“From the dark past to the bright future, the march is defined by its final step.” Theesana.
It was a stormy dawn on the Central City tarmac as a cool eastern gale pushed in from the sea. Maintenance crewmen and litter moved chaotically in the damp wind, and wrist lights danced like fireflies in a black box. The dark sea surged against the crylosite wave barriers, spitting a dull white froth across the outer tarmac, and there was no distinction between noises as the brewing tempest absorbed all.
Engines thrummed in a bone-jarring tremor as ship lights stabbed the tarmac with small islands of brightness. Heaven stood in a circle of light below the black personnel transport, pressing her cap to her head with one hand and wiping damp hairs from her eyes with the other. Her rain slicker snapped about in the gusting wind as Albert clutched her elbow and drew her close.
A sounding alarm warned of the departure of a nearby craft. Albert waited for the passing of clangor and the fading of clamor, then pulled Heaven’s ear close to his lips holding his cloak in place as the strong winds rocked them, threatening their precarious stance, but he needed to speak.
“Bring my uncle home,” said Albert against the wind.
Heaven put her mouth to the King’s ear and replied, “There may only be remains.”
Albert answered in kind, “We will give him a proper burial. I need to know either way.”
The pilot yelled from the top of the ramp, “Lift off in two!”
Albert waved the Captain back inside. He pulled Heaven close. “I leave it in your hands, Constable Langley.”
The winds stood still as if frozen in time. Lightning flashed in the sky above a churning sea. Heaven clasped the King’s imploring hands. She knew how the King felt. She shared the need, a need for closure, but her need felt like a yoke. She had lost him twice. Besh had been a hitchhiker among the worlds, a space-faring hobo, a golden apple, a wizard. Her feelings for him were confused but adamant. Her eyes locked with those of the King.
“I will not fail,” she said.
Heaven shared the ship with a female pilot, Captain Shirah; her jumpsuit and helmet hid her petite form. Heaven sat in the dim light of the empty transport, her wet slicker on the seat across from her. She smoothed back her long hair and retied it, refitting her cap with pins in the back and front. The sudden quiet of the transport was a relief to Heaven’s ears.
The Captain turned in her seat and called back to Heaven, “We’re in for some chop but no problem.”
It was cool and dark, and through the window, Heaven saw a black sky embraced by arms of bright lightning. There would be thunder, but she would not hear it; there was dead silence inside the transport. Heaven heard her own breathing and felt the floor vibrate beneath her feet. The black craft shook from external turbulence, but Heaven paid it no mind.
Her thoughts turned to Besh. Heaven was headed to an alien world for the ‘disposition’ of Ben Edward Shuller. What an ominous missive. Was he dead? No, she mustn’t think so. She had to be positive. If Besh was dead, the message would have said so. Heaven remembered the old man.
Besh walked from the shower room dressed in white cotton trousers and a loose-fitting long-sleeved top. He approached with a smile. She stooped and slid the cage and collector through the slot by the table.
“Hello,” said Besh. “Is this lunch?”
Heaven smiled at the recollection. She had been in front of the man she sought for seven years and did not recognize him. The first Besh, middle-aged, seemed so healthy and full of life. The second Besh seemed ancient and spent. The smile was the same; she should have recognized the smile.
The old man said with happiness in his eyes, “I must say, you are just as lovely as I recall.”
“I’m sorry,” said Heaven. “Do we know each other?”
He held out the familiar bag. Heaven gaped. It was him! Returning the bag beneath his white beard, he spoke.
“Besh at your service.”
Having shaken and folded her rain slicker, Heaven removed her uniform jacket and laid it over the back of the seat beside her. The ship was past the front and nearing Fort Behemoth. The sun breaking through, bright light illuminated the empty cabin in joyous splashes of orange. Heaven checked the time; the ship had made good progress.
“RMT 14-3 to Fort Behemoth control,” said the pilot.
A voice burbled through the comm, “Go ahead RMT 14-3.”
Shirah answered, “Tim, are you underwater?”
Control answered, “Adjusting,” and in a clearer voice asked, “Is that you, Criss?”
Captain Shirah said, “Royal Constabulary on board. En route to your Northern Plain Sector.”
After a brief pause, control countered, “Duty says no. Reassign to Fort Behemoth median.”
“Hang on,” said Shirah. Removing her helmet and tossing her umber locks, the pilot turned in her seat and called to Heaven. “We’re being rerouted, ma’am.”
Heaven left her seat in the cabin and sat across from the pilot. A frown on her face, she tapped on the comm and asked, “Why are we being rerouted?”
Control answered, his voice contrite, “Duty says the Northern Plain Sector is restricted.”
Heaven answered, “Of course it’s restricted. The King ordered it so for the expedience of my mission.”
Tim replied, “Sorry, ma’am.”
Heaven said, frustration evident in her voice, “I represent the King. Word was sent. Are you defying the King’s command?”
A new voice came across the comm. “Sorry, ma’am. This is Duty Officer Regis. Please submit your expedite code.”
Heaven rose from the seat and returned to her jacket. She removed the folded paper from her jacket pocket with a disgruntled sound in the back of her throat. She could blame Fort Behemoth, but she would have to share the blame. She did not appreciate the picayune spirit. Heaven fell into the co-pilot seat and drove her finger into the comm pad.
“Control,” said Heaven with a touch of impatience in her voice. “Pay attention. Expedite code zero-one-zero priority Albert. Got it?”
Regis answered, “Yes ma’am. Proceed to priority landing.”
With a smile below her button nose, Shirah cheered the Constable’s command. “That’s showing them, ma’am.”
Heaven turned to the Captain, a response on her lips. The tight cockpit was shiny with flashing lights and animated displays. There was just a hint of new leather in the air. As Heaven inhaled, her wrist comm chimed.
“Excuse me,” said Heaven, rising to leave the cockpit.
She returned to her seat, opened the feed, and answered in her professional voice. “Constable Langley, here.”
“Heaven?” It was Sam. His calls had been frequent of late. “This is Sam. I’ll arrive at Merlin soon. I’d like to see you.”
Heaven asked, “Why are you going to Merlin?”
Sam answered in a glad tone, “Going to open an Embassy in Ashpall.”
“Sorry,” said Heaven, surprised to hear him mention her hometown. “Ashpall?”
Sam laughed. “Raul is my Ambassador. Where are you? Let’s take some time for ourselves.”
“Listen,” said Heaven. “I’m in the middle of some business for Albert.”
“Oh,” said Sam, sounding disappointed.
Heaven said, “Let me call you when I’m through.”
Sam’s voice hardened in disappointment. Heaven did not want to hurt him; she had been putting him off a lot. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to speak, but Sam spoke first.
“So,” said Sam. “I’ll drop Raul and head to Pendragon. You’ll find me with the King.”
Sam ended the feed, and Heaven’s breath caught in her throat. Sam seemed angry. With an ache in her heart, Heaven tapped off and stared into the middle distance. Her relationship with the King of Orlain, at first exhilarating, had turned down a rocky path of need and obsession. Heaven stared at the ceiling knowing she must confront him sooner or later. How does one tell a King that they are through?
Great swathes of sun and shadow raced across the plain. A fragrant breeze blew in from the north as Heaven turned at the top of the ramp to look into the Captain’s smiling face. She took the Captain’s hand and pumped it. Heaven felt a kindred spirit in the young pilot; perhaps they might meet again.
“Wish I could go with you,” said Shirah. “I’ve never seen an alien.”
“Seen one, seen ‘em all,” said Heaven with a merry wink.
Heaven turned and smoothed her jacket. She walked to the bottom of the ramp with no particular sense of urgency. She looked west and saw distant trees. She looked north and saw flowering shrubs climbing a hillside. She looked at the portal and saw only two armed MPs in black armbands and helmets.
Where was the alien? Heaven felt a nagging worry as she set off across the plain. She walked toward the standing stone with a clear recollection of a middle-aged man vanishing. He had walked into it as if it had been water. A new thought assailed Heaven. How would it feel when she went through? Of course, the side she faced was broken. The MPs snapped to attention as Heaven neared, and the alien stepped from behind the portal.
Under the watchful eyes of the Military Police, Heaven stood before the alien and looked up into her face. She was tall. She was blue. Her eyes sat at an odd angle, otherwise, she was quite lovely in a knee-length drape that accentuated her feminine attributes.
“Mireba?” asked Heaven.
“I am Mireba,” answered the blue alien, speaking past thin lips and white teeth in an unemotional manner.
Heaven stood at attention and spoke in her official voice. “I am Constable Heaven Langley, representing King Albert of Pendragon.”
“You may relax,” answered Mireba, her voice like the music of a baritone flute. “I am no one of import.”
“I am happy to meet you, nonetheless,” said Heaven.
Mireba held out a hand to Heaven. Heaven was unsure to touch Mireba’s cool blue skin. Mireba said, “Take my hand. We should not waste time.”
Heaven cleared her throat and grasped the alien hand.