Monday, December 29, 2014
April 6, early
On Earth, we would have celebrated what was known as April Fool’s Day almost a week ago. It might be late, but I think Betra is feeling a little of its sting after last night.
Because I wanted to remain alert to my nighttime visitor, aka the Pussy ‘Porter Poltergeist, I decided to not take my sleeping meds. I was more than a little ripe for one of my nightmares. I had one, a real doozey. Its blazing vividness made it even more awful.
I dreamed I woke up, so I was sure I wasn’t dreaming. I hate it when that happens, because no matter how outlandish the nightmare becomes, I’m positive it’s for real. Thanks a lot, stupid trauma and stupid subconscious. Sometimes I’d like to give my mind a – well, a piece of my mind.
Anyway, I dreamed I woke up to find my shadow ghost standing by the bed. It was big as ever and definitely the shape of a Kalquorian. I jolted in terror but kept my head. I thought of all the things Candy had told me about spirits. I especially remembered her questions during our ghost hunt.
I tried to sit up, thinking this was the best way to cope with a ghost determined to scare me. I wanted to face it from a more assertive pose than flat on my back. Unfortunately, this was one of those damned nightmares where I’m pinned down and unable to move. Clue Number 1. After a few seconds of trying to make myself rise, I gave in to the uselessness.
Pretending I wasn’t terrified, I gave the shadow over me an interested smile. Just have a nice conversation like Candy wanted to do, I told myself. “Hello there. Do you wish to give me a message?”
My shadowy visitor simply stood there, big and hard to see. I thought I heard breathing. Clue Number 2 that I didn’t pick up on, one that would have reassured me this was a dream ... a breathing ghost. Duh.
“I want to help you if possible,” I told the entity. Yeah, right. I wanted to run out of the room screaming. I still couldn’t move. Trust me, I was trying. “Are you the Nobek who was murdered on board this ship? Are you Frin?”
“Are you someone else? Are you just pretending to be Kalquorian?” I stubbornly persisted in my bizarre interrogation. This game of 20 Questions was pretty ludicrous, but I wasn’t moving anyway. “Are you the man I met on Finiuld’s ship? Are you the Earther I had to let my friend torment?”
This time, something happened. The form started to shift. It seemed to draw in on itself, shrinking to become smaller.
I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. I was still scared, however. That had the welcome effect of pissing me off. Damn it, I had gotten my fill of terror. So I yelled at the mutating shadow.
“Who the hell are you? What do you want from me?”
The shadow collapsed in on itself, becoming very small. Then all at once I could see it clearly.
It was an Ofetuchan. It wore Finiuld’s horrid green waistcoat and had his spiked orange hair and black eyes. But the face wasn’t Finiuld’s. It was mine.
The creature smiled at me, showing sharp fanged teeth. I screamed and woke up.
My heart beat so hard I expected it to burst through my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath as I yelled for the lights to come on. I stared around, sure I was going to see some hideous fusion of me and Finiuld standing there, ready to rip my throat out. I even checked the damned closet to make sure that thing wasn’t real and hiding.
Even as I realized nothing was amiss in my room, I was wrecked. Is there anything that screws with a person’s head so bad as a nightmare that wakes you with such terror? I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t get that awful image out of my head.
I yanked my robe on and left my quarters. My first inclination was to find Oses, the hero of my days in captivity. However, I didn’t know if he was pulling another double shift. Plus his quarters were so far away and I wanted companionship right then and there. So instead, I hotfooted it to Betra’s room.
He answered his door seconds after I sobbed it was me. He wasted no time in wrapping me up in his strong arms. “What’s wrong, sweetling? What happened?”
“Just a nightmare,” I wept. “It was just a nightmare, but Betra, it was so bad.”
“All right,” he soothed, drawing me across the threshold of his doorway, bringing me into the sanctuary of his sleeping room. “It’s all right, Shalia. I’ve got you and I’m—”
He suddenly went silent and stiff as a board. He gasped. I looked up at him and then followed his startled gaze to the corridor behind me.
I looked just in time to see a big shadowed figure, moving too fast for its features to be discerned, disappear around the corner.
His eyes as big as dinner plates, Betra whispered, “Shalia, was that—”
“Fuck yeah, that was the ghost,” I gasped. My heart was going at full gallop again. When Betra shifted as if to follow it, I shoved him into his quarters and got myself in there too. The door shut behind us.
“You are not going after that damned thing and leaving me alone,” I announced in a screamy voice. My dream bravery was long gone at that point. I was having a very damsel-in-distress moment, and I won’t apologize for it.
“I need to see where that – that – thing went.” Betra’s eyes were still wide and shocked.
“You can call Oses. Let his security handle it; that’s what they’re supposed to do.” I was determined the Imdiko would not leave me.
“You’re right,” he said, to my immense relief. “This is definitely a matter for them.”
He called Oses. I guessed the big guy was on duty since he answered his portable com and not the one in his quarters. The weapons commander showed up at Betra’s room in less than a minute.
“He’s a Kalquorian,” Betra said almost right away. “I caught only the quickest glimpse, and it was fuzzy and shimmering like he – like he wasn’t quite there.”
“Describe what you saw,” Oses said, recording the interview on his handheld.
“Shalia was in front of me at the door, facing me. To my right and a few feet away from us, something dark – like a shadow, almost – appeared. It had the form of a man, a very big one.”
“Did you see a face?”
Betra’s mouth opened and closed again. “I saw the suggestion of one.”
Oses’ brow rose. “Explain.”
“Well, it was there, lighter colored than the hair and clothing, which appeared to be black. I saw dark round spots where the eyes should be, and maybe the suggestion of a mouth and nose. It was really hard to tell, because I could see right through it too.”
Oses’ other brow went up as he looked at Betra. The Imdiko made a gesture of confusion.
“Look, I know how it sounds. I don’t care. I’m telling you there was someone there, but not all there. The moment it became visible, it turned and ran around the corner. I would have gone after it, but Shalia was upset and didn’t want me to.”
“Damned straight,” I said.
Oses gave him a severe look. “You were not armed, were you Betra? You have no business chasing after what may be a dangerous man. You call me and keep yourself and Shalia safe.”
Betra’s jaw jutted in a stubborn look. “Whatever it is, it’s stalking Shalia. From what the women have said, it always appears in her vicinity.”
“Except the one time,” I remembered. “The first time I heard about the ghost was from Candy. She saw it in her room first.”
“But since then, it’s been all about you, right?” Betra said. “Maybe it was just roaming around at the start and spying on Mataras, but it seems to have fixated on you.”
I sighed unhappily. “I would love to catch a break from all the drama. Can’t I have a few weeks of no weird or freaky shit happening?”
Oses turned off his handheld and attached it to his belt. Quietly, almost as if he was talking to himself, he said, “This has got to stop.”
“I’m all for that,” I agreed. “Betra, you know I’m not going back to my room alone, right?”
“You’ll spend tonight with me in here.” My liaison looked at Oses. “But since her rooms are more comfortable, I think I’ll stay there for the next few nights. Perhaps you’ll join us when you are available, Commander?”
My jaw nearly hit the floor. Betra was inviting Oses on a sleepover? With him and me? Oh boy, I owed that ghost big time if that was going to happen.
Oses wasn’t as obvious in his surprise, but it took him a few beats before he was able to answer. When he did, his voice sounded somewhat strained. “I’m available right now.”
It was Betra’s turn to look taken aback. “Oh. When you didn’t answer the com in your quarters, I assumed you were on duty.”
Oses started to talk and had to stop to clear his throat. “No, I couldn’t sleep. I was taking a walk when you called for me. Would you rather I not spend tonight with the two of you?”
Betra looked around his sleeping room, which was just as cramped as Oses’. “I suppose we’d all fit in here all right. Or we can go to Shalia’s quarters—”
“Not to be the big, whiny baby of the group, but I’m still not quite ready to face my rooms,” I interrupted. I gave Oses a shamefaced grin. “I had a nightmare, a really nasty one. That’s why I showed up on Betra’s doorstep.”
The Nobek nodded his understanding. “Sleep is still a rather difficult notion in the wake of what we went through.”
I committed the sin of asking, “Are you having trouble too?”
He didn’t take offense, fortunately. Oses shrugged, his face inscrutable. “It would be odd if I didn’t have the occasional issue, wouldn’t it? Since getting back, I often worry if everyone on board the ship is all right even when I know they are. I am the most responsible for the safety of the crew and passengers, especially given what happened to us a few weeks ago.”
Betra was careful to not show too much sympathy, lest he insult Oses. “I’ve often heard a properly protective Nobek is a sleepless Nobek.”
That made the big guy chuckle. “That sums it up rather well.”
The humor made us all relax. Oses eyed both Betra and me speculatively. “I suppose this is a guard detail, Imdiko? I have no hope of allowing for distractions?”
Betra folded his arms over his chest. “You and I are going to keep a watch for this thing while Shalia gets some rest. Perhaps if you join us early enough when we get together tomorrow night, we can figure something out.”
I was shocked again, but why should I have been? Betra had found someone who would indulge his interest in humiliation. Oses knew to keep his hands and other appendages off the Imdiko. We were finding some common ground for them to be together. It might not be quite the relationship either man truly wanted, but Betra seemed willing to give what he could. I guess nearly losing Oses to Finiuld had given him some appreciation for his would-be suitor.
Oses sighed. “Shalia does need her rest. I’m not sure if I can get with you two tomorrow, however. We’re making another portal jump.”
“Oh yeah,” I thought, remembering the bulletin that had gone out a few days ago. “I completely forgot about that.”
“We should be fine because we have a full complement of destroyers guarding the other side,” Oses said. “But we know better than to assume anything. I’m going to be busy monitoring the situation.”
“It sounds like it’s just you and me,” I told Betra.
Oses was quick to say, “I’ll come tomorrow if I can. I will probably show up too late for anything but sleep though.” He wrinkled his nose.
“He’s so deprived,” I said with mock sympathy.
Betra grinned. “He’s Oses. He’ll get through somehow. Meanwhile, little mother, you need to get into bed and get some sleep.”
“Right, right,” I groused as I climbed onto his sleeping mat. But I was tired, so I didn’t miss that we wouldn’t be romping tonight. Now that I had my two favorite shipmates to snuggle with and the scare of my nightmare and stalking ghost was fading, I thought sleep would be a pretty good thing to tackle.
Oses undressed and Betra shed the skirt-like thing he’d pulled on before answering my summons at his door. Their skin was welcome warmth as they climbed up next to me, making me the very happy filling of our Shalia sandwich. Feeling quite secure, I went to sleep quickly.
Betra roused me this morning. By the time he woke me, Oses had already left to get ready for his shift. They’d seen nothing all during their vigil. Of course. The ghost doesn’t show up when someone actually wants it to.
Betra was a little cranky that Oses had been so dismissive of what the Imdiko had seen with his own eyes. Oses maintains that Betra had been too startled to realize he was seeing some man, possibly just an innocent passerby, walking around the corner.
I hated to feel vindicated that Betra was getting a little of what he’d given me. I swear I tried not to feel smug over his pique that Oses doubted his word. But hey, I’m only human.