Eliannai stepped up behind the Science Officer and gently wrapped her fingers around his arm. For a moment, they both gazed at the dying body of their captain, also the Science Officer’s lifemate.
“Sibilius,” the dead Seeker whispered into his ear.
Turning his head, Sibilius jerked back for an instant as he recognized the now deceased First Officer.
“You’re dead!” he informed her, his voice sounding quite dramatic.
“Only bodies die, Father,” Eliannai replied, bringing his ancient mind back to the present.
“You’re Elaine – my second daughter,” Sibilius said, now recognizing her spirit. “Why are you come to me like this? Why do you torture me so?”
“Because she needs you, Father,” Eliannai told him quietly, indicating the dying captain on the table in front of them.
“Let me die, my child,” Sibilius begged. “It is my time and my soul is weary.”
He turned away from the dead First Officer and gazed again upon the blistered, dying form of his lifemate and captain.
“Can you bring her back?” he implored his tormentor. “For only if I could join with her again would I choose to do what my first daughter desires.”
“I promise you, Father,” Eliannai told him. “She will be waiting for you when you awaken in your new form.”
“How can that be, my daughter?” Sibilius implored her. “My lifemate is lost to me – lost to us all.”
“That is not true,” Eliannai promised. “She lives and her heart breaks. But unlike you, she knows not why she grieves.”
Sibilius started to say, “I know why I grieve…”
Turning Sibilius toward her with both hands on his shoulders, Eliannai stared intently into his eyes. “Look into my mind, my Father, and see the truth of what I say. Do you remember these words, Father?”
‘When my captain and my love are gone from me, she will not remember. When my captain and my love are gone from me, make me forget, so that I may continue…’
“Hethemtima…” Sibilius whispered, awakening with a strange smile on his face. “She lives in Hethemtima…”
“Yes, Father,” Elaine replied, sitting up on the bed where she’d been lying prone with him. “But like you, her mind has been crippled – her happiest memories ripped from her so that she could survive on the primitive world in which she was abandoned.
“But,” she continued, “the Praetor tells me that her work is complete, as is yours. Béla need not be deprived of the knowledge of her true self any longer. But she has commanded that she remain the way she is until you can once again be at her side.”
“I can only be at her side in death, my child,” Sibilius told her sadly.
“If that be your decision, she will join you there,” Eliannai told him. “Perhaps sooner that you would prefer. It would not take much to push her beyond any desire to live, as she has lost much, and her world is coming apart. If she loses you, she will have lost everything, and she will die. This, I have foreseen, although I sought not this knowledge.”
“What would you have me do, my daughter?” Sibilius asked, unwilling for his lifemate, if indeed that was who she was, to suffer needlessly.
“University is preparing a male hybrid for you to inhabit,” she replied. “When you are ready, the Praetor can help you transfer from your present form to your new one. There will be some memory loss – that I cannot prevent. But your memories of Alana are strong and you cherish them much. Those longings you will carry with you for the rest of your existence, no matter where you go or what you decide. Eons after you have forgotten her very name or even what she looked like, you will still long for her.”
“How can you promise that Alana will even know me?” Sibilius cried softly. “I did not recognize her in her new existence. Why should she recognize me?”
“But you did recognize her, Father,” Elaine said. “She is ever your favorite, beloved before any other. Her very presence soothes your aching soul. Before she died, Alana ordered the Praetor to make certain your mind did not connect the two of you until her tasks were complete.”
“How do you know all this, Child?” Sibilius asked, half convinced, now.
Elaine smiled. “You gave me my memories back, Father, when you showed me who I really was in your dream on that mountain. At that time, I recognized Alana in my sister, Béla. After that, I mind-linked with the Praetor and demanded that I be completely restored. You two belong together. My only desire in this is to see you and my sister fulfilled and content.”
“So be it, Child,” Sibilius relented. “When it is my time, I will have the Praetor restore me to life in your hybrid.”
“Thank you, Father,” Elaine replied, hugging her father gratefully.
‘Do you have your instructions, Praetor?’ Eliannai thought into the air around her as she left Sibilius’ bedchamber behind her.
‘My instructions are clear,’ the Praetor replied. ‘What you desire had already been commanded to me by the ‘Carte Blanche’, eons ago. I will hold the Regent in storage along with the ‘Carte Blanche’ until new hybrids are ready for them.’
“What?” Elaine asked, her attention completely on what the Praetor just told her. “What are you talking about?”
‘A new hybrid must be prepared for the ‘Carte Blanche’, as well, as she has destroyed her current one.’
“Oh, no!” Elaine whispered. Squeezing her eyes closed, she cried out, “Béla! Where are you?”
An image of the brightly lit inner surface. Warehouses glowing in the heat from the crystal sun. Ashes and bone lying on the pavement. A Skull still staring upward at the last thing she ever saw. A thin webwork barely recognizable as a wing tossed in the light breeze.
“No…” Elaine cried out, dropping to her knees. “It wasn’t supposed to happen yet! I didn’t see her dying before Father! Why didn’t I see this truly?”
‘But you did, Seeker,’ the Praetor informed her. ‘Your sister cannot be both Alana, the lover and Béla, the daughter. She chose to lose her identity as Béla and has come to me willingly. I return her memories even as I embrace her within me. Even now, she dreams… and remembers.’
“Will she remember me?” Elaine needed to know. “Will she remember her life on Earth? Her sisters? What about Jake?”
‘There is another for Jake,’ the Praetor told her. ‘While it is true he will grieve, Annalisa is there to heal his soul. And unlike the ‘Carte Blanche’, Annalisa is a true match for Jake. She can provide his soul’s deepest desires.’
“How do you know that?” Elaine demanded angrily. “How can you possibly know that it is Annalisa that Jake was meant for after all the pain and grief that Béla and Jake went through for each other? To be together?”
‘There are truths in the past of which you are not yet aware, Seeker,’ the Praetor told her. ‘Even Annalisa and Jake do not remember. But their souls were matched thousands of years ago. Do you not remember Hakone? The Chief Engineer’s assistant?’
“I remember,” Elaine replied, thinking back. “But he was already old when I was young. He must have died, by now.”
‘Yes, Seeker, he died over a thousand years ago. And like many lost crewmembers, his soul journeyed to Earth…’
“Are you trying to tell me Hakone is Jake?” Elaine asked, completely shaken by this knowledge. “And how are Hakone and Annalisa…”
Suddenly, she knew. Elaine had been the first female crewmember to be ‘saved’ by having her awareness transferred into one of Sibilius’ new hybrids. At that time, Hakone’s lifemate, Alysana was one of the thirty or so that had still been alive. That meant that Alysana was one of her hybrid sisters! All of the female crewmembers who had still been alive when she had died were now her sisters!
“Alysana and Hakone,” Elaine murmured, swaying unsteadily on her knees. “Annalisa and Jake.”
‘Jake fell in love with Béla because she reminded him of his lost Alysana.’
“So why did Béla love Jake?” Elaine asked, perplexed, her natural curiosity defeating her grief.
‘It is possible that she subconsciously recognized his soul as one she had known before,’ the Praetor suggested. ‘If you wish, I can ask her. She's right here with me, dreaming.’
“No, it’s all right,” Elaine said. “I will see her soon enough. For the present, my duties are clear. I must prepare her wake before I return to University to prepare for her reentry into our society.”
‘There is no hurry,’ the Praetor replied. ‘It will be two years before the hybrid forms reach the adult stage and are ready to be inhabited.’
The wake was for both Béla and Sibilius, whose remains were cremated. His ashes were added, along with the ashes that could be found of Béla, into a single cairn and launched in a small capsule toward massive Jupiter.
“My sisters,” Elaine said from the front of the great hall. “Many of you remember Béla only from your brief interaction during our initial voyage to New Eden. Before that, you do not remember her at all. But, I know that each and every one of you felt affection and devotion to her, even if you didn’t know why.
“All of you, of course, knew and revered Father. He was, after all, our creator. All of this around us, today, is his creation – his legacy.” She sniffed back tears for a moment before continuing.
“You know he created us all,” she continued. “But he only made the bodies you inhabit. He didn’t create you. Most of you believe that the Hybrid Project was solely an attempt to find a way for the Viragoans, of which Father was one, to survive in this solar system after the sun caused their species to become impotent.
“That is only part of the truth. The rest of it is… the female crewmembers of the great ship… Yes, there were females aboard. You didn’t know, did you? That’s because you were commanded by the Praetor not to think of it. But you – my sisters – you and I are the remaining females from that crew.
“Many of your fellow crewmembers died before the Hybrid Project was ready. Those lost souls probably ended up entering the life and death cycle of the human population on Earth. Those grand souls are lost to us forever. But twenty-nine of us were saved by Sibilius, and sent to live on earth in our new hybrid bodies.
“Béla was our Captain,” Elaine stopped for a moment as tears suddenly escaped and ran down her face. “And she was the last Viragoan female to perish here. Her name was Alana. She and Sibilius were lifemates. But when she was reborn as a hybrid, her memories were stripped away from her so that she would not remember – as were all of our memories of that life.
“Contamination of Earth’s technical knowledge was a paramount factor in that decision as well as the fact that none of us would survive well if we constantly yearned to return to the ship. So, we were made to forget.
“Sibilius also requested that the Praetor wipe his final memories of his lifemate so that he could continue her project. Her project – New Eden – is now complete. And Sibilius was permitted, in his final moments, to remember his beloved Alana and who she really was.”
“But upon his dying, Alana – Béla – took her own life so she could be with him, forever. And they will be together, indeed. Even now, two new hybrids are being grown at University – one male and one female. Soon, there will be cause to rejoice for they will be reunited in life even as their ashes are united in their deaths.”
Elaine stopped for a moment and gazed out at the people filling the hall. They were all talking now, and wouldn’t hear her, anyway. Most of Béla’s friends from earth were openly crying. Lisa just sat, alone in a chair, staring at the floor in front of her.
Elaine remembered the quarrel they’d had when Lisa wanted to go back and save her mother. Going back in time to save someone was a new concept for Elaine, but evidently a common response by Lisa. She had saved her friends from dying many times in that exact same manner and didn’t understand why Elaine didn’t want her dearest sister saved.
She looked up at the podium and gazed at the magnificent blonde standing there.
‘You could have told me instead of saying the Praetor said so,’ she thought into the Seeker’s mind. ‘She was my mother, after all.’
‘She was many things to all of us, Phoenix,’ Elaine replied silently, ‘Mother, sister, lover, friend and captain. But she was not yours to rescue. Before everything else, she was Sibilius’ lifemate. And she will be again, if that is what they decide to do with their new lives.
‘But, as you are no longer Béla’s true daughter, she will no longer be who she was. New life provides new opportunities for us all.’
Macario was there at Lisa’s side, now. Suddenly Elaine recognized his soul. He was yet another crewmember from their great ship. He had been lost during the initial attack by the Arcadians when a section of the ship suddenly depressurized and cast him and several others into space.
Hardly daring to hope, Elaine gazed around the room, her body growing goosebumps as she realized that several other humans in the room, both male and female, were crewmembers who had been lost to them for thousands of years. Béla had somehow brought them together, along with several hundred others to confuse everything up so that she didn’t even realize she was simply rescuing her lost shipmates.
‘And saving the best of humankind…’
The wake was over. The main topic of conversation as everyone left was that those whom they loved would live again. Jake and Annalisa, who had been in tears only moments earlier, met Elaine as she neared the entrance hall.
“I was feeling so guilty about Annalisa,” Jake told her. “Then you tell us all that Béla was meant for that Sibilius fellow. It’s amazing. I don’t understand a lot of what’s happening, but I’m relieved that everything’s going to work out for her.”
Elaine smiled. There was really nothing she could add. She reached out and hugged both of them to her.
‘He felt terribly betrayed by me, upon learning of Béla’s death,’ Annalisa thought into her sister’s mind. ‘In some way, he was certain that we were responsible. But I did some right-finding on him and it seemed to help. What we learned today helped even more. Thank you, my sister.’
“Were all us sisters once really crewmembers on that ship that brought us to New Eden?” Dawn asked as she came up, the leading edge of several curious goddesses, and joined them.
Elaine grinned at them all. Everything was going to work out after all.
“You have no idea,” she replied. “Let me tell you a story…”