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?”

No answer.

“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.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

April 5, afternoon (part 3)



I’d asked Oses to check into Clan Seot, and I wasted no time after our encounter sending him all the information I had on my would-be mates. The weapons commander’s comment that Dad Rak would want to give them a once-over gave me a great excuse to send my dads a message too. I miss my adoptive parents in the worst way. It sucks that there are two days between me comming them and them receiving it.

But I did my daughterly duty, telling them about Seot, Cifa, and Larten.  I also told them about my haunting problem, though I went with a ghost-story-by-the-campfire vibe; lighthearted with an exaggerated drama-queen spin. I have put those men through enough with my unwanted adventures. Nayun in particular will have a nervous breakdown if he thinks I’m in trouble yet again.

My kiddo did some kicking as I recorded my message to the dads. I shared that with them too, thinking the future grandfathers would enjoy knowing their grandchild is healthy and active. I asked Nayun if Kalquorian names have meanings, and if so, what does his mean. He’ll probably figure out I’d like my child, if it’s a boy, to have his name. I hope he doesn’t mind.

With me getting into the second trimester of my pregnancy, I’m starting to worry more and more about how I’m going to be as a mother. My mom was no great shakes at being a parent, but I still wish I could pick her brain about what things to expect. I suppose I could talk to Katrina about it. She’s a mom, after all. However, with her kids and grandkids still not found back on Earth, I’m afraid it will upset her too much.

It’s funny. I’ve got all this support from friends and yet I feel almost totally alone on this mom-to-be issue. Thank goodness I still have plenty of time to figure stuff out.

Once I’d caught up on all that, I went in search of Candy and Katrina. I found them in Candy’s room, muttering over their handhelds.

“It’s about time,” Candy said by way of greeting me. “Give me your handheld so I can set it up.”

“Set it up for what?” I asked, though I gave it up to her right away.

“We’re going on a ghost hunting expedition,” Katrina said. “Candy has some ideas on how we might be able to tune the audio and video recording frequencies. Maybe we can catch evidence of something knocking around here.”

Her tone was bland enough that I knew she didn’t think much of the idea. I thought it was kind of ridiculous myself, but then neither of us had put any stock into the idea of ghosts at all a few days ago. We’d been proven wrong on that count, so I saw no harm in playing along with Candy’s ideas.

“What exactly are you doing?” I asked her as she fiddled with my unit. I hoped she wasn’t doing anything that would necessitate me having to buy a new handheld. My funds were low after clothes shopping on Xniktix Station.

Candy was bright and happy, as if going to a party instead of readying to stalk a potentially malevolent spirit. “I’m widening the frequency-capturing stream of the audio recorder that’s in here. Plus I’m installing infra-red, nightvision, heat detection, and full spectrum applications.”

Katrina sighed. “I hope that means something to you, Shalia. Candy might as well have told me she was flurbing a durdle on Planet Bejwa with a goojoos. That’s how much sense she was making to me.”

I laughed at our elder friend’s confusion. Since I’d done industrial video work, I knew the terms Candy referred to. Except for filming with nightvision, I had not had the opportunity to use any of them. Plus I was quite amazed at Candy’s know-how when it came to programming our devices that way. She comes off as ditzy so often that I am sometimes guilty of forgetting just how intelligent she is.

“Can they really detect all that at once?” I asked her.

Candy wrinkled her nose prettily. When I make that face, I look like I smelled something disgusting.

She told me, “Unfortunately, no. None of us can perform more than two vid functions at a time, plus the enhanced audio. But I thought I’d give us all the options in case one or more of these things shuts down, as often happens around ghosts. We’re each others’ backups.”

“Why would they shut down around spirits?” Katrina asked.

“Because spirits suck up energy to manifest. Even though I’m making sure our handhelds are all fully powered, you can bet at least one of these will experience a massive energy drain if we encounter our haunt.” Candy handed me my device. “You’re all set.”

I checked out my handheld, putting on the different modes of vid. Heat-sensing was particularly cool; Candy and Katrina were red- and white-hot shapes before me. Infrared gave me a headache with all those rainbow hues arching across my view screen. Full spectrum was even worse. Nightvision was of no use since the room was well lit.

Candy shouldered a small pack. “What’s in there?” I asked.

“Holy water, salt, and incense made from some plant called an amnetric. Plus an Earther bible.” Candy wrinkled her nose.

“Where did you get holy water?” I asked. “And incense? What are you going to do with all that?”

Candy sighed. “I got the priest from the Temple of Life to bless some water. I had to talk him into it. He seemed confused about the matter and argued that water is a source of life and therefore already blessed. The amnetric is an aromatic similar to sage. Burning sage and scattering salt supposedly clear away evil influences.”

“Witchcraft,” Katrina muttered. “If you’d been caught doing such things on Earth, they would have burned you for it.”

Candy waved her off. “In my spirit-hunting group back on Earth, we would use these things plus certain verses of the bible to exorcise troublesome entities. If we run into our dark soul and he shows us he is evil, we can get rid of him.”

This was getting harder for me to swallow all the time. Yes, I had seen a ghost more than once, but now we were getting into hocus-pocus. “Candy, I thought you didn’t believe in Earth’s religion.”

“Some of it has merit,” she insisted. She watched Katrina and me carefully, as if waiting to be laughed at. “I believe in a higher power, one that loves us. One that can keep us safe. My faith in that will make this work.”

Who was I to argue with her? I also held hopes for a loving all-powerful being who watches us and takes care of us when this life is done. Besides, it was better to try and do something about this thing that stalked me rather than wait in fear of the bogeyman.

“I’m ready when you are,” I told the gals.

We started in my rooms, since most of the activity has occurred in there. Under Candy’s direction, Katrina perched on the lounger in my sitting room, and I settled myself on my bed. Candy said that once we started our ‘session’ she would stand in the doorway between the two rooms and keep an eye on the two of us as well as our surroundings.

Candy set Katrina’s vid monitor to the nightvision option. I took heat-source sensitivity mode, and Candy said she would record both infra-red and full spectrum readings. We all had our enhanced audio recorders going. Candy got in position. I ordered the lights off.

“Shalia’s quarters, sitting and sleeping rooms. Candy, Katrina, and Shalia present,” Candy said in a business-like tone. “Starting EVP interview.”

“E-V what?” asked Katrina.

“EVP. Electronic Voice Phenomenon. That’s what it’s called when you capture a disembodied voice on a recording device that you didn’t hear with your own ears,” Candy informed her. “First question: is there anyone here besides the three of us women?”

“Damn it, if anyone answers you, I’m going to wet my britches,” Katrina muttered just loud enough for me to hear.

Candy had a note of impatience in her tone. “When I ask a question, try to remain silent for a minute. We have to give the spirit a chance to respond.”

For my part, I was more interested in my heat-sensitive recording program. Though it was too dark in the room for me to see Candy in the doorway, I saw her on my small vid readout. Even though I couldn’t see much in the way of identifiable features, I still would have know it was her. The outline was perfect around the white-red-orange shape of her, making it impossible to mistake her for anyone else. I thought about the shadow figure I’d seen, half melted into the darker shadowed corner of my room. If I’d been able to point this thing at my unwanted visitor, would I have recognized him? Would I have known the unnamed Earther Oses had tortured on Finiuld’s ship? I would definitely have known the short shape of an Ofetuchan, be it Finiuld or Glidas haunting me. But the shadow had been big, Kalquorian big. It had moved like a Kalquorian in our would-be club. If it was the wrongly murdered man who had died before we’d ever set foot on board the Pussy ‘Porter, I wouldn’t have known him. But I knew a Kalquorian when I saw one.

That led me to wonder something else ... was it possible the haunt was not a Kalquorian but pretending to be to throw us all off? Was that even possible? I’d have to ask Candy.

She was busy interviewing our missing visitor, throwing out questions every minute. “Are you an angry spirit?  Why are you here? Are you male or female? Do you hate Earthers? Were you murdered? Are you Nobek Frin?”

Katrina sounded bored when she dared to speak. “I’m not getting anything. How are we supposed to know if we’re getting answers if you don’t stop and check before asking the next one?”

Candy didn’t sound impatient this time. I think she liked sharing her expertise on the matter. “We could stop and check, but if the spirit is here and talking, doing so could interrupt his flow. I know it doesn’t seem like much is happening right now, but trying to prove the paranormal takes a lot of patience.”

“No kidding.”

“I understand if you want to quit after we’re done in Shalia’s rooms. I still want to cover the corridor, my quarters, and the club ... all the places there has been activity.”

Katrina sighed. “No, I’ll stick with it. I want my dance club and I want to know what’s going on. Carry on, fearless leader.”

Candy chuckled, but it was I who threw out the next question. “To the entity that has been seen – I feel like you are concentrating on me much of the time. Why? Have I done something to offend you?”

The other two were silent as we waited for an answer. Then Candy added something I hadn’t thought of. “Are you attracted to Shalia because she is pregnant?”

Then me: “Are you really Kalquorian? Or are you Earther? Or Ofetuchan?”

I thought I heard Candy suck in a breath at that one, but she kept quiet.

We went on for about an hour like that, and even Katrina asked a few questions.

Next, Candy tried to bless my room, and thus exorcise the unwanted spirit. She burned the sage, walking around to make it waft throughout my rooms. Even the restroom was ‘smudged’ as she called it. Then she sprinkled holy water around while reciting verses from the bible about how much greater Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses were than Satan and how evil could not triumph over good. She said a prayer and then informed us we were done with my room. We turned the lights on and tried the other places Candy wanted to investigate.

Except for the corridor, which had to remain lit and was too busy for interviewing ghosts, we did the same thing. In the corridor, we simply recorded vid  where the ghost had been seen melting into a wall. We saw and heard nothing amiss. I had the idea the whole thing was a wash.

Candy gave us an apologetic smile when we were done. “If you thought that was boring, analysis is doubly so. This is going to take a few hours, so let’s grab lunch and plenty of coffee.”

We did so, swallowing our meal in about 15 minutes. Then we set to work, staring at the vids we’d shot and listening to our audio files.

Three hours later, my eyes felt ready to fall out of my skull. My ears wanted to leak brain matter. We’d found nothing ghostly or otherwise in all our recordings. Just as I’d suspected, it was a bust.

Katrina looked as exhausted as I felt. Candy managed a wan smile. “Well, the ghost didn’t come out to play, but maybe the exorcism will keep it gone for good.”

So I lost a few hours I’ll never get back. If I never see that dark shape again, I’ll count it as time well spent.