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by Dale Musser
Publisher Dale Musser
Kindle Price: $4.75
Borrow this book for free on a Kindle device with Amazon Prime
This story continues from book 1. Tibby and Kalana are poisoned by the enemy, Tibby’s Earth DNA is stronger than the poison however Kalana is dying and must be placed into stasis. The antidote can only be found on the remote planet of Alle Bamma. Tibby abandons a Federation plan to ambush the Brotherhood, and races to the jungle planet aboard his space yacht, in search of rare rugian eggs that provide the antidote. There he discovers Brotherhood drug labs and bases. He must defeat the Brotherhood, free slaves, find eggs, and deal with a mysterious god entity called Thumumba.
Every time someone close to us dies, a part of us dies with them and we are never quite the same, never quite whole again. Certainly that is how we felt with the death of Lunnie – dear sweet Lunnie – who could never be serious, always taunting someone with a wise crack or joke. Yet, when the time came for someone to put their life on the line for the sake of others, Lunnie accepted the challenge. I had known her only a very short time – just a few weeks really. It was Lunnie who made me realize how much I loved her sister, Kala, and it was Lunnie’s impish nature that brought Kala and me together.
Then there was Captain Maxette, the first person I talked to after leaving Earth. True, it was over a vid screen; but still, his commanding and reassuring voice was a welcome relief from the silence and the unknowns of deep space. I looked up to Maxette. He was more than a friend; and though we didn’t spend a lot of time together, there seemed to be a real connection with the man. I trusted him. He had lived up to that trust and more; and now he, too, was gone.
I wasn’t familiar with the death rites practiced in the Federation. Kala said that ceremonies varied from planet to planet; but for military people who died in the line of duty there were two accepted ceremonial methods. One was cremation, similar to traditional Earth cremation practices; and the other was, I suppose, also cremation in a way, or perhaps like a combination of cremation and burial at sea, as the remains were ejected from a ship into the nearest star.
Because of the significance of the heroic deaths that occurred in the battle for control of the galaxy’s entire supply of solbidyum, the Federation decided that the cremations for the fallen would take place on the capital planet of Megelleon. Over 6,000 civilians, dignitaries and military troops died in battle and as a result of the tidal wave created in the Western Ocean when the subsea rebel base was destroyed. Private services had already been held for the civilians; but those that wore the uniforms of the Federation military forces were to be cremated in a large public ceremony at a site just outside the capital city.
The service took place in a large valley basin surrounded on three sides by rolling hills. On the slopes of these hills gathered countless citizens, who had walked over a kilometer to the ceremony site from the arrival area. Thousands of funeral pyres were configured across the valley floor, each fueled by intense gas flames from individual burners. Nearly every crematory unit on the planet was required for this single service. The bodies were laid out in concentric circular arrangements separated by avenues stretching out like the spokes of a wheel away from a central hub, where the crematories of Captain Maxette and Corporal Luinella were situated. Once lit, each pyre would produce a bright, almost white flame, except for the pyres of Lunnie and Captain Maxette, which would burn an intense blue‑white from a special chemical mixed into the fuel. I asked Kala to explain the symbolism of the blue flame, but she couldn’t speak through the tears and emotions to tell me; so I never did learn the significance. It suffices to say that it showed special honor to Lunnie and Maxette for sacrificing their lives to save the planet, the Federation and the solbidyum. The Federation had commissioned two statues in their honor and posthumously named them First Citizens, the highest honor that can be bestowed on any individual in the Federation.
As a recognized dignitary, I had planned to wear a black suit of the dignitary cut, similar to Earth’s Nehru jackets of the late 1960s era; but Kala informed me that I should wear the formal white military cut instead. I had been made an honorary vice admiral by the Federation Space Force; and though I had no authority in the military sense, I was to be shown all the respect and honors reserved for one of the rank of vice admiral. Inasmuch as this was a military function to honor fallen soldiers, Kala said it would be inappropriate for me to dress in anything other than the uniform that identified this rank and stature.
Unlike the bugle or bagpipe music played at Earth services that are held in honor of fallen military and public servants, the Federation ceremonies instead used a squad of Federation drummers who performed throughout the service in a complex interplay of rhythms on large base drums. When preparing me for the ceremony, Kala showed me vids that demonstrated the role of the drummers. I had once seen a unique group of Japanese drummers perform on Earth and I found this drumming vaguely reminiscent of that occasion.
Kala said that the ceremony of a single individual normally included a detail of five to eight drummers. At this ceremony I watched a squad of at least 200 assemble at attention in a ringed formation amid the concentric circles of pyres. I asked Kala about the origins of the drumming tradition, but she said that no one was certain anymore. Drums had been part of funeral rituals for thousands of years, but no one knew why. I would imagine the same could be said for the bagpipes found in a multitude of cultures on Earth, though I had heard once that the bagpipe tradition had something to do with the belief in keeping banshees away from the dead.
Funeral services in the Federation had no speeches; those had been made during earlier memorial gatherings. People arrived in solemn and respectful silence, speaking only when necessary and in the lowest of voices. As the ceremony began with the deep rumble of drums, Admiral Regeny and I made our way to the central area with a small entourage of Federation military officers and Leader Rieam, one of the three ruling leaders of the Federation. At my side were Lieutenant Commander Kalana, Lieutenant Marranalis, Captain Stonbersa and Kerabac – all members of my crew and personal staff who had played significant roles in the victory over the rebel faction called the BROTHERHOOD OF LIGHT.
We stood together in formation before the funeral pyre of Lunnie and Captain Maxette. At a specific drum cadence we came to attention and placed our right hands on our left shoulders in the traditional Federation salute. The drums rolled into a low crescendo as the fires of the central pyres were lit into twin pillars of blue-white flame. The immediate emotional impact of the percussion and the fires caught me off guard and I could feel my chest well with grief. After a few moments we turned to face away from the center and slowly walk outward through a central passage, repeating the salute when we arrived at each successive ring of funeral pyres, which then ignited into enormous halos of white flame behind us as we passed.
As we progressed toward the drummers, their formation retreated outward, never pausing in their rhythms. I could feel the intense heat at my back from the growing number of burning pyres and I began to perspire. At the same time, the hollow reverberation of the drums sent an intense chill through my body, as one group of drummers would strike up a particular rhythm, which was then echoed by another group, followed by another, on and on around the wheel. The effect of this relentless and powerful dialogue of rhythms was deeply and painfully moving, but also cathartic and healing, evoking feelings of strength, power, and pride in those who had fallen. The percussion resonated inside all of us, unifying us in one understanding – that the sacrifices made by these men and women had indeed not been in vain and that every glory and honor was due to them for all eternity.
Finally, as we reached the last ring of pyres, we turned back to face the valley. The intensity of the bright white flames was nearly blinding and the heat was overwhelming. I almost expected to see our clothing scorched and smoldering.
The drummers then took up a steady beat in unison. The rhythm grew into a powerful crescendo that consumed my body and mind until I lost all sense of time and I could think of nothing – not the pain from my injuries, not the people that stood with me to honor the dead, not even my grief. I stood there with my companions for I don’t know how long, looking into the rings of fire as the echoing rhythms filled every recess of my being. Finally, the drumming culminated in a single, thunderous boom that echoed off the surrounding hills and released me from its transfixing grasp on my soul. Then, in one voice made up of thousands, the masses of people on the surrounding hills shouted “Hoye’ Aah!” which means “Forever Peace!”
Silently but rapidly everyone then crossed over the hilltops, escaping the nearly unbearable heat to return to their transports in the parking area. As we came to the crest of the hill, Kala took my hand and we paused to look back at the sea of white fire that formed mesmerizing circles around two bright blue flames. The rising glow of smoke carried the blue beams aloft, and our eyes followed upward toward the stars where they pointed. There we saw the bright light of the DUSTEN in high orbit, the ship where most of the honored had served and died.
For the next two days Kala and I did very little. We held each other and listened to music; we took leisurely swims, not racing in the competitive way that we sometimes did. We spoke little; and when we did, it was not about Lunnie or the battle. On the fourth day the estate medic stopped by and asked to inspect the knife wounds I had received at the hands of the traitor, Lexmal. The wounds had been sealed with some kind of liquid that formed a skin-like bandage. After a quick examination he announced that everything was looking good and he gave me a bottle of liquid that I was to use in about three days to remove all the residue of the bandages. Thereafter, it was expected that my wounds would be healed.
When he left our suite of rooms, Kala put her arms around me. “Tib, I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost you, too. You’re all I have left in this universe.”
I kissed her and then leaned back to look at her. “Now that you mention it, you’re all I have in this universe too. I think that means we really need to stick together.” For the first time since Lunnie’s death Kala laughed. She kissed me over and over again, all over my face, laughing softly between kisses. Of course I kissed her back and ultimately it ended with the two of us in bed, making love for the first time since the battle to recover the DUSTEN.
Later, I woke from our nap to see Kala lying on her side, gazing at me thoughtfully. She asked, “Tibby, before you regained consciousness in the infirmary on the DUSTEN, you were mumbling, ‘Wait Lunnie… come back Lunnie,’ as though you could see her. Do you remember anything about it?”
“I did see her, Kala,” I said. “I think I was dead – or almost dead anyway. I found myself standing in an open meadow with knee-high grass. To the right and left of me were hills covered in huge, old trees. A breeze blew through the grasses; and ahead I could see Lunnie walking away from me. I tried to call out to her, but my voice wouldn’t work. As she reached the crest of a small hill she turned to look back at me. She smiled and said, ‘Go back, Tibby, it’s not yet your time. You still have more to do. Go back to Kala. Take care of her, Tibby, she loves you.’ Then I felt myself being pulled back; and when I opened my eyes, you were there.”
“Tib, you were dead!” Kala said, “You were dead for two full minutes. You had no pulse, no brain waves, nothing! The defibrillator administered electrical shocks several times in attempts to restart you heart. The medics were about to give up when your heart started beating again after the last attempt. Tell me, what did Lunnie look like when you saw her?”
“Well,” I began, “she looked like Lunnie, but she didn’t have any wounds or scars. Oh, and she was naked, now that I think about it. I believe I was too. She looked happy and at peace, like there wasn’t a care in the world for her. I think it’s the first time that she didn’t make some sort of wise crack. She seemed serious, yet happy at the same time.”
Kala was about to say something else when a call came in from her assistant. Using her wrist com Kala asked, “This is Kalana, what do you need?”
“Cantolla, Dakko and Rivez have been calling for two days now, wondering what they’re supposed to do. They completed the project you asked of them and now they would like to be paid and transported home. Cantolla in particular wants to speak to Tibby before she leaves; but Dakko and Rivez just want to receive their pay and go.”
Kala turned to me, raising an eyebrow in a questioning manner.
I interjected, “Pay them all, plus triple the bonus I promised them. They earned it. As for Cantolla…. Where are they, anyway, on the ship or here at the estate?”
“They’re here. They came down with us on the shuttle, don’t you remember?” Kala said with a concerned look.
“Oh yeah, right,” I said. “I guess with all the activity and the pain from the wounds and all, I kind of blocked out our return to the surface. Well, tell her to meet us for dinner this evening out on that pretty garden terrace we like so much. Hmmm, make it at sunset… and have the chef fix up something especially nice.”
Kala relayed the message to her assistant and looked at me strangely. “What are you up to, Tib? I thought you were trying to keep Cantolla away from me?”
I laughed, as I played with Kala’s disheveled hair. “She may be a lesbian with the hots for you, Kala, but I also think she is an ethical person. I don’t think she’s going to put the moves on you, especially this evening. Quite the opposite – I think she’s going to ask me for a job.”
“Oh?” Kala replied with a look of surprise, “and what makes you think that?”
“Cantolla is a very bright woman. She likes challenges and likes to prove herself.” I playfully pulled a length of Kala’s hair under her nose to fashion a mustache as I continued. “And, while funding at the university allows her to demonstrate her capabilities, she is restricted by budgets and other red tape. Working for me would allow her to broaden her research with a virtually unlimited budget. She would be able to accomplish far more in a few years of working for me than she could ever hope to accomplish at the university in a lifetime. Plus I think she likes the adventure.”
When the time came for dinner, I rifled through the wardrobe, looking for something new to wear. I was getting tired of always being dressed in official diplomatic attire. Now, because of my new title as vice admiral, I had even more uniforms and formalwear filling my closet. I was longing for something more casual.
While we had been away from the estate, fighting to overcome the Brotherhood and recover the DUSTEN, Piesew, who served as the majordomo on my space yacht, the NEW ORLEANS, had recommended an associate of his to serve as majordomo at the estate. His name was Piebar Nokaran, apparently a cousin to Piesew. I called Piebar to my suite and explained to him that I wanted a shirt, basically like a polo shirt (which I had to describe). Piebar scratched his head a moment, then went to the vid screen and began giving it verbal commands. Apparently, the main issue was one of collars. It seemed that shirt collars, as I knew them on Earth, seemed to be either out of fashion in the Federation or never existed at all. Eventually, I settled on a short-sleeved crew neck type shirt that was far more casual than the suits and uniforms – and comfortable as well. Piebar had a dozen made up for me in differing colors. I chose a beige color and a pair of dark pants to wear for the evening meal. While I fussed over my clothing, Kala was away giving instructions to her staff. When she returned, she stood with her hands on her hips, eying me up and down. She said with a smile, “I like it. It looks good. You might just start a new dress fad.”
“I hope so,” I replied, “because frankly, I am getting tired of being dressed up like a –,” I wanted to say monkey, but she wouldn’t have understood that. I wasn’t able to find a word in Federation language that would work, so I simply said, “diplomat.”
It’s funny how some words translate readily into the Federation language, while others have no equal. Fish translates easily because there are fish or fish-like creatures on many of the Federation planets; but monkey really has no equivalent, though there are some non-human simian‑like creatures on many of the planets. The words husband and wife likewise do not translate well in to Federation language, but the phrase bond mate comes close to having the same meaning.
Kala donned an emerald green dress that had a distinctively Asian-like Earth style. She looked absolutely stunning. I almost feared that Cantolla might be tempted to make another pass at Kala, like she had on her first visit to the estate.
We were standing at railing on the terrace, where we looked out over a garden waterfall and stream, when we heard Cantolla arrive. We turned to see her walk across the patio toward us. She wore a most unusual dress. There was nothing necessarily unique about the cut of the dress; it was similar to many formal cut gowns that one might see on Earth. What was unusual was that the fabric kept changing colors. Waves of shifting hues moved across the fabric in a never-ending flow. I remarked to Kala that I had never seen anything like it before. Kala hadn’t either. I was beginning to feel terribly underdressed in my crew neck shirt and slacks. But then, it was my place and I was paying the bills; so if the ladies didn’t like it they could, as we would say on Earth, ‘lump it.’
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Dale Musser was born in 1944 in a small rural community in Pennsylvania. From 1967 until 2012 he was employed as a structural and piping designer in the marine and offshore industry, the cogeneration power industry and in hard rock metal mining. His work at three shipyards and assignments with several engineering and naval architectural firms during his career in Virginia, Texas, and Maine took him to such places as London, U.K., Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., Scotland and Mexico. During this time, he was responsible for the design of reactor compartments for nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines for the U.S. Navy and the structural designs of numerous offshore semisubmersible oil rigs, tanker ships, supply boats, and other vessels and equipment used in the offshore industry. After the death of his wife in 1999, Mr. Musser changed careers and went to work in Arizona and Utah in the hard rock mining industry. He retired in fall of 2012 and currently resides in Mesa, Arizona; however, his plans for the near future involve a move to New Mexico.