Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 17 Memories

Darker Stars Beta CoverWhen the last of Sloe’s form vanished through the exit portal, I squeezed my arms across my ribs, feeling anxious and, strangely, alone.

Sighing, I peered up at the sky. The brightness of the day stars had faded enough for the light of the night stars to begin to shine through. Starlight mixed with the brown and gold shadows of midday.

I turned around and stepped toward the hospital’s rear entrance, then made my way to the area where we kept short-term residents. I expected that’s where Javis was being monitored before going home.

I poked my head through a couple doorways before finding him, then immediately wished I’d brought food with me. He looked up at me, pale and slightly on edge.

“How are you doing?” I said.

One foot kicked at a blanket bunched at the bottom of his bed. I grinned. He was still wearing his work uniform pants, but the orderlies had managed to remove his shoes and cover his top half with a hospital gown.

“I’d be better if Father would let me go home,” he said. “I have to wait until he approves.”

“Makes sense.” Javis and I weren’t legal adults yet, so Father got to make the final decision on such things.

I wasn’t sure what else to say. There was an awkwardness between us that had never been there before. I wondered if he knew how involved I’d been in his healing—that I’d sensed the weakness, the darkness, inside of him. I wasn’t sure how to bring that up without sounding invasive or creepy.

“I’m glad to see you’re all right,” I said, meaning every word of it. “I don’t understand how this happened. How did you fall over in the ladies’ room?”

He dipped his head and rubbed his palm across his forehead and eyes. “I’m not sure.”

“Do you remember a sudden pain, or tripping over something?”

“No. Everything disappeared into whiteness.” He coughed. “Like my body was empty and weak.”

My shoulders tensed. Was that the same weakness I’d felt while healing him, or something else? I wanted Javis to say more, to see if we were talking about the same thing, if the two were connected. I opened my lips to speak, then hesitated.

“Silvie.”

I twisted my head to the door, to who’d spoken my name. I hadn’t heard anyone approach.

“Father,” I said.

He looked at me as if he intended for me to say something more. I had no idea what. I swallowed.

“Yes?”

He glanced at Javis, then back to me, and frowned. “While you were showing Sloe out, I asked someone to cover your rounds.”

“Oh,” I said, my heart sinking. The day was half over, and with all the excitement and drama, I hadn’t finished my early shift. I hadn’t started it, either, seeing as I’d been showing Sloe around the hospital.

I lowered my eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You’ve done enough healing for one day. Thank you for using your talent to help your brother.”

I raised my eyes to his, this time recognizing Father showed no signs of being upset, at least not with me. His face was drawn in a way that suggested he was tired, and sad.

Stepping closer, he reached inside his jacket pocket and placed something in Javis’s hands, then mine. My jaw dropped as I stared at a pair of dark glasses.

“This is your pair,” I whispered.

“Yes, and now Javis has Calla’s. I recommend that you not use them to travel, given the effects they have on one’s eyes. But they’re yours now, and it’s up to you as far as what to do with them.”

I frowned. At one time, Father’s eyes were as green as mine, and Mother’s were as dark as Javis’s.

“If we’re not supposed to use the travel glasses to travel, then why do you want us to have them?” Father was offering us a precious gift, wrapped with memories of his life with Mother.

“I won’t be with you forever,” he said. “I want our memories to be your memories. You will be able to visit past versions of us, as needed.”

“How are you going to travel without these?”

“Perhaps it’s time I obtained a commissioned TSTA vehicle.”

Javis and I wrinkled our noses at each other. He reached out in an attempt to return his pair to Father.

“I don’t understand,” said Javis. “All we ever heard growing up is how much you hate the TSTA and its rules. Why give up now?”

“In a matter of years, I’ve lost my mother, my wife, and my healer. I’ve made peace with the fact that no matter what I do, the worlds will move on without me.”

A lump formed in my throat. “But you still have us.”

Father’s lips rose at their corners. “I can’t keep you here forever, Silvie. I saw you with Sloe and how you work with the recovering Lost. You’re growing up. You’ve inherited Plaka’s baglamas. The worlds are yours to explore now.”

“Are you hinting that it’s time for Silvie to leave Edgar?” Javis’s face paled. I wasn’t as concerned with that being the issue as what Father saw when he saw me with Sloe? I knew Father wanted us to stay as long as possible. But what did he mean about Sloe? Was it that obvious?

“No, you can come and go as you please. Both of you.”

I squirmed at Javis’s defeated look. We loved Edgar, the world—and life—Father had built for Mother. We didn’t want to leave. Or, was it that Father wanted to be alone?

I turned the pair of travel glasses in my hands. It had dark frames and equally dark lenses. I’d seen Father wear them so many times, they looked like an ordinary accessory. Memories. I could search Father’s memories—those he’d burned inside the glasses.

I could see pictures of Mother…and hear her voice. Something I’d wanted to hear for so long. Tears filled my eyes. It was an amazing gift. But that didn’t make me feel any less worried about Father, or Javis.

***

Loneliness lingered as I left the hospital. Father decided to keep Javis there overnight, just in case. I expected he would stay with him until the early hours of the morning. Javis was his favorite, and I was okay with that.

I patted the pair of sunglasses in my pocket. I had Mother with me.

As soon as I grabbed a snack, I headed up to my bedroom. Even though I usually accompanied Mother when we’d traveled with the travel glasses, Father had explained to me how to search, and had let me practice with his pair several times.

There were different types of searches. A traveler could search to travel somewhere by focusing on a person, place, time, or some combination of the three. This, I could already do with Grandpa Plaka’s baglamas.

The travel glasses offered something more. They could be used to communicate. Two people wearing the travel glasses at the same time could see and speak to each other.

But that wasn’t the best part.

Father had burned his memories of Mother inside the glasses. Mother had recorded her memories inside the pair that was now Javis’s pair. At some point, I learned Father had copied memories, a form of data, from one pair to another. Mother had taken his original pair, and he’d had a backup pair. But parts were missing. I had no idea how often they synced the recordings inside the glasses, or whether Father had synced the pairs before giving them to us.

Father had lived longer than Mother, so it was possible his pair had later recordings of me and Javis. It didn’t matter to me whether I had Father’s pair or Mother’s pair. I was sure there were more than enough memories of Mother burned into both.

Retrieving the recordings—the memories—burned inside the glasses required a special bond between the person who was searching for the memories, and the person who’d recorded them. Obviously, this worked if the same person recorded and searched. But when the recorder and searcher were two different people, the bond had to be strong.

I relied on my bond with my Father, who’d recorded memories of Mother, as I searched for pictures of her inside the travel glasses.

Still shots of her face appeared, followed by moving pictures with sound. My heart leapt at the sound of her voice.

Mother smiled or scowled at the recorder, from various points of her life. The scowling ones made me laugh. There must have been times that Father frustrated her as much as he frustrated me. Her eyes changed color from a dark, rich brown to a pale shade of gray. The travel glasses had affected her eyes, just like Father said.

It felt like scanning through a digital photo album that showed only pictures and movies I wanted to see. The brighter, more vivid, recordings, I knew, were taken of persons who were real and living at the time they were recorded. Recordings of past versions, from having traveled to their past, were washed out; they seemed illusory because they were recordings of silhouettes.

This was nice for a while, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed to go back in time to visit Mother, the same way she used to travel to the past to ask questions of her mentor, Edgar Hall.

The women at the hospital were friends, but they were not family. I had to speak to a woman, someone I knew well. The men didn’t get me. Father, Javis, probably even Sloe. I couldn’t talk to them the way I needed to. It was too difficult, and awkward.

More than anything, I wanted Mother to be in front of me, hearing my words and giving me words of her own, words not intended for whomever was recording, but words and a message meant for me.

I ran downstairs and outside the house to where I stood at the beginning of the path that led to the hospital. I slipped the travel glasses on my face and searched for a memory, one of my mother—the way I remembered her best from when I was younger. The way I’ll always picture her. With dark curly hair streaked with white, and eyes as gray as Earth’s sky before a storm’s first raindrops. The way she smiled at me and at Father.

She was a young woman when she gave birth to me. But after Javis was born, Mother aged rapidly. Or maybe I was just more aware of it.

And then, suddenly, she was gone.

I pressed my lips together to still their trembling and continued to focus on this version of Mother. I pictured her here in Edgar, relaxing in front of the fireplace after a day of work at the hospital.

My feet pounded against the ground to gain speed for the transport. My lips pursed in concentration. The path, the flowers, the house, the hospital—all of it disappeared, bleached out by a white, blinding light.

The white light faded, replaced by a yellow-orange glow and a warmth that comforted me and made me suddenly sleepy.

Flames from a fireplace flickered before me. I was in the family room, in our home in Edgar. In the past.

A woman sat in my favorite reading chair, holding a mug. Her large gray eyes were opened wide, her lips caught mid-sip.

My breath hitched as a lump formed in my throat, bringing along with it tears that stung my eyes.

The woman, Mother, rose from her chair. She took another look at the mug before her eyes darted to the fire.

“Quickly,” she said. “To the ground.”

My heart pounded, guiltily, for having landed somewhere where grounding would bring a danger to my family and home.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I lowered myself into a grounding stance. I should have searched for her outside, but I couldn’t get the homey image of Mother out of my mind during travel. This is where and when I wanted to be.

Mother emptied the contents of the mug into the fire before pulling a screen across the fireplace. She held the mug to her chest, protecting it as she pressed an arm and knee to the ground.

The ground quaked, as if angry that I’d created a tear to enter this time and place. Like it knew I’d made a poor choice. I cringed, feeling as if I deserved every bit of it.

Out of the side of my vision, I stole a glance at the fireplace. The flames spewed sparks that didn’t quite reach the screen Mother had closed, but the wood that fueled the fire bounced, creating an ominous cloud of smoke.

I held my palm to my nose and mouth to fend off the stench and the urge to cough.

When the rumblings subsided, Mother opened windows. She frowned in the direction of the couch, and the blankets and pillows there I expected would smell like smoke for a long time afterwards.

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

At least nothing had caught fire as a result of my carelessness.

Mother turned to face me. Her gazed followed the travel glasses as I removed them from my eyes and propped them on the top of my head. Afterwards, she looked me up and down suspiciously, as if she knew me from somewhere but couldn’t quite place it.

My fingers shook as I waited for her to recognize me, to remember. Even though she’d never seen me at my present age, part of me expected her to know me anyway. That the bond between mother and daughter would have meant more than logic.

If anything, given her role as a healer, and her work at the hospital, I thought she might ask if I needed help. That she would reach out and see if I was well.

But her body language held the opposite. I hadn’t expected her to be guarded.

“Are you from the future or the past?” she said, finally. Hearing her voice again should have warmed me, but the tone was so full of worry. Her eyebrows twisted in a puzzled expression as she took a step backward.

“The future,” I admitted.

She shuddered. “Then I’m a silhouette?”

I blinked. “Yes.”

Mother crossed her arms. “I would have guessed you to be a younger version of my mother-in-law, Sable Hall. You have her eyes, her hair… But if you’re from the future—” Her eyes flickered to the pair of travel glasses on my head.

Her frown deepened. “Who are you?”

“You don’t know me?”

Mother opened her mouth and shut it again. She did that twice more before taking a step forward.

My lips twisted in an involuntary pout.

Her eyes widened slightly before they shot up to a place above my eyes, in the spaces where my eyebrows should be, and that I’d drawn in with paint.

Mother reached out a hand. “May I?”

I nodded, expecting her to rest her hand on my shoulder, the way she would to sense a person’s wellness or calm the recovering Lost when they were upset. But, instead, she pressed a thumb to my left brow bone.

I sucked in a breath when she smeared the face paint upward.

“No!” My hand reflexively moved to cover the ruined brow. I couldn’t see the result, but I imagined part of it was missing.

Mother studied the paint print on her thumb. She looked up, her real eyebrows furrowed.

“Silvie?”

Warmth and relief swelled in my chest. I smiled. “Mother.”

“I can’t believe it,” she said, pulling me to her and squeezing me to her chest. “I know you as the small child I just put to bed,” she laughed. “And, now, here you are, all grown up.”

Her eyes filled with tears. She let go of me and swiped a hand across her face. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to see you like this.”

Her expression went somber once again. “And I’ll never remember it. Are you visiting me from the future to warn me of something? Because, I won’t remember without you creating a Daily Reminder that will change the past.”

“No, don’t worry. It’s nothing like that. Father drilled the not changing the past rule into me and Javis. I don’t think I could—”

“Javis?” Her hand pressed lightly to her lower stomach. She didn’t look pregnant, at least it wasn’t showing.

“My brother,” I said, unable to pull my eyes from where she rested her hand.

Tears filled her eyes. “Are you both well?”

I nodded, but even I wasn’t convinced by my response.

“Silvie, what’s wrong? Do you need help?”

“Not in the way you think. I’m healthy.” My lower lip trembled. “It’s just tough sometimes without another female to talk to, and I needed to see you.”

This version of Mother didn’t know Javis yet, and I wasn’t sure how to bring up the weakness I’d felt in him. I would need to visit a later version of her, and to learn whether she’d ever encountered such a thing, in Javis or in someone else, with her own healing talent.

She tilted her head to the side, studying me. “I left you too soon, I must have. I’m so sorry. But I see that you have the travel glasses now,” she said, gesturing. “Is Valcas…?”

“Dead? No, no. He recently gifted his pair of travel glasses to me.”

Her lips pulled into a wide grin. “So now you can visit me any time you like.”

I smiled. Her words of welcome were good to hear, even though I knew I’d have to reintroduce myself each time. At least now I knew what her reaction might be.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 18. >>>

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