown up in to take in the crisp Colorado air.

I gently swung on the porch swing, feeling the fresh breeze brush across my face. Gabriel's house backed up to a towering blue mountain. Snow cascaded down the mountain top and pine trees descended to the base. Gabriel came out to take some things to his aunt’s car when he saw me sitting on the porch swing.

“John was wondering why you weren’t back there dancing,” he said on his way back to the house.

“It’s so pretty here. I want to take all of it in for a while.” I changed the subject as I always did when people brought up me not dancing. I knew my team noticed I didn’t dance anymore, but they never pressed the issue.

“There’s nowhere else like Colorado, that’s for sure. I wanted to tell you, I found my mom, and she is coming to my wedding tomorrow. You telling me about your dad made me think it was time to mend our relationship, or at least give it a shot.”

“That’s amazing, Gabriel!”

“Yeah, I figure if it doesn’t work out, I’m no worse off. No matter what happens, it’s time to forgive her.”

Gabriel sat next to me on the porch swing, and we took in the breathtaking Colorado wilderness. The air had a dry freshness to it, and I loved the smell of pine needles. I scooted closer to him, and he put his arm around me.

I rested my head on his shoulder. “You ready for tomorrow?”

“More than. I’m so ready to spend the rest of my life with Lila. You know, accepting that movie invitation from you all those years ago was the best decision of my life. It only took me a few years to realize that.”

I smiled at Gabriel’s words. For so long bringing him in with me had been a huge regret. Life turned a dark road into one he would travel again if given a second chance.


The next morning Seraphine and I helped Lila get ready. Deep red roses made up her stunning bouquet. She told us that there were a few alien species she would’ve loved to have included, but it was against protocol to bring otherworldly plants to Earth. Lila looked stunning in her long-sleeved, lace dress. A lengthy train followed behind her, and tiny pink flowers were stitched nicely into her veil.

Ava’s eyes lit up when she saw Lila. “Aunt Lila, you’re a princess!”

Lila smiled and pulled Ava onto her lap. Lila grabbed her phone and took a selfie with Ava, then showed Ava the picture of them in similar dresses. “See Ava, we match. You’re a princess too.”

Ava beamed, then Seraphine called her over. Seraphine placed flowers in Ava’s hair, which was a task she did well. She said it was her job for two months one time but didn’t give me further details.

Gabriel’s grandma walked in and hugged Lila. “You make my Gabriel’s life more beautiful. For that I love you.”

We lined up outside. In front of us, jagged rock formations rose from the ground, painted in oranges and reds. Pine trees and mountains made up the rest of the expanse and gave a breathtaking backdrop for Lila and Gabriel’s ceremony. Gabriel helped his grandma to her seat before taking his place at the front.

The twins captivated the room as they walked down the aisle. Everyone smiled and commented on how adorable they were. Ava proudly held her little basket of flower petals and Elim his pillow. Ava placed each pedal, one at a time, gently on the ground. They made it to the front and waited nicely. John and I were next, followed by Talon and Seraphine.

Morgan, Deron, and Colin walked down the aisle with three of Lila’s childhood friends. Lila appeared at the back of the church. Gabriel’s eyes welled up as Lila glided toward him. They shared a look, awestruck with each other, and I found avoiding tears impossible.

The wedding reception filled with boisterous voices and lively dancing. John twirled Ava around, and she giggled as they danced together. Ava could do no wrong in John’s eyes. His little girl had his heart, and I knew she always would. Elim hid behind my leg, about spent from the interaction. I picked him up, and he leaned his head on my shoulder. I sheltered my sweet baby boy from the crowd that overwhelmed him. John’s parents arrived to take the twins back to the hotel for a nap.

Gabriel caught my attention. He danced with a woman I hadn’t met. Lila confirmed it was his mother, and I was happy she showed up. The last dance he gave was to his grandma, and it made the entire night. Around midnight, Lila and Gabriel left for their honeymoon. Our team stayed behind to help the family clean up, and it was well past three when we finally climbed into bed.

John’s parents took the twins to the zoo the next morning so John and I could get extra sleep. We made use of the in-room hot tub. I relaxed into John’s arms, feeling the warm water swirl around us. After a long soak, we went to brunch and did some shopping. We met John’s family and the twins for dinner. I was breathing in every second of this family trip.

We spent the next week hiking, camping, and fishing. I carried Ava on my back in a pack, and John carried Elim the same. His parents were still in pretty good shape, which allowed us to hike up most of a mountain before the week was out. John, Mike, and Theodore took the twins fishing while Barb and I stayed behind to talk.

“Motherhood suits you, Althea,” Barb said as we sat around the campfire.

“Thank you. I learned from the best.” I smiled at her so she would know I was acknowledging the significant role she played in raising me.

“Your mother would be so proud of you too. I remember the day you were born. She and I went shopping and got our nails done. I was experiencing the baby blues and was exhausted. John was three months old, and your mother recognized the overwhelmed look on my face. Mike was away on business. She arranged for babysitting, and I fretted because I couldn’t leave John. She finally convinced me we needed a spa day. It was the best thing she could have done for me.

“We were halfway through our pedicure when her water broke. She panicked because you weren’t due for another eight weeks. I drove her to the hospital, and we barely made it on time. You came out screaming. The nurse told your mom not to worry because a baby that feisty has fight in her.”

I’d never heard my birth story before, and I was grateful Barb told me. We continued talking, and I missed the wisdom this woman provided to me.

“Mommy! I caught fish!” Elim proudly announced, pointing to the bucket John carried.

“That’s awesome, baby!” I squeezed him as he climbed onto my lap.

We fried the fish and showed Elim and Ava the awesomeness of s’mores. We spent the rest of the evening around the campfire telling stories. John and I got the twins to bed then rejoined his parents and brother at the fire.

Tomorrow we would have to leave, pretending we were a typical family, but these memories were priceless. I had new family pictures to frame. I sat in front of John, watching the orange and red fire dance around. He wrapped his arms around me, and I kissed him. I caught his parents smiling at us. His mom told me many times that knowing John was happy was the best thing a mother could know.

We told more stories, laughed, and roasted marshmallows before finally relenting to the call of our tents. We were leaving Colorado back to Saturn base, and John’s family was leaving for Maine. We ate one last lunch together at a little cafe in a mountain town. Sadness settled through me as we drove separate directions, and they disappeared from the rearview mirror. I was grateful we gained memories of being a family for a week with nothing else getting in the way.

We enjoyed our third week being a family back on base. We clung to the lazy mornings of the twins climbing in bed with us to wake us up. They each picked one of us to jump on, and we tickled them. They laughed as John put each of them under one of his arms and zoomed them to the breakfast table. I took the twins to Seraphine’s child art class, and they made little clay shapes. Elim said his blue blob was a puppy and Ava said hers was Talon and Seraphine’s cat Shakespeare.

On the last night before leave was up, John and I got the twins to bed early. We were having to leave for the next mission early enough that Wren would be staying here so we wouldn’t have to get the kids up so early. John and I shared a shower. He rested me on his hips as the water poured around us. I could feel what John felt, as he could with me all the time. The depth in which he loved me ignited a fullness in me, knowing every part of me was loved by my husband. This component left an untouchable depth to our intimacy.

Morning arrived, as indicated by the annoying alarm on my com device. I checked on the twins and watched them sleep. When we returned, I needed to start planning their third birthday. As I walked down our hall to leave, it reminded me that I also needed to hang the two new family pictures on the wall when I got back. One was of the four of us at the wedding, and another was us with John’s family camping. They’d go nicely next to the one from the twins’ first birthday and the one of my dad with the twins.

I missed my babies already and thought about how fast the last three years disappeared. One day they would start to understand that their innocence was a mask glimpsing only a fraction of reality. I dreaded that day. I wanted to keep them from that day for as long as possible. Our team boarded our ship. Once we ran checks and diagnostics, we were ready to leave, and Morgan released the docking clamps.

Talon maneuvered our ship to an ice planet. We could survive the atmosphere, but we’d have to bundle well to stave off the freezing temperatures. Massive glaciers loomed through the landscape, and the ice appeared to have an orange hue to it rather than the Earth’s blue. Several large rivers snaked into various formations and spilled into massive frozen lakes.

John grabbed my coat off the rack and helped me put it on. He zipped it in a small gesture of showing me love in any way he could. He was good at the little things of life, making me feel safe and loved. This amazing man was my entire life from my very first years. My life was full, having never felt life without knowing he was the other part of my soul. He kissed me, and we finished putting on our gear. We both turned our focus to the mission.

Chapter 28

Talon- April 14, 2020

Seraphine could look gorgeous in anything, even the large parka she was suiting up with. I could flip a switch and go into mission mode, but for the moment, I would enjoy the view of my wife’s lively hair disappearing into the fur lining of her hood.

The Loctorian council wanted us to retrieve two boxes from an icy cavern. They were a level one priority. A race known as the Mimics guarded the boxes. I figured that wasn’t their formal name but a nickname that had stuck. We wore specialized boots that helped us trudge through the snow. We made it to a vast forest of glaciers that seemed to reach the top of the atmosphere. We passed through tunnels in the glaciers.

We wanted to maintain the element of surprise, which meant we would park a few kilometers from the coordinates we had for the Mimics. We relied on our scanners to locate the cavern, as an unknown source impeded my tracker sense. Morgan and Colin remained at the ship in case we’d need an immediate pickup. John tried to keep us in teams of two at all times for safety reasons. After hiking a good part of the afternoon, we decided to make camp inside one of the more extensive tunnels.

Our tents carried built-in temperature control, which would keep us warm through the night. Once camp was set up, we gathered around the outside heaters to enjoy each other’s company. Althea kept her nose stuffed in a book like usual. She was far from the little girl whose nightmares I used to comfort. Instead, I’d brought her into a nightmare centered in reality. Over the last few years, she’d endured so much trauma that would’ve bested even the strongest of people. She hadn’t said anything else about her plan to die. I hoped that meant she’d relented the idea. We lounged together for a while longer, then John called sleeping hours. He and Althea went to their tent and Seraphine and I to ours. The others dispersed to their various assignments.

The next morning, we packed camp with the efficiency years as a team had brought us. We trudged through the ice until we saw an intricately carved building in the side of one of the ice mountains. Detailed patterns of flowers and unknown animals were carved into the ice. Lila ran her fingers over some of the flowers.

“Seraphine?” John nodded toward the frost castle, and she knew. Her eyes went empty.

“There are several rooms on each side of a large hall. They all seem empty. Wait, something is glowing ahead. A doorway, there is green light lit in the doorway. Mirrors. Maybe hundreds.” Seraphine screamed and fell into the snow. Her eyes stilled as though she was still projecting, but she was unresponsive.

“Seraphine?!” I shook her, thinking it might herd her back to her body. Seraphine remaining stuck in a projection had never happened before. The whole point of sending her ahead was because she was safe, and her essence would be unharmed since she wasn’t physically there.

“Seraphine?!” When I tried to track her, all I saw was her body in the snow.

John closed his eyes. He tried to contact her telepathically. “I can’t find her.”

Allie checked for a pulse. “She’s alive.”

“We have to get inside,” John stated the obvious.

I wanted to blast my way in and not care about who was on the other side of the wall. John ordered Deron and Lila to take Seraphine’s body back to the ship. I struggled between wanting to stay with her physical presence and tearing down the ice castle to find the real her.

“Get a way in or this wall is coming down.” I didn’t care that John outranked me. This one was a demand.

“We can’t let the Mimics know we are here,” John said sternly.

Allie pulled her scanner out gathering information on the ice walls. “I don’t think we have a choice. We don’t have time to wait. We need to find a way to get Seraphine back to her body.”

John pointed to the left of us. “We’ll have to hike around the side and see if we can find a way in.”

“Screw this!” I yelled.

I took out my proton gun and blew a large hole. John scowled at me, but Allie didn’t hesitate. She was halfway through the opening I blasted.

Gabriel shook his head. “I guess we found a door.”

Inside we discovered Seraphine’s description accurate, all except the glowing green doorway that led to a million mirrors. No matter how far back we proceeded, nothing other than our night vision goggles illuminated our pathway.

John scanned our surroundings. “I guess we’re going to have to do a room by room sweep.”

I wanted to pummel John for not having a more efficient means of locating Seraphine. I knew that was partially unfair, but I didn’t care.

“Or you could all join her,” a screeching voice echoed above us.

“Where is she?!” I bellowed at the voice.

“Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?” An indeterminable amount of voices flooded our ears, which caused us to squeeze our hands tightly against our ears. Mimics, I presumed.

John placed his finger to his lips, indicating I shut up. We made it to the end, and there was a room that appeared to be reflecting light. Not green but still light, and there it was, the room of a million mirrors.

Remain quiet. We can’t give the Mimics anything to repeat. John transmitted the message into our brains as to not flaw his reasoning.

We kept our weapons out and walked in a straight line. With so many mirrors, it would be difficult to find each other again. After walking for what must have been close to a mile in that single room, we came across two short, square columns and on top were the boxes. Briefing informed us that many teams had tried and failed to convince the Mimics to release the boxes.

Other teams told us the Mimics were only holding the boxes for the right person, a person able to pass a test of virtue. I fathomed that wouldn’t be my forte. As we made it to the front, the screeching voice called out. We couldn’t see who it belonged to, but they sounded as though they were invisible in front of us.

“What do you seek?” The voice blasted us.

“We’re trying to find our friend who we know entered this room right before she went missing.” I could tell from his voice John was in diplomat mode. He’d become pretty skilled at negotiations, and it was an extra sense to him now.

“Yes, the projector. We don’t like deceptions. We have trapped your projector in a mirror. Pass our test, and you may have her back as well as the boxes you have come to steal.”

John shot me a look. I knew he could sense I was contemplating blasting the room. The main reason I didn’t was that we didn’t know where Seraphine was. She shouldn’t be able to be harmed in projected form, but they shouldn’t have been able to trap her either.

The voice continued, “Each of you must try the test. You have four chances, as each of you will get the chance to pass. Only one of you needs to pass, as the boxes are for one person alone. You are to step up to the mirror between the boxes and peer inside. You cannot tell what you see inside until all the tests are complete. You choose to speak, and the test terminates with no further chances.”

The other mirrors all consisted of round glass with plain glass legs, but the mirror at the front had a brown frame with intricate designs that matched the outside castle walls. John went first. He seemed mesmerized with what he was seeing. All we could see was his reflection. Part of me thought I should pull him from his trance.

John fell back, and the Mimics screeched loudly of his failure over and over. Gabriel attempted next with the same results. They seemed fine, but as usual, I wasn’t letting Allie go near the hypnotic mirror without me trying it first. I knew the thought would have annoyed her if I told her. She’d remind me she was a grown woman with children and far from a little girl who needed her big brother’s protection.

I approached the mirror. Only my reflection peered back at me, but then I saw Seraphine in the mirror. I turned around, and she wasn’t there. I gazed back in the mirror, and there she was, hitting mirror after mirror, frantically trying to free herself. I beat my fist into the mirror, breaking it. The mirror returned whole again, and the Mimics blared my failure.

Allie cautiously approached the mirror and fell into a trance for a few minutes. She abruptly turned to the boxes, and there was no screeching of failure. She picked up the boxes and put them in her pack.

“Now go. Your friend is back at her body. Althea, you have a great task ahead of you of which millions will benefit. We have waited for you, as your gift will save our people as well.”

Our coms didn’t work, and my tracking was still hazy. We didn’t have any other choice but to trust their word about Seraphine’s restoration.

As soon as we made our way out of the castle, I radioed the ship. “Morgan, tell me Seraphine is fully there.”

She answered for him, “I’m fine, Talon.”

I took a deep breath. Deron piloted the ship to us since stealth was no longer needed. When we climbed on the ship, I launched at Seraphine, wrapping my arms fully around her.

“Glad to see you too, Ace,” she said.

On the trip back I saw John watching Allie as he used to before they were together. I wondered what Allie saw in the mirror. I hoped the Mimics hadn’t confirmed that Allie needed to follow her plan.

Chapter 29

Althea-April 15, 2020

The Mimics acknowledged my sacrifice was needed. They were long ago victims of the Khalbytian biological warfare. The Mimics found the ice planet and discovered it slowed down the spread of the virus, so the few that were left found a way to camouflage themselves using high tech mirror tricks.

The camouflage was needed since the planet was cold and ideal for Khalbytian infiltration. Inside the cubes were the last known remaining light minerals. Tocric hid the cubes with the Mimics to keep the mineral safe until he could find a high-tiered healer to complete the cure. The combination of the light mineral, healer’s core, and an RNA editing compound created the antidote.

The core and the RNA editor would do the work, but the light mineral would concentrate all of it to ensure there was enough cure for everyone and there would be enough to be stored for any future outbreaks. By unknown means, the Loctorian council discovered the Mimics were hiding boxes that most likely contained the last of the light mineral. Tocric kept them in the dark, afraid they would waste the last of the mineral.

He’d also avoided letting them know the importance they held for the cure as to not repeat the wrong Loctorians attempting to create the cure and failing. He was avoiding a repeat of what occurred with my mother. Team after team was met with failure as the Loctorian council attempted to gain access to the boxes. After discovering I was a compatible match, Tocric set things up for me to be included in a mission to retrieve them from the Mimics.

He’d told the Mimics they would know the one by her eyes, as they would match the color of the light mineral. The Mimics imparted this knowledge into me as I gazed into the mirror. They wanted me to have full disclosure for the choice I needed to make. My family was unaware that they were aiding the plot they were so adamantly against.

I was to hold onto the boxes until it was time for their use. Tocric arranged to make the council think we delivered the boxes. They were disappointed to find the boxes they received held a fake mineral, and they believed it to be a sham produced by the Mimics to waste our time. We returned home. I smiled as I saw Seraphine asleep in Talon’s arms. I was happy he’d found her, and he wouldn’t be alone. He would be fine once I was gone.

I hoped that for John, the twins would be enough. It would be all too easy for him to slip into a deep trench of heartache as my father had. With a little push, I knew he could find a way to cope and maybe even find another life partner. That thought brought assuring pangs of sadness. I wanted him to be happy, but I so much loved being his happiness.

With so many months passing, I figured John felt our family was safe from me making that decision. I understood his stance against it. I would give anything to ensure he lived.

I read the twins a story and kissed them. I tucked them in tight. John arrived to see through his usual dismantling of the bedtime routine. The twins giggled as he pretended to be a tickle monster, chasing each of them around their beds.

I watched, suddenly overwhelmed with sadness which I instantly regretted. John took his attention off the twins and glanced up at me, confused. He quickly tucked them back in. I heard him come up behind me as I’d fled to the kitchen to pretend I desperately needed to finish the supper dishes.

“What is it, Allie?”

I hated that nothing wouldn’t suffice as an answer. John turned me around to face him and studied me. I knew he might see my sad longing; therefore, I closed my eyes and placed my head on his chest. I wanted to freeze this night of normality, of bedtime routines, and of being a family.

“I won’t let them have you. You know this, Allie.” He held me tight, as though he was desperately willing me safe.

“I know.” And I did. I knew he would annihilate any force that sought to bring me harm. He would fight until his last breath if it meant I was safe. He would face any consequence if it meant his wife would not die. That’s why, when the moment arrived, he couldn’t know until there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“I lived in the empty darkness that was life without you once. The only aspect that kept me sane was that I knew you would eventually come back to me. I could never go back there, especially knowing it would be forever,” he said near tears.

My heart felt broken. I wanted there to be another way. I wanted to go to Earth with my entire family and live a boring, uneventful, wonderful life. I knew if John, Talon, Seraphine, and the rest of our team had a say, I would live to the end of this war. But that idea wasn’t something allotted to my fate. Their love for me made it impossible for the impartiality I needed them to have.

John led me to bed. With me now holding onto the last of the known light mineral, I would soon have to call Tocric to complete the surgery. I needed to think it through. One wrong move and Tocric could find himself on the receiving end of two extremely protective men.

July 9, 2020

About three months had passed since the Mimic mission. I made the twins pancakes for breakfast, which they happily indulged in. I set to work planning their third birthday, which was occurring next week. The twins were old enough now that I could ask them what they wanted.

Ava knew immediately. “I want a Shakespeare birthday.”

Ava was obsessed with Talon’s cat and would chase him around every time she saw him. He was less than thrilled at her quest to impede him, but she loved him endlessly.

“I want a dinosaur birthday,” Elim said quietly.

I searched the database for ideas on cat and dinosaur birthdays. I would have to ask Jay, the baker on level one twelve, if he could make a Shakespeare and a dinosaur cake for me. It was kind of short notice. I dressed the twins, and we walked to the bakery so I could talk to Jay in person. If he couldn’t, I would be attempting cakes that would be lucky to resemble living anythings.

When we walked in, Jay greeted us warmly. “Althea, Ava, and Elim! A couple of you have a birthday next week.”

Ava and Elim jumped up and down with their hands in the air. Jay had made their cakes for the last two years and was probably wondering why I hadn’t contacted him yet.

“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’ve been pretty spacey lately. I was wondering if you could squeeze in a couple of cakes? I know it’s last minute so really as simple as you need them to be is fine,” I said.

Jay showed me his book. “I have you penciled in right here.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, Admiral Trammel stopped by a few weeks ago and asked me to leave a couple of spots open for you.”

“I guess he knows me well.”

I explained to Jay what the twins wanted and handed him a couple of pictures of Shakespeare for reference. He asked if the twins could have a cookie, and I nodded. Ava and Elim were celebrities wherever we went. We were stopped at least a dozen times, so people passing by could high five, or hug them, or talk to them. We walked in the front door, and John was home.

“Daddy!” The twins yelled in unison.

They ran for him, and he grabbed them both into a big hug. I was pretty sure there couldn’t be a more doting father. Watching him with our babies was my favorite view, and it never grew old.

John placed the twins down and gave me a kiss. “I was wondering where you all were off to.”

“I realized I forgot to order cakes, and Jay informed me you already reserved our spot. Thank you by the way. I completely spaced it out.”

“I knew you would get to it eventually.”

I scanned the fridge. “What do you want for lunch?”

“Why don’t we go out to the sandwich shop? I have to leave in a couple of hours, and it’d be fun to have a little time out as a family.”

“How long this time?” I tried not to sound too disappointed. John had important responsibilities.

“A few days is all. I’ll be back for their birthday.”

I sighed. “I know your title requires I share you a lot, but I dislike it.”

“I know. Won’t be long.”

The twins were excited because John always let them get ice cream after they ate their sandwiches. I attempted a protest due to the morning of pancakes and cookies, but John shrugged and reminded me that it was a tradition. The shop owners were also musicians. The man played his fiddle and the woman sang Celtic music.

“Dance with me, Daddy.” Ava pleaded, and John couldn’t resist her.

It took years for me to get him on the dance floor and all it took for Ava was one pleading glance. Elim climbed on my lap, and we watched them dance. John twirled Ava around, and she danced on his feet. He picked her up and spun her around in his arms to the rhythm of the music. I felt it wasn’t possible to love this amazing man more. But when I saw him dancing with our daughter, I felt my heart might overflow, unable to contain all I felt for him. He told us goodbye from the cafe.

John gave me a quick kiss. “It’ll only be a couple of days.”

“Be careful, John. Please.”

“It’s only an alliance mission. Talon is coming so I for sure won’t get lost. You don’t worry. I’ll be back before you even notice.”

“Too late. I already noticed.”

He let out a slight laugh then kissed the twins goodbye. I took Ava and Elim back for their naps and called Seraphine. I asked her if she would come over tonight to help me with party planning. She suggested with the men being on assignment we have a girl’s night. I told her that would be great and I’d invite Lila as well. Gabriel was on docking bay duty tonight, and she would probably enjoy the company.

After supper, Seraphine and Lila arrived. Seraphine brought some of her clay to keep the twins occupied while we planned the party. She got a kick out of Ava having a Shakespeare party.

“I think I can make her a Shakespeare sculpture,” Seraphine said as we discussed the decorations portion.

“That would be great. Can you do a dinosaur too?”

“Of course, let me know what kind.”

“I can pass out invitations if you’d like,” Lila offered.

“That would be awesome. Thank you, Lila.” As I spoke, my doorbell rang. I jumped up to open it, and my heart slammed to a stop at the sight of Admiral Parks and Gabriel in full dress uniform. They removed their hats, and I covered my mouth.

“No, Gabriel, no!” I begged him not to tell me what I knew they were going to. I wanted to slam the door in their faces and pretend they weren’t there. Seraphine jumped up at my reaction and put her arms around me.

“May we come in?” Parks asked.

Lila told the twins to follow her to their room because she was going to read to them. They cheered excitedly as the room spun around me. Somehow, we made it over to the couch. Seraphine still held me tightly as I shook against her. She was the only thing keeping me from becoming a blob on the floor.

Admiral Parks leaned forward, and she clasped my hand. “Talon and John are missing in action. Their shuttle went off the radar. We’re sending an investigative team, but we believe it may have exploded mid-trip.”

Seraphine stared blankly at them, and I cried harder. Seraphine and I held each other as I cried.

When I gained more composure, I asked, “Can we send another tracker?”

“We’ve tried, but they aren’t picking anything up, and we have no one near Talon’s skill level,” Admiral Parks explained.

“I know someone.” Everyone looked at me, confused, and I continued, “My Uncle Ryan Fausto. He’s a level-seven tracker like Talon.”

“Mr. Fausto is your uncle?” Seraphine finally spoke.

I nodded.

“Are you sure? I don’t have him listed. I searched for available trackers,” Admiral Parks said.

“He’s retired, but he does recruitment part-time on Earth. If I call him and tell him Talon is missing, he will help.”

I got up and called him, and he said he’d be on the next shuttle to base.

Gabriel hugged me. “You and Seraphine go do what you need. Lila and I have the twins. You need my help, call me.”

I thanked him. Seraphine and I followed Admiral Parks to the control center.

Chapter 30

John- July 16, 2020

My very first memory of Allie was when we were five, at her house. We knew each other before that, but this was the earliest I recalled her or pretty much anything. There were lots of people dressed in church clothes. Some were crying, and my mom was one of them. I didn’t understand what was sad.

I wandered off from my mother and found Allie sitting on her bed with her back to the door. She wore a blue velvet dress, with white tights fitted over her dangling legs. Allie was crying too. I climbed on the bed to sit next to her, and she reached her hand over.

I held it. “Why are you sad?”

“My mom went to heaven. It means I can’t see her again.”

I continued to hold her hand, confused how someone wouldn’t be able to see their mother. After that day, I couldn’t remember a time without her.


“You have to turn off the flashlight. We need it to be dark,” I told Allie.

Allie was using our large flashlight as a strobe light, and I wanted to see the meteor shower. We were eight and had climbed out of my bedroom window onto the small piece of roof that extended from the first floor of my house.

“It’s cold,” she complained as she shut off the flashlight and set it beside her.

“Wrap yourself in your blanket, silly.”

She put her blanket around her, but when I glanced over, she was still shivering. I moved closer and wrapped my blanket around both us. The meteor shower began, and we both sat quietly watching.

“John, you know what meteor showers are?”

I nodded. “Yeah, comet debris.”

Allie laughed. “No, they’re magic. The stars fall to the ground giving people a chance to make a wish. When a wish is made, they disappear until all the wishes are used up.”

I smiled, knowing it wasn’t true, but I wouldn’t argue with her. “What would you wish for?”

Allie thought for a minute before answering me. “To see my mom and Malcom again. I can’t remember their voices anymore, and to see their faces, I have to look at pictures. I would like to see them one last time, so I remember them better. What about you?”

“I was going to say a telescope to see the next meteor shower better, but I think I would wish for you to have your wish instead.”


“What are we doing in your basement? I thought your mom was taking us to a movie.” Allie was confused about my change in our plans.

We were ten, and I had a surprise for her. My parents helped me to put something together for her. I pointed at the brown leather couch in my basement. “We are seeing a movie. Sit. It’s about to start.”

My dad turned on the TV and hit play. Allie’s mom appeared on the screen at the beach. She laughed and chased Allie’s brothers close to the waves.

Malcom pointed to a scuttling crab. “Mommy, look.”

They began building a sandcastle. A baby started crying, and the camera panned over to Allie and I lying next to each other on a beach towel. She was probably around six months, which would have put the timeframe right before my family moved away for a couple of years. Allie was the one crying, and her mom went over and picked Allie up.

“Don’t cry, Althea. Mommy’s here. Mommy loves you.”

We watched the rest of the video, which lasted another ten minutes. When the lights went up, I saw Allie was in tears.

I felt my grand plan had backfired. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

She threw her arms around me and cried some more. “No, you made me really happy.”

I was confused about how her happiness created so many tears.

“We were cleaning for the garage sale next week, and I found some old movies. One of them was of a day our moms went to the beach together. I thought it was perfect that I could make your wish come true. Now you can hear their voices and see them whenever you want.”

“Thank you!” she exclaimed with her arms still wrapped tightly around me.


“John, what is it? What’s wrong?” Allie asked me cautiously.

We were thirteen, and I was hiding in her treehouse, afraid to face my mother. As soon as she saw my face, she’d be on the phone with the principal. That’s all I needed to look even weaker. Allie looked closely at my face.

“I’m fine,” I said. I knew my tears told her I wasn’t. I felt even weaker crying about it.

“Who did this to you?” Allie grew angry when she saw my two black eyes and split lip.

“It doesn’t matter. I can take a punch. It’s my science experiment. They ruined it. I worked weeks growing the algae, and it’s all destroyed.”

“It’s Miles, isn’t it? And his thugs. I’m going to take them all.” Fire blazed in her eyes.

“Come on, Allie. That would look great having a girl beat up a bunch of guys for me.”

“I’m not letting them get away with doing this to you!”

Her eyes looked at me, sad. I never noticed just how beautiful her eyes were. Her fierce determination made my heart beat a little faster, and when she swiped me into a hug, I could smell the amazing scent of her hair. I wanted to hug her to feel her close to me. When she released me, I was tempted to pull her back. What was happening to me? She was making me lose my mind, and she continued to every day after that. I was in love with Althea Cooper, and I would be for the rest of my life.


We were in the car I received for my birthday. We were sixteen. I was driving, and Allie hung half her body out my passenger window taking in the fresh air.

I was tempted to pull her back in. “Arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times!”

She laughed as though I wasn’t serious. “Sometimes you have to live a little, Trammel.”

“You living a lot is my main concern which won’t happen if your head is suddenly knocked off by a passing object or you tumble to your death.”

To my relief, she sat down and put her seat belt back on. I would’ve thought her surviving two serious car accidents would’ve made her more cautious when riding in cars, but not Allie. She was fearless and stubborn. We drove to her house to watch a movie, which was our Friday evening ritual.

We spread our snacks out and binged. Halfway through the third movie, Allie rested her head on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arms around her. She would soon fall fast asleep, and each week, this never failed to happen. Every week she insisted she could make it through a third movie and every week she would fall asleep before it ended.

She’d always be curled up next to me, contently sleeping in my arms. Before leaving for home, I would make sure her favorite pillow was under her head and a couple of blankets were tucked over her. The next morning, she’d complain about how I always left without saying goodbye, and it never failed to make me smile. We kept up this routine until we left for college.


We were back on Saturn base a couple of days before I left on the mission with Talon.

“Put the report down,” Allie called from her spot on the bed.

I sat on the edge of our bed, needing to check one more thing before I could join her under the covers.

“One sec.”

“No, now.”

I felt her arms go around my chest. She pressed against my back as she kissed my neck. She moved her lips downward, caressing my back.

My breathing increased. “Just…one more.”

She was making it difficult for me to concentrate on anything other than her hands on my thighs, teasing me ever so slightly. My report plopped on the floor, and we sat facing each other. Our lips met, and she wrapped her legs behind my back. I felt all of her—the unexplainable euphoria of knowing my wife completely. I pulled her tighter to me. I loved her. Every part of me was aware of it.

I love you too. She sent the message into my mind, and I knew she grasped what I felt for her.


All my memories with Allie flew in and out of my head. I saw them all on replay, everything from our childhood adventures to the moments we fell in love. She was both my first and favorite memories. She was the constant of my entire life. I groaned at the massive pain shooting across my head. I reached up to rub my temples and realized there was a helmet placed tightly against it.

“Subject displays extreme levels of affection for a female member of his species.”

I heard a voice but couldn’t place its source in the dark room.

Where am? What am I doing here?

“Subject is awake,” a higher-pitched voice said.

The lights raised, and two aliens of an undetermined species stared at me. They looked to be made entirely of glass, and I could see through them. Their eyes were black. I felt their appearance was too strange to be real.

“We are Plemsrians. We have intercepted your ship to involve you in our research study.” The deeper-voiced alien informed me.

“Don’t you need my consent for that?” I asked.

“Consent? We do not understand.”

“My permission. Don’t you need me to say it’s okay to put me in a research study?”

“No, you might say no.”

I nodded. “Yeah, probably would have.”

“You registered high emotions, and that is the intent of our current study. We are seeking to understand emotions. It is a foreign concept.”

I realized he was right. I couldn’t sense any emotions from either of them.

High-pitch revealed more. “You and your friend. You both show high levels of what we believe to be called affection.”

“Love. We call it love.” I realized they were the ones surfing my memories and bringing them to the surface. Their words also reminded me that Talon was with me.


“Yeah, it’s more than affection. It’s more than emotions. It’s putting someone else before yourself and wanting them to be alive and fine even if you can’t be. It’s a lot more complex than affection.”

“Hmm…We should note that in the chart.”

“Where is my friend?”

The aliens were back at their computer typing. Low-voice said, “He is in another room. Our partners are studying him.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Let’s see, your species is human. You call your planet Earth. In terms you can understand, you have been here a week.” He gave the specific date.

A week? No way! The twins’ birthday was today. I’d promised Allie I’d be back, not to mention she was probably worried out of her mind.

“You have to let me go. You’ve been in my memories. You know I have children. The day they are born is very important for our species. We celebrate it every year. That day is today. I need to get home.”

I had no weapons, and I was strapped to the chair. I wasn’t sure how I could use my ability on emotionless aliens. I was in a predicament.

Another alien walked in and spoke, “The two human females are back. They have completed all the necessary paperwork, and they are demanding we remove their mates from our study.”

Allie and Seraphine must have found us but became hindered by bureaucratic red tape. The aliens left me uncomfortably strapped to my chair. I heard Allie yelling at the scientists.

“Are you sure you do not want to join our research study? The range of emotions you are displaying would prove quite beneficial,” Low-voice said to Allie as they entered the room.

She sent him a glare and bolted for me. She unstrapped me as she shook and sobbed.

“Babe, it’s okay. I’m fine. I promise.” I consoled her.

We looked up to see five of the scientists staring at us. Three were quickly writing notes, and one was typing rapidly into a computer.

“Don’t even think about it!” Allie yelled at them. She grabbed my hand, and we walked out to see Seraphine and Talon waiting for us.

When we arrived at our ship, we found our team waiting with a surprise guest.

“Mr. Fausto?” Talon gasped.

“Been a few years, hasn’t it? But you can call me Uncle Ryan. No need for formalities anymore,” Mr. Fausto said, and Talon stared blankly at him.

Allie told him the entire story of him being their mom’s brother and how Fausto tracked Talon and me.

“You mean to tell me all that time I was doing tracking for you, you could have just done it yourself?” Talon asked.

Mr. Fausto shrugged. “You needed the practice. Paid off. You’ve made quite the name for yourself.”

Back on base, Lila and Gabriel surprised us. They made arrangements to have everything done for the twins’ party so we could celebrate that night on their actual birthday. The turnout was about as big as their other birthdays. Colin brought his camera again and snapped a bunch of pictures for us. Before she left, Wren offered to take one of our entire team with the twins. One big photo of our entire family.

I carried a sleeping Ava, and Talon carried a sleeping Elim home so Seraphine and Allie could direct the cleanup. After an hour, they joined us for a movie. We sat on the couch with our girls, grateful to be back home. As Allie and I climbed into bed, we snuggled close, and she kissed me.

I said, “You know the best thing about the entire alien research study?”

“Us rescuing you?”

“That was definitely a highlight. It was getting to relive every moment with you. You’re the best thing that ever came into my life, and I was lucky it was at the very start. I love you, Althea.”

“I love you too, John.”

Chapter 31

Althea- July 26, 2020

I rolled over in bed to snuggle up to John, and the empty bed notified me he’d left for the morning. Dang him, always thinking my sleep was more needed than his goodbyes. I glanced at the clock and saw it was almost ten. That was odd. Elim and Ava let me sleep. They were always jumping on me and demanding breakfast by seven at the latest. Maybe John wanted me to catch up on some rest and had taken them to Wren’s for me.

I went to their room, and I could see them in their beds, still. They were both quiet. I heard Elim whimpering a little. I felt his head, and he was burning up. I hurried to Ava, and she felt the same. I grabbed the scanner and checked them both twice. The thermometer read 106 and 106.2. No matter how many times I called their names, they didn’t move. Terror ripped through my body as I frantically screamed for John with my mind. I threw their blankets off and began trying to cool them with my ability. It was effective until I removed my hands, then the fever would spike high again. I called a medical emergency. John made it first before Jasper arrived with his medics.

Jasper looked solemn. “It’s all over the base. All the children.”

They transported them to sickbay. I fell into John’s arms and sobbed. We went to sickbay, and there were cooling blankets on the twins. I tried healing them again, but no improvement was made. With a great deal of effort, we were able to get the twins’ fevers down to the 102 range. They remained lifeless. John left for his briefing room, trying desperately to find out what was going on.

Jasper sat across from me and gathered my hands into his. “I’ve analyzed the virus and have determined it’s a modified strain of Dissipation. I’m going to give you the truth, Althea. It’s not easy to say, but you deserve to know what your kids are up against.”

My eyes widened, and I covered my mouth in disbelief. It was finally happening. Biological warfare had reached my children, and now humanity stood at the precipice of Armageddon. I wanted to hit myself for avoiding my sacrifice this long.

“Yes, Jasper. Please tell me everything.” My voice trembled.

“It’s a rapid strain. Human colonies were infected first. Children who were sick two weeks ago are now dead. The deterioration begins on day four, and by day fourteen, there’s nothing left. So far, it is specifically made for humans and more specifically children.” Jasper’s voice faltered in a very unJasper-like way. This one was getting through his usually strong demeanor.

“Is there anything that can be done? How did we even get it here with the biofilters?” I wanted as many answers as Jasper had.

“It would seem it was somehow released within the air duct system by someone who brought it on board.”

“On purpose?” All the air in my lungs was suddenly stolen away.

“Yes.” Jasper gave me a hug. “I’ll do everything I can to fix this. I promise.”

He returned to studying the virus. Our fleets were now solely focused on not allowing the Khalbytians to get the virus to Earth. If they failed, mankind would be on the edge of the largest pandemic ever seen. I knew what I had to do, and I would have to arrange things quickly. I went home to find the communicator Tocric had given me. It was the device he stuck in my pocket when Seraphine dragged me from the lab. His note explained how to use it. I opened up a channel to Tocric to fill him in on what was going on.

“I heard. We are working on our end to find something to slow it down, to give us more time,” Tocric informed me.

“Will your plan to use me work? Will it help this strain as well?” I asked him, wanting to be sure.

“Yes, what you contain using the light minerals and RNA editor can be concentrated to a massive degree. There should be enough to fix both versions of the virus and enough to store to eliminate any further versions.”

“Then let's do it. As soon as possible.” I didn’t hesitate as I spoke. I had no more doubts.

We devised a plan to get Jasper out of sickbay. From there I would put it in lockdown, and Tocric would beam in using a special device. I grabbed the light mineral. As I walked down the hall to leave, I glanced one last time at our family pictures. I knew I was about to shatter the happy images held within those frames. I took a deep breath and continued on to sickbay. I sat between my babies waiting for Tocric to arrive.


I looked up with a start and quickly looked in the beds to see Ava and Elim still sick with fever. A young girl stood in front of me. She had brown hair and purple eyes like mine. A mother always knows her children, my mother’s words repeated in my mind, and I knew what was happening.

“Ava?” I said, still taking in the sight of my daughter so much older.

“Yes, Mama.”

“But how?” I asked her to confirm what I already knew.

“A Loctorian named Tocric helped me. He said they owe you a great debt and he thought you might like to see me. He brought me here to see you.”

“You’re so grown up.” I marveled, looking her over.

“I’m fourteen.”

“Why did he bring you to this moment? Tocric showed me my mother’s past once, but it was a difficult moment to watch.”

“I wanted a memory of you,” Ava said sadly.

“You mean...? You mean you don’t remember me?”

“You died when I was very small.”

I glanced at little Ava still in her bed before responding.

“If you’re alive it means you survive this. Elim?” I asked, suddenly full of hope.

“He’s fine too. I’ve been searching for how you died. No one talks about it much. Daddy is sad when I mention you. Uncle Talon and Aunt Seraphine love talking about you, but everyone becomes quiet when I ask about you dying.”

“How is your dad?” I needed to know if he was okay after I died.

“He makes awesome French toast and takes us to this cafe every Saturday. He’s the best dad ever.”

“Has he moved on? Is he happy?”

“He has Elim and me, and he has moments he’s happy. But he never stops missing you.” My face fell in disappointment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad,” Ava said.

“I asked a question, and you answered. Never apologize for honesty, even if you think it will hurt someone. There’s a difference between saying something to cause intentional hurt that doesn’t need to be said and being truthful. I’m so happy I got to see you, my precious beautiful girl.”

I decided I wanted to send a message back to John. Something I knew he would understand. I hoped he would listen to it, and it would help him move on and find happiness.

“When you get back, can you give your dad a message for me?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

“Tell him: I love Trammel but it’s just coffee.”

“Okay. I’ll tell him.”

“How’s your brother?”

“He’s doing great. He loves chess and science and everything nerdy that goes along with it.”

I smiled when I heard about who my little boy would become. I felt sad again and told her, “I’m sorry I left you so young.”

“Why did you leave? That’s what I want to know. It’s what I’ve been searching for which I know is weird asking you before you die because maybe you don’t even know. I found a letter, and it seemed you knew you were going to die, so I was hoping maybe you knew now.”

“This is why.” I pointed to my babies who were suffering in their beds and continued. “You were dying, and the only way to save you two was to give myself for the cure.”

“I don’t understand.”

“In a little while, I will be undergoing a procedure, and it will provide a cure for not only you and Elim but for millions.”

“But how does that kill you?”

“I can’t live without the part that will provide a cure.”

“Don’t do it, Mama! Dad needs you. It’s not just him. Elim and I need you too.” Tears fell down her face as she begged me not to die.

“I have to, sweetheart. I have to make sure the beautiful girl in front of me and her amazing brother, along with millions of other children, are given a chance to live.”

“I love you, Mama!” she cried as she started to fade.

“I love you, my little one.” I smiled, but as soon as she vanished, tears fell down my cheeks.

John walked in a few minutes later. “Jasper talk to you?”


“I know what you’re thinking, Althea. We’ll find another way.”

“What way will we find in less than two weeks? By then there will be nothing left of our children.”

“There are a few missions in the works to go to the Khalbytian homeworld. There are rumors of a possible cure in one of their sectors.” He pulled me to him and held me as if he was never letting go. “We will figure this out, but it has to be with my entire family intact.” He looked me in the eye and held my face with his hand and continued. “Look at me. We don’t even know if you doing that would work. You go through with this, and it will kill you. You’ll be leaving us on maybes. Babe, trust me on this. I won’t let them die, but I can’t let you die either.”

He kissed my forehead. He walked over to Elim and gave him a kiss on the head. He went to see Ava and kissed her head. He watched them both for a few seconds. I knew all of this was extremely difficult for him. He was fighting desperately for the safety of his entire family. Anything less than all of us making it to the end was a loss he couldn’t see himself facing.

He gave me another kiss and left to work on strategies. My com device beeped, and I looked to see a message from Tocric saying he was ready. I sent Jasper a message to come to the briefing room, along with most of the nurses. Once I was sure they were out of sight, I hit the lockdown button, and the large steel doors barricaded all the entrances. Alarms blared. Tocric beamed himself in with a couple Loctorian assistants. I kissed the twins’ foreheads and the extreme heat of their skin strengthened my resolve.

“Mommy loves you. Mommy will always love you,” I said to each of them.

So many emotions ran through me. I was devastated to leave them, but it was the only way I could save them. I was glad John would have them. I still hoped that maybe they would bring him through. Future Ava said John was a good dad, and that would have to be enough proof for me to know he didn’t become my father.

Future Ava also gave me great peace. She let me know that in my death she and her brother lived. There were several nurses and other medical personnel still within sickbay, so to prevent any intervention, we locked ourselves in the OR. Tocric implemented some extra security measures on sickbay so it couldn’t be released easily with a code.

Tocric listed my options. “Would you like to be put under or given a local? A local may give you a short time to see your loved ones and say goodbye. You may find it difficult to speak, but you will at least get to see them.”

I knew John would need no explanation, and hopefully one day he would forgive me. I chose the local.

“You are the bravest of souls. Our people will honor you for centuries to come. You will save Loctorians, humans, and many others,” Tocric said, looking me straight in the eye. “Also, I want you to know the procedure I am doing will only require a small incision for guidance, then I will be able to safely beam your core out. Beaming it straight to the stasis box will keep it stable until I can get it to my lab. The small incision will also allow your appearance to remain almost the same as it is now. Lessen the pain of your loved ones seeing you.”

I nodded, thanking him the only way my fear would allow me. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to do what your fear is screaming at you to avoid. I was terrified at that moment, but my courage was magnified by thinking about every bit of life my babies would now be able to live.

When it boiled down to it, I was a mother. A mother as any mother who would do pretty much anything to ensure the survival of her children. My mom had had the same reasoning, but it meant something different for her and ended tragically. I hoped my tragedy would be a spark for billions. His assistant injected the local in several spots around my head. Another Loctorian entered the room wearing a green robe, and he looked familiar.

“Keeper, you have helped me along the way, haven’t you?’ I smiled sadly.

“Yes, a time or two, but it is small compared to what you will do for my people. I am here because I would like to see if there are any final requests that I can honor for you,” the Keeper said.

“There is only one request I have left. I know you can see many paths of things that might happen. You told me on many paths you saw my daughter Ava dying young. I was hoping that you could do your best to help her and my son Elim stay on the path that will give them good and long lives. Don’t control their lives but help them in times that they need it.”

“Yes, I will do all I can to help them have the best and longest lives they can. I will do this to honor the grave and great thing you do this day.”

“Then I can pass peacefully. Thank you.”

“To you, our debt is owed.”

I turned to Tocric. “I’m ready.”

“Are you sure? Once it is done, I cannot take it back.” Tocric gave me one last out.

“I’m sure,” I said softly.

I felt pressure as he made his incision, but there was no pain. Tocric was gentle and informed me that things were going well.

“We are almost done. I am making my final incision. Once I have the core, I will release the lockdown and beam out. I vow your children will be the first to receive the cure.”

“Thank you,” was all I could manage as he made his final cut.

At first, I felt nothing, then I felt very fatigued as if I’d overdone my healing ability. I pushed myself to stay awake, so I could see John one last time.

“Farewell, my brave friend,” with that, Tocric released the lockdown and beamed out.

Chapter 32

John- July 26, 2020

I was in the middle of looking over mission plans for viral information extraction from the Khalbytian homeworld. It had to be a quick mission. I would save my kids. I had to.

“We’re here for the briefing.” Jasper and several nurses stood in the doorway.

I stopped what I was doing and responded, “Oh, I wasn’t aware you were coming, but I’m sure your input would prove useful if your patients are okay.”

“The order came from you directly.” Jasper looked confused at my surprise.

With his words, alarms began blaring. “Sickbay lockdown initiated.” The computer’s monotonous tone carried the message throughout the base. I looked at Jasper.

Jasper shrugged. “Wasn’t me.”

Then realization smashed my heart into the ground. I concentrated, trying to sense my wife. She was sad and scared. Emotions that could be explained by our babies being sick, but I knew the real horror behind them.

“It’s Althea.” I knew what she’d done. She couldn’t risk too much time lapsing and irreversible damage being done to Elim and Ava. She was a mother who thought she was the only way to save her children. I couldn’t let her die.

“What do you mean?” Talon asked. I’d grabbed his attention.

“She’s letting Tocric do the procedure. She thinks it’s the only way to save the kids.” I moved swiftly from the room as I gave Talon an explanation.

“Like hell she is! She doesn’t even know if it will work!” Talon was up now, and Jasper was right behind us.

Talon and I used our voice commands to try and release the lockdown, but they refused to work no matter how many times we tried. I pounded the doors to sickbay, not even stopping when blood slid down my fists. Talon grabbed me and pulled me back.

“We’ll get her, John. We just have to find another way in.” Talon was attempting to settle me, but I could feel he was as scared as I was.

Our combined codes should have worked. We tried again, and the blasted “Access denied” taunted our desperation. When the doors finally released, I knew it was too late. I could feel Allie's presence draining, an agony of being an empath. I shuddered to think I would never feel the warmth Allie brought me in thought and emotion. She always held me together, now I was unraveling quickly. I ran before the doors even raised above my height. I flew to where Allie last was. Our kids were sleeping but no Allie.

“The OR!” Talon yelled, and I began to match his step.

Jasper followed closely behind. There she was, a warming blanket covering her shaking body. I gasped, catching the wound on top of her head. The stitched up wound ran about four inches across the top of her forehead, and she kept her hair. The stitches were unnecessary for a fatal wound, but Tocric had taken the time to do it with care. He left her in as much of a dignified state as possible, but I was too furious with him to appreciate his small gesture.

Her eyes opened a little when we entered. Jasper got to work, scanning her and yelling for nurses. She smiled at me but looked far too weak to say a word.

“Althea! Why?” Terror barreled through my head.

I laid my head in her lap, and she stroked my hair. The weight of leading and not always bringing everyone back weighed heavily. Allie listened, and at times, I swore she was the empath from her precise ability to know my thoughts and emotions. She was the only one I showed my vulnerability. To everyone else, I was an unyielding rock. With Allie, I could be whoever my soul needed me to be. Her gentle strokes tousled my hair about, and the familiar sweet scent of her perfume wafted into my nose, bringing me peace.

Then she said it. “John. You know you will be okay without me. You are strong enough.”

I looked up at her perfectly shaped face, high cheekbones that added to the perfection of her beauty. How someone so intensely beautiful decided to make me her husband was baffling. Her words made me realize I was in her mindscape. She struggled to talk in the real world, so she’d brought me in to say goodbye. We were in our treehouse in Allie’s backyard. The place that banished the monsters of our childhood.

“No, I don’t have to be because Jasper will figure this out. We’ll fix this.” I sat up to face her.

She shook her head. “There’s no fixing this, John. You have to let me go. You have to be there for Elim and Avalon. I died for them, now you have to live for them. And someday when this stings less, move on and be happy.” Happiness and Allie’s death were incompatible. I was sure that would always be the truth. She continued, “We now have a chance. With the virus eradicated, humanity will survive. We still need the greatest admiral in the force to turn back the tide and finish what was started here today. It’s been a long war, John. Bring it peace.”

“Allie, I need you to finish it with me. I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. I love you, John. Every bit of you.” She began to fade, and I grasped at her image. “You have to go now.”

“I love you too, Althea!”

I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay forever in this memory of our treehouse and live in Allie’s mind. I snapped up as the vision around me faded into the base hospital, which was the actual reality. Allie was still next to me, slipping fast. Jasper shook his head, indicating there was nothing he could do to save my wife.

Talon stood in the doorway. His strong body faltered, and he looked close to collapse. I nodded for him to come over. I’d never seen Talon cry, but I could tell tears found their way to the bottom of his eyelids, and he struggled to keep them in. He grabbed her hand, holding it close to him; he leaned in and gently pushed her hair back.

“You take care, kiddo. Until we meet again.” He said the last part with a tremor in his voice.

 He gave her a hug and kissed her hand. He stepped back so I could have my last moment with her. Seraphine ran into the room. She covered her mouth, and her eyes widened with shock.

“I love you, Allie.” My voice shook with tears flowing freely.

Allie smiled slightly offering one last comfort. Then the brilliance of her purple eyes went dull and still. Her bright light that not even the war had destroyed dimmed into darkness. I no longer felt the softness of her thoughts. She was gone. My Allie had slipped to where I could not feel her grasp. She was gone. I heard screaming a good few seconds before I realized it was my own voice.

“Althea, come back! Please, baby, come back.” I lamented with no hope of being answered.

Nothing prepared me for the force at which her soul leaving would plow me into emptiness. I climbed onto the bed, holding her and pleading. I had no desire to leave her cold and alone. I could feel the Khalbytian brand between her shoulders and traced my other hand across a deeply etched scar on her right arm. For being a healer, Allie had so many scars. Her war had fought its final battle, and she could sleep. Talon collapsed into Seraphine’s arms and fell apart. She held him, still looking stunned at what had transpired.


In the end, Allie had been right. Her sacrifice wasn’t in vain, as it was used to develop a cure. Elim and Ava were cured within hours and playing as if never touched by the virus. Millions of humans and Loctorians were cured. Allie was right, but why did it have to be my wife to fix everyone? She’d done enough of that already. I understood, but I hated my understanding.

The day of her funeral, the empath who felt everything was numb. I felt numb all those weeks after as well. Categorizing others’ emotions as objects and not aspects of peoples’ feelings. It would have otherwise been torture not only to feel my own agonizing grief but the deep sorrow of all who loved Allie.

The weeks following Allie’s death sat there as though they were nonexistent. I had our kids to think about. They were young, and I couldn’t contain the over pour I felt when they requested their mother. I couldn’t bring myself together long enough to look at their faces and know it was their mother’s eyes directly reflected outward.

I could feel every emotion within a mile of me. There were hundreds of people all within the base walls. I could filter and file to some degree to keep my sanity, a trait I’d learned early after gaining my ability. With the amount of emotions zooming in and out of my mind, my mind felt silent. I no longer heard or felt the one heart I wanted to beat.

I needed to get away. I left without saying a word and issued only orders that I wasn’t to be followed. I went to a remote dust planet. The freezing temperatures and blowing dirt kept visitors away. A group of Loctorian monks had built a large temple there, but it was abandoned long ago. I landed my transport a few hundred yards from the temple entry.

The temple towered hundreds of stories high. The blue-grey stone was intricately carved with ancient Loctorian writings. I’d learned about this planet in one of my excursions to the base library. It was monitored by a group of Loctorians whose leader was called Scorch. His morals were more questionable than most Loctorians. I’d once beaten him at a game of Limstica—it was a battle of wits similar to a chess and poker combination. He owed me, since I didn’t take the winning of the daughter he wanted to wager.

When I approached him, he was less than sympathetic, but he always repaid his debts. Scorch’s words blasted in my head. “The great leader, Admiral of the Loctorians, protector of humanity. Diplomat to the Argians. One who has brought worlds to salvation and redeemed species on the verge of elimination. He who bears all these things has been brought to his downfall through the demise of a single woman.”

I knew he was mocking my need to isolate myself, but he gave me the temple to do with as I pleased. He even made sure his people stocked it full of all the supplies I would need to stay put indefinitely. I opened the massive stone doors and made my way inside where I would strive to find some reprieve from my suffering.

I drank endless rounds of whiskey until I passed out in an escape from my own emotions. I slept to drown out the silence I’d purposely sought. A month passed with this routine as I wistfully dreamt of a deadly slumber.

A loud thud hit the door of my enclosure. This temple was as solitary as I could hope to have found. Yet now I was being disturbed. In the past, I would have felt relieved to know Talon could find me, but those days were gone. As a tracker, Talon could find anyone. I’d known this but expected him to respect my wishes.

Talon yelled through the thick temple door. “John! I know you’re there. Unlock the door! I’m not leaving until you do and seeing as I will probably freeze to death in the next hour, I would appreciate you opening the door.”

Reluctantly I let him inside. “Why are you here? You got my message?”

Talon nodded as he removed his thick gloves and placed his hands over the blaze in the fireplace. “I pretended I didn’t.”

“You can warm up, and I have some food in the cupboard over there. Take what you want and then leave. That’s an order.” I turned to go back to my room.

“I don’t take orders from a deserter,” he said with a stoic tone.

My skin boiled. The first real emotion I felt since Allie’s passing. “Deserter!” I roared.

Talon remained firm in his stance. I felt blinded by the rage that at Allie’s death had burrowed itself into every cell of my body. I was so angry, and all of it catapulted out of my body as I directed it Talon’s way. I ran at him with all the fury I’d kept sunk to the bottom of my mind. He let me collide with him. I punched him across the face.

He grabbed me and held tight. His strength far outweighed mine, but with my rage, I was determined to match him. He slammed me to the ground. My eyes went dark, and I started to see his mindscape open up. I pulled myself deeper, searching for his deepest nightmare. Small crevices often led to what one felt should be hidden. I found a crack with smoke rising, and I knew inside would contain Talon’s darkest fears. I slid inside, waiting for the information I needed to attack.

What I saw stopped me. It was Allie lying dead and me holding her sobbing. It was Seraphine lying dead in a puddle of blood. It was our base destroyed, and my children being dragged away by Khalbytians. I let go and fell into a heap on the floor. Talon was already living one of his greatest fears. I didn’t know what I was thinking, using my abilities to hurt a comrade and, more importantly, my brother. I looked up at Talon, and he stared back, unmoved by what I’d attempted to do.

“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why I’m here.” He was calm as he spoke. I lowered my head, unable to dig past what I’d almost done. He went on, “You have to come back with me. Elim and Avalon ask about you every day. They lost their mother, and they don’t need to lose their father too.”

“They already have. When Allie died, she took me with her. The kids. I can’t look at them. Ava’s eyes are her mother’s and Elim’s hair…” I trailed off.

“That’s the point. You have a gift. Allie left part of herself behind in those kids. You dishonor her in abandoning them.”

I wanted so much to be angry, but instead, I let out a cry from the deepest part of my mourning. A bellow of torment from the most elaborate portions of my soul.

My brokenness spilled from my voice. “My mind is so quiet without Allie. I want her back so bad!”

“I know. Me too. Me too.” Talon grabbed me and let me weep.


I finally agreed to go back with him. As much as I wanted to die in the temple, I knew I had to finish the war. I owed it to my wife. She’d given all she had to ensure we’d win. I told Talon we’d leave in the morning and showed him where to sleep.

I woke up and rolled over to grab Allie, but the bed encompassed emptiness, vast for the king-size width it held. Cold sheets brought the sinking void of craving every inch of my wife. I wanted to extend into the darkness and somehow will her back to my embrace. The immense pain of her vacancy rippled through me like a wave in the ocean as I clung to a capsized boat. The numbness returned as the pain was too searing to allow to wash over and over me. Most of me longed to let go of the boat that I might find Allie at my end.

This was every morning now. My mind never awoke, remembering she was gone. I always faithfully turned to pull her to me, figuring she must have drifted to the far side of the bed as we slept. Every morning the wave, the searing pain, and then the replacement of sudden anxiety with numbness. The avoided ache of reality pounded my entire being.

On this morning, Talon was insistent on my return to this reality. A reality of facing the children Allie would be angry that I left for even the smallest time to wade their grief alone. Seraphine and Talon had cared for them and comforted their mourning, but that was really their defeated father’s job.

I packed my large bag and headed to my craft. Talon would meet me back at base. I promised him I would return. My ship docked, and I walked down the corridor to my quarters. Being there was difficult.

Each turn would bring something else that reminded me of Allie. I wasn’t sure if I could ever venture to sickbay again. I opened the door to my quarters. Ava was having a tea party with her stuffed animals, and Elim was building with blocks.

“Daddy!” Ava ran for me, and I scooped her up in my arms and held her tightly. Elim grabbed my leg, and I held them both.

“Glad to see you back, John,” Seraphine said from her spot on the sofa.

“Daddy, when is Mommy coming back?” Elim looked at me for an answer.

I felt like crumbling. Would our kids even remember Allie one day? Maybe not, but I would make sure they knew all about her.

“Mommy’s in heaven, Elim. You can’t ever come back from heaven.” Ava was very articulate.

She was a carbon copy of Allie. I hugged them both, allowing the numbness to consume me as to not bring further turmoil to the heartache Ava had clearly communicated.

September 30, 2020.

I needed to get busy figuring out war. Our fleets advanced faster than ever before. The cured virus gave the Khalbytians less leverage. The Loctorian’s abilities were also left fully unhindered, giving them more power than simple time-shifters. They were proving powerful partners. Together we rapidly and successfully pushed back all Khalbytian threats.

We moved into the enemy sectors, and they continued to experience one defeat after the other. By the time we made it to the main Khalbytian fleet, three-fourths of their forces were wiped out, leaving them limping. There was talk of a peace treaty, but the problem would be how well we could trust the Khalbytians to hold up any bargain.

I buried myself in the war. We brought nukes within close proximity to the Khalbytian homeworld. Their tattered fleets couldn’t maintain enough defense coverage of their space zone. In one final battle, they lost their four main battle cruisers, and our casualties were minimal.

We demanded surrender, and with reluctance, it was granted. Just like that, our nuclear standoff ended centuries of war. On November 3, 2020, a ceasefire was declared. A fire fueled by the death of my wife. Not only had her sacrifice cured the virus but it had ignited the fight in humans and Loctorians to finally rid the galaxy of the scourge known as Khalbytians.

During peace talks, it was discovered that Lucius was the one to release the virus into the base air ducts. True to his manipulator ways he’d played everyone to bring about the death of my wife and the near-death of thousands of children. The Loctorians were able to shut off his ability to prevent him from manipulating his escape. At his trial, he was found guilty of treason. He begged to have someone speak on his behalf, but no one spoke up.

Gabriel and Lila decided they’d spend their days helping out orphanages on the Loctorian homeworld. His grandma passed a couple months ago, and there was nothing left pulling him to Earth. Talon, Seraphine, my little family, and I headed back to Earth to try and pick up the pieces of our anguished souls. I would’ve have given anything for Allie to be joining us.

My parents met us at my new house. I’d let them know of Allie’s death and when the twins and I would be back in Maine. I sent them what I wanted in a house, and they’d matched the criteria. I honestly didn’t care what it looked like as long as it was safe and clean for the twins. My parents replied with their heartache and sympathy at Allie’s passing. They wanted me to know the twins and I would have their full support.

I got out of the car, and before I took the twins out, my mother ran for me. I was a grown man, an admiral, who’d helped to bring about the end of a galactic war, but as my mom hugged me, I was simply a son being comforted by his mother.

“I’m so, so sorry, son. Allie was the most beautiful soul,” my mother said with a tremor in her voice.

I cried, and my dad wrapped his arms around both of us. I could see tears falling down their cheeks.

When unpacking I came across one of my favorite books, The Thin Red Line. As I picked it up, a piece of paper fell out. I knew from the handwriting it was from Allie. Leaving notes in books was something she’d loved to do. As I glanced at it, I realized she’d wrote this one to me.

It read: To my dearest love,

I know things will not be easy when I’m gone. I know you will close yourself off and forget how to live. I know this because I know every piece of you. My hope is that you will find this letter when you need it most. I learned from my mother’s choices. I want you to learn from my father’s.

His life ended the day my mother died. He kept himself locked up and distant. It took many, many years for me to see even a glimmer of hope in his eyes. How much easier my mother’s loss would’ve been for all of us if rather than him fading into nothing, he pushed himself into a life with Talon and me. If you can no longer live for yourself, live for our babies. Let them have the amazing father I’ve watched you become. Don’t take him away from them. And I promise that one day you will be able to enjoy life again and find happiness. I love you, John Trammel. -Althea Trammel.

She was right. I had to keep going for our children. I would never recover from Allie’s death. I would simply learn to live a lesser life.

Chapter 33

Seraphine- July 26, 2020

The day Allie died, she called me that morning to tell me about the twins. She was frantic and not speaking completely coherently. I woke Talon up to the news, and he reacted the way he always did—he was going to fix it. He went to work with John to help figure out a way to extract a cure. I told Allie I would be by later to sit with her and the twins.

One of my biggest regrets would become not going right to sickbay. At the very least, I would have gotten to see her alive one last time. Most of all, I would forever wonder if maybe I could have stopped Allie from going through with what she did. Shortly after the call from Allie, Admiral Parks called me and told me they needed help with an airlock that was stuck open for unknown reasons.

They wanted me to project and analyze the situation before they sent someone physically up there. After I helped out, I realized it took much longer than I thought it would. I needed to get to sickbay, but it was far across the base. As I started my walk, I heard the alarms blaring, indicating sickbay lockdown. I ran as dread consumed me. In the elevator, my com device lit up with a message from Talon. All it read was: Get to sickbay. Hurry!

The elevator opened, and I ran into sickbay. I looked around wildly for direction. The looks on all the nurses’ faces made my heart beat faster, and one of them pointed me to the OR. I found Allie on a surgical table with John at her side.

Please tell me she didn’t.

The lack of composure on Talon and John’s faces told me she had. John screamed, and at that same moment, the monitors joined him. My sister was dead. All of me told me I had to be wrong. Talon fell on me. It was as though he was unable to stand upright to any degree. His sorrow was a weight that caused us to sink to the ground together as he sobbed.

Time elapsed, leaving Jasper no choice but to take Allie away. Through tears of his own Jasper tenderly told John that he had to let her go. John gave no answer nor movement. It was as though John wasn’t there, as though he’d pulled himself somewhere deep inside himself because the air around him hurt. He stared off and clung tightly to her.

Talon walked over to him and said, “John, I got her.”

John nodded, and Talon picked her up. He held his sister close to him and kissed her forehead. He placed her on the cart, and they wheeled her away. Both John and Talon sat in the room as if neither wanted to move from the place that they’d watched her leave. I needed to find the rest of our team and tell them before the news got out and they were told like everyone else. I sent them all a message to meet me at the rec center. By the time I got there, they were all there. I still hadn’t cried, and I was pretty sure my face looked as empty as I felt.

“Seraphine, how are the twins?” Lila asked as soon as she saw me. I looked up at her as though I didn’t understand her question. “Oh no! Seraphine.” Lila started crying most likely because she thought I was about to tell them Elim and Ava were gone.

Everyone else stared at me, looking scared.

Finally, I said, “No, they’re fine. It’s Allie.” I couldn’t say it.

“Seraphine, what’s wrong with Allie?” Gabriel asked after I said nothing further.

“She’s dead. Allie’s dead,” I said it even though it felt like I didn’t.

“She can bring herself back, right?” Colin asked what the rest of them were probably thinking.

I shook my head rapidly and looked at all their confused faces. “She can’t. She’s not coming back. She can’t anymore!” My voice dissolved with each word I told them.

I couldn’t take my own words, and I let hysteria take hold. Morgan grabbed me, letting me wilt in his arms. After a while, I composed myself and told them everything that had happened.

I’d planned more funerals than most people. Allie’s death was on a different level. Her death was raw and felt as though someone had peeled a vital organ from my body and stole it away. I needed it back, but my pleas were refused. Neither Talon nor John wanted anything to do with the idea of her funeral. I handled it all.

I asked the guys on our team to be pallbearers, and they immediately accepted. Fayard volunteered and told me he wanted to make sure she was well taken care of. I thanked him. The docking bay chief also volunteered, and I was grateful I could take my mind off the task. I found out the council wanted her funeral on the homeworld as an honor for her sacrifice. When I found out how many people were coming, I accepted their offer.

Talon showed up, but he said nothing and refused interaction. He told me he didn’t want to hear people tell him how much losing her hurt them because losing her hurt him so much he was suffocating. Any more oxygen taken from him and he would cease to exist. John stayed back on base, wanting nothing to do with the entire event. I sat in the room where they kept Allie’s body.

She was in stasis because the only request John made was that she be buried next to her mother and brother. It would be a while before that was possible. The stasis pod resembled a glass casket and was self-regulating. She would never deteriorate within it. She would forever look young and beautiful in eternal sleep. Looking at her stung, so I avoided it. Each member of our team came to say goodbye.

Morgan stood over Allie’s casket and said his goodbye aloud. “You were one of the good ones, Althea Trammel. I remember when I first met you. I thought, how is this tiny girl going to fight massive, eight-foot Khalbytians? How could she possibly make an impact? But no one saw you coming. You were braver than all of us. You were the girl who was never afraid to say when something was wrong. Then you did something about it until it was better. Sleep well, my dear friend.” He rested his hand on her casket, briefly giving her one last look. He turned, and I saw a stream of silent tears fall down his face as he walked away.

Gabriel stepped up and delivered Allie’s eulogy. “In this war, I have buried many comrades, friends who’d become my family. But this one is the most difficult, and I’ll tell you why. Althea Trammel was recklessly courageous. She would bound into battle headfirst as an unstoppable force, mending wounds and defying the desolate touch of death. Not a moment’s thought was given to her own state. After fighting for hours, she would return home, showing compassion for the mental battles fought by all around her.

“She would extend kindness where the harshest of realities lay. I was lucky enough to call her one of my best friends, and anyone blessed enough to glimpse even a portion of her spirit would be changed forever into a better person. For experiencing even a fragment of Althea was enough to awaken the desire to make the universe a place of peace and good.” Gabriel’s voice cracked, and tears rolled down his face. “I’ll miss my friend, and I’ll mourn with her family for the loss of her. Most of all, I will choose to live in a way that would make the beautiful soul that was our Allie proud of me.”

As though unable to say anything further, Gabriel stepped down and Lila wrapped him in her arms. Everywhere I went someone had something great to tell me about Allie. By the time the funeral and reception were over, I was exhausted. So many people felt the impact of her loss. I felt drowned in it. When the funeral was over and everyone left, I went searching for Talon so we could go home together. I heard a tormented cry coming from the room Allie’s body was in. I walked to the room to see Talon looking at her, lamenting loudly. I was about to run and hold him when he began to talk to her.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way, baby sis. You were supposed to watch your kids grow up and see your grandchildren. You and John were supposed to have that together. Together at the beginning and together at the end. You were the one that was supposed to bury me when we were grey and old. I’m older, that’s the only fair thing. I wasn’t supposed to feel the pain of seeing you so young in a casket. I miss you so much, and it’s only been days.” He began to cry again and slid to the ground against the platform. His entire body shook, and I ran to him. He looked up at me and, still crying, he said, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

December 5, 2020.

Our team cared for the twins for John. We tried to ease their pain as much as possible. They didn’t understand what their mother being dead meant. They only understood she no longer held them, or told them stories, or kissed them goodnight. We couldn’t fix that, but we did our best to soothe them. John had to escape for a while. I was sure his pain was too unbearable to live through, yet he had to. Talon brought him back, and he finished the war. I wasn’t sure if John would ever be himself again. In reality, how could he be? Allie was the biggest part of him his entire life.

Lucius stood trial and was found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to death by firing squad. This was the one fate he couldn’t manipulate himself out of. He’d done the unthinkable, releasing the virus to cause innocent children to die. His execution was scheduled for two days after his trial. I decided to go visit him the night before his execution. Officers brought me to the brig, and we passed ten glass cells before we made it to his. The guard told me he would be right beyond the glass if Lucius tried anything.

“Seraphine!” His face lit up when he saw me, and I almost became sad for his pathetic state.

“Lucius, I want to know exactly what you did and why.”

“Are you sure you want the answer? I don’t think you will like it. But I’ve always loved you and I will honor this last request.”

“Yes, I want to know.”

“After two formal reprimands were put on my record, my career was stagnant, if not completely destroyed. All I could envision was getting revenge on Talon, as I blamed him for all of it. I blamed him most of all for taking you. Talon had only two things he really cared about, and that was you and his sister. Even though I went after you, I really didn’t want to kill you.

“I wasn’t sure how to go about destroying Talon, but Allie would be the way I could get the ultimate revenge. I started small at first. I convinced Mrs. Monroe the way to get Allie to fight was to take her to a Loctorian orphanage. I arranged for Khalbytians to attack while she was there. I figured this would disturb Allie enough to keep her in the war.

“I still needed to do more, though. I needed her to really suffer to get to Talon. The idea came to me almost by accident. I found the records of Talon and Allie’s parents. I learned her mother’s story, and how Allie could fulfill the prophecy. But someone else possibly could’ve, which was Kais Jacobson. When Kais fell in love with Allie and started dating her, I knew that…”

I cut him off. “Kais and Allie dated?”

“You mean you and Talon didn’t know?”

“No, but it explains Allie’s distance for a while after he died.”

He continued, “Kais loved her very much, and he could possibly fulfill the prophecy. Allie was a much better match, but I knew he’d sacrifice himself in her stead. If it didn’t work on him, Allie might think a cure wasn’t possible and not go through with the procedure. Thinking about all of it, I knew he had to die before he was given that choice, so I arranged his death. His death had a double benefit to my goals.

“One, it secured the alliance, and I was given credit, which made me look better to the council. The second was to ensure Kais wasn’t around to make the sacrifice. I wanted Allie to die by sacrificing herself to cure the virus. Not only would it finalize my revenge, but I was hoping the council would give me credit for stopping the virus. Similar to a recruitment.”

I tried to absorb everything Lucius had done. I was scared to reach the end of the web he’d spun, but I needed to know his part in my sister’s death, almost as if it would bring closure to some of my questions.

Lucius went on. “The next step was to make sure she knew about what really happened to her mother. She needed to be on the path toward discovering her destiny. I helped the Khalbytians capture her so she would meet a Khalbytian named Dramto. He was on our side. I notified him that she was coming so he could be on the lookout for her.”

“Why not tell her yourself? Why did she have to go through all of that to learn of the prophecy? What if they’d killed her?”

Lucius glanced away as if he couldn’t look me in the eye any longer. “I think in a way it was the cruelest way I could think of to bring it about. I wanted Talon to suffer, and the way to do that was through Althea. Her suffering would torture him more than if I did something to him. Also, she didn’t trust me, and I couldn’t manipulate her to sacrifice herself. Tocric’s morals demanded Allie be willing and he’d be able to tell if she was tranced. I wasn’t worried about the Khalbytians killing her. The Khalbytian I sent her to wouldn’t allow her to die. Dramto wanted the war over as much as everyone else.

“That idea also came to me in a roundabout way. A Khalbytian named Mtritic wanted her for himself. He’d seen her on another mission, and when she attempted to melt him, he knew she had to be part of the Loctorian fleet and a healer. Through that, he was able to find out who she was. I did trade deals with him, and he asked me about her. I set up the mission for him to grab her.

“He was the perfect choice because he owned two of the five plated ships. Talon wouldn’t be able to track her, and she wouldn’t be able to use her ability to escape. Then I let Dramto know where she was so he could rescue her before she was killed. The plan was kept on track when Dramto rescued her.”

I contained my anger. “You put Allie on the path that led to her death. Why did you release the virus? Did you want Talon’s niece and nephew to die?”

“No, I expected Allie to jump on the idea of sacrifice. She was always stubborn but put others before herself. I watched her long enough to realize, while her husband was an empath, she’d mastered the art of empathy. When she didn’t jump at the opportunity, I needed to force her hand.

“I got a hold of my Khalbytian contact, and he told me they were trying to figure out how to get the virus onboard Saturn base without it being detected by the biofilters. I hacked the system then brought the virus on board. I released it in the air ducts. That was my biggest mistake. If I’d waited, I’m sure eventually she would’ve had the procedure done.”

I pushed back angry tears. Every bit of suffering Allie had endured was due to Lucius’ bitterness. Ultimately, Allie’s sacrifice was needed and brought the end of the war, saving millions. Even if that was her sealed fate, things could have been easier for her along the way. Jerap had told me years ago that Allie was the key to ending the war, but the fact this was what his prophecy meant almost tore me apart. I got up and turned around.

“Seraphine.” There was a desperate pleading lined in the way Lucius said my name. I stopped for a moment but didn’t say a word. “Do you forgive me? I told you all of this in the hopes you would tell me I’m redeemable.”

I turned and looked him in the eye. “You took one of the brightest lights this galaxy had, and you extinguished it. Not through her death alone, but every step in your conniving dimmed her light a little further. You did it because of your hate for a man who has done nothing but love and protect me for as long as he’s known me. He showed me healthy relationships don’t seek to cause pain but healing and love. I don’t think any of what you’ve done is redeemable, but I don’t wish you the same ill will you granted Talon and Althea. May you find peace in the next life.”

I tapped on the glass, and the guard let me out. Lucius yelled my name as I exited the brig. I found the tears unavoidable as guilt, anger, and the most profound sorrow I’d ever felt surfaced, shattering any bit of my heart left unbroken.

The next day a firing squad brought the end of Lucius Baraud. I went to watch his final moments to see for myself the demise Lucius had written for himself. As they led him to the platform, he caught my eyes for a brief moment before they lined him at the wall and fired. I felt no sadness at his death, only coldness for the anguish he’d brought upon my family.

I went back to my quarters and found Talon sleeping, even though it was midafternoon. Now that the war was over, there was nothing left to distract him. He spent most of his days in bed, unable to cope with the reality of Allie being gone. I crawled into bed next to Talon, and he buried his face against my chest as I placed my arms around him. I softly stroked his hair, and we slept. I knew in time existing would once again prove a favorable task for him. Until then, I would wade through the rough seas of grief with him.

Chapter 34

Talon- December 17, 2020

Seraphine and I found a house outside of the town I grew up in. The land held a few acres for us to build a life. A few months had passed since Allie’s death. I couldn’t move past it. I was packing boxes for our return to Earth when I came across the little turtle Allie had made me when she was a kid. I turned it over in my hand and read the bottom. To the best brother I could ever have. Made by Allie.

My beautiful baby sister was gone forever. I still saw Allie as the little girl whose nightmares I used to chase away and skinned up knees I’d bandaged. I saw the pancakes I’d make her on Saturday mornings. Her ringlets would be a mess to brush each morning, but her hugs and smiles made every bit of it worth it. She’d been the good out of my broken childhood.

Allie told me about her visits to our father and how he was no longer a crusty shell of a man. She also explained how the war and our mother’s death had destroyed him. Althea’s death was so painful. I couldn’t imagine losing Seraphine too. My partner through war and sorrow. My partner through happiness and life. My partner in everything.

I had a hard time faulting John for checking out on everything after Allie’s death. His connection to my sister was always concrete and tethered. It would have been easy for John to fall into the oblivion of a bleak existence, the same bottomless pit of grief my father found himself in. That was why I’d demanded his return that day at the temple. Not for the war, though he was needed, but for him. In the end, John was stronger than my father. He somehow concentrated his rage into fueling the end of a galactic war that had waged for centuries. He somehow pulled himself together to live a life on Earth with Elim and Avalon being his focus.

I smiled as the twins climbed into the craft bound for Earth. They were so much of my sister. When we got to Earth, I would visit the man I’d resented most of my life. I would tell him the war was over, but it had taken his daughter, his piece of my mother. I pulled up in my silver pickup truck. The screen door slammed, and my dad froze.

“Talon?” He sounded as though he thought I might be an illusion.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Good to see you, boy! How are your sister and her little ones?” he asked with anticipation. I stopped and gazed at the ground. My father studied my face. My eyes must have emitted their sorrow. “She’s gone?” His face filled with a haunting sadness that could only be seen by a man who’d endured deep grief for most of his days. I nodded. “The babies?” he pressed.

“They’re fine. John found a house in town that he’s going to raise them in. My wife and I are taking over the old Garner homestead.”

“Wife? You have little ones too?” I saw a spark in his eyes at the thought.

“No. Dad, the war is over. The Khalbytians surrendered, and we finally have peace.”

“Peace. It’s a difficult thing to find. I don’t think war ever fully finds peace.”

January 12, 2021

We buried Allie on a dreary January morning. The chill in the air aligned with the heaviness in my chest. John brought Allie’s body to buried in a plot next to our mother. Through her glass casket, Allie’s soft curls laid perfectly against her face.

She looked like she was sleeping, like she had so many times after she’d spent her healing energy. I knew this time no matter how long we waited, she wasn’t going to wake up. She’d passed six months ago, but this was the first chance we were able to bring her home. We talked about waiting until spring, but it didn’t feel right delaying her final rest any longer.

Seraphine clasped my hand, and I leaned against her. I took in one final glimpse of my sister as she descended into the earth. She was home, within the soil of Maine, never to be parted from it again. My dad was right. War never found peace. There was always heartache left behind.

After laying my sister to rest, we went back to our new house and began unpacking boxes. Seraphine asked me to bring her a box she’d left on the table. I found a small, blue, wrapped gift. I carried it to the living room where she was trying to decide paint colors.

“Here,” I said, trying to get her to take it.

She kept staring at the wall. “Open it.”

Inside was a black and white picture of a little bean with a tiny human inside. It was an ultrasound picture. I looked at the name at the top, and it read Seraphine Cooper.

“You mean you’re...?”

“Pregnant. Yes.” She smiled at me. “Happy?”

“Very.” I whirled her around and kissed her.


Our lives moved away from war and all the pain it caused us. We were building the normal lives that we’d longed for. Allie’s birthday arrived, and I wasn’t looking forward to the day. Every other year it was a day of cake, presents, and excitement. This year I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but I needed to check on John. I placed my hand on Seraphine’s growing belly and kissed her.

“I love the two of you,” I said, and Seraphine kissed me again.

I stopped at the flower shop and bought a bouquet of purple flowers. I drove to my dad’s land, where my mother and siblings were buried. I carried the flowers and placed them in the vases next to Allie’s grave.

“Morning, kiddo. Happy birthday. I’m not good at doing this whole birthday thing with you gone. I wish so much you were waking me up so I could take you to breakfast. I’d look at the clock and tell you it was too early, but you’d say it had already been your birthday for hours. Your kids are doing great.

“That husband of yours is pretty amazing, and he’s doing a great job with them.” I filled Allie in on how her family was and told her about Seraphine and how she was about three months from her due date. “I love you and miss you, Allie.” I finished my one-sided conversation with my sister and climbed into my pickup truck.

I pulled up to John’s and saw a couple cars I hadn’t seen before in his driveway. I knocked on his door and was surprised to see Gabriel answer it. He gave me a hug and let me in. There in the living room with John sat our entire team. Along with Gabriel, Lila, Deron, Colin, and Morgan were all sitting there. None of us were letting John go through this day alone. As I walked in, I could smell chocolate frosting and glanced at the counter. John had made Allie’s favorite cake. John spotted me looking at it.

“I made her that cake every year since we were ten. I didn’t know how not to make it this year.” His voice carried the sadness it had throughout the year, but it sounded slightly heavier today.

We ate the cake because we knew Allie would’ve been disappointed that we wasted what she saw as the best cake ever possible. At least that was the reason we spoke aloud. Most of me, however, ate it because I couldn’t stand to let John look at the uneaten cake when the end of the day arrived.

Everyone, including John, went back to my place. Seraphine was excited to see everyone. We got through the day by remembering Allie around the fire pit in my backyard. John was quiet, but I saw him smile when each of us told our favorite memory of her.


The first anniversary of Allie’s death was only a month later. That day I found John at her grave. Ava and Elim were at his parents’ for the day. I found him asleep in front of her tombstone, unsure of what to do with himself. As he laid over her grave, I knew he was grasping tightly to the one connection to Allie he felt he had left. We got through that day as well, and time moved on.

Fall arrived to cool the air as nature changed the greens to oranges and browns. One night, a week before Seraphine’s due date she grew restless and uncomfortable. I tried to ease her back pain with massages. This night, however, nothing seemed to help. As the night went on, it became clear she was in labor. We arrived at the hospital about one in the morning, and the doctor said Seraphine still had a ways to go. I steadied her as she leaned against me with each contraction.

At a break between contractions, she said to me, “You should get some sleep. It’s probably going to be a long night.”

“No, we’re in this together. Partners. You have the difficult part, the least I can do is have your back.”

She looked up and smiled at me. I thought about how far we’d come from all those years ago when we first spoke those words to each other.

“I love you, Ace,” she said as she grimaced through the next contraction.

“I love you too, babe.”

I hated her being in pain, and I did anything she wanted to comfort her in any way I could. Seraphine spent eighteen long hours showing her strength and endurance. When I heard our daughter’s first cry, tears flowed, and I looked down at Seraphine. I loved her more than I ever had. I had no idea how that was possible because I’d always loved her with an intensity nothing could match.

We named our daughter Genevieve Althea and the day we brought her home we were greeted by John and the twins. They brought balloons and a teddy bear, and John had supper waiting for us. Ava beamed when Seraphine let her hold Genevieve.

“Gennie, I love you so, so much. You’re my best friend,” Ava said.

I smiled at the nickname Ava bestowed on Genevieve, and I hoped they’d always be friends. John let us know he set up food delivery for the next couple of weeks, so all we had to focus on was finding our routine as a family of three.

Genevieve didn’t seem to know the night was for sleeping. On our second night home I woke up to an empty bed and I heard Genevieve crying profusely. I found Seraphine trying to rock Genevieve to sleep, and Seraphine was in tears herself.

She sobbed as I walked into our nursery. “I can’t get her to stop. She’s not even a week, and I’ve failed as a mother.”

“You haven't failed. She’s a baby, and babies cry.”

“I’m a complete mess. I don’t even know how you can look at me.” She continued to cry.

“I can’t help but look at you. You’re more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen.”

She sniffled. “Not now.”

“Especially now. Sweetheart, I got her. Go get some sleep. I’ll bring her when she needs to eat.” I took Genevieve from Seraphine.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. We’ll be fine.”

Seraphine crawled back into bed. I made sure our door was shut and carried Genevieve downstairs to the living room. I turned on the radio to the Eighties music station and made sure I kept it low enough that Seraphine would stay asleep. Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody carried out from the radio. I gently danced around the room with Genevieve in my arms. She calmed with my movements.

“My mom used to play these songs, and we’d dance together with my brother and sister,” I told her.

After a bit, I sat in my recliner to rock her. I picked up Allie’s picture that sat next to my chair and showed it to Genevieve.

“This is your Aunt Althea. She would’ve loved you. She was amazing, and I’m going to make sure you know all about her.”

I rocked Genevieve until she finally went to sleep. I held her a little longer, making sure she knew she was safe and loved. She would have what I was never able to give Allie—a normal life. There was a hole carved deep in me that nothing would ever fill, but I could build good things around that hole. The little girl in my arms and her mother helped to make the immense pain of the past bearable.

Time refused to stop, and we had little choice but to allow it movement. We had my dad, his new wife, and John over for dinner once a week, and it was great seeing my niece and nephew. They were getting big and would be starting school in a year. We settled into an uneventful life, and it was almost perfect. I would miss my sister until my last breath but held tightly to the family I still had. I refused to take time with them for granted.

Earth wouldn’t remember Althea Trammel. But the universe would. Far above the sky, the universe owed her its peace. While humanity carried on with no recognition to their near extinction, the rest of existence would hold my sister’s name as the savior of a trillion people. Here in our little speck of existence, we would see her in her children, and she would never be lost.

home | my bookshelf | | Prophecy |     цвет текста   цвет фона   размер шрифта   сохранить книгу

Текст книги загружен, загружаются изображения

Оцените эту книгу