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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 25 Suspicion

Darker Stars Beta CoverJavis and I completed our late shift at the same time. Fortunately, my foot wasn’t broken or sprained. My toes had swollen to the point where I couldn’t fit into my right shoe, but after a few days of rest, I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

“Thanks for helping me with my rounds, Javis.”

“Don’t worry about it. I know you’ll help me with the toilets when the time comes.”

I wrinkled my nose, my mind occupied with more than bathroom cleaning. Father had been cold with me when I’d asked him to hide the baglamas. And we still hadn’t figured out who’d locked the recovering Lost out of the hospital. Though, we suspected it had something to do with the portals to and from Edgar that Sloe had shown me.

I frowned as I listened to Javis’s attempts at solving the puzzle, wishing my oversized hospital boot thudded more loudly to drown out his droning.

“I still say Sloe has something to do with it,” he said. “No one else knows about the portals, much less uses them.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” I said, surprised by the tartness in my voice. But I didn’t let it stop me from continuing. I inhaled deeply. “Nothing about Sloe suggests he’s capable of such a mean trick. He’s kind, Javis. You’ll understand once you get to know him better.”

He sniffed. “The only way to find out is to get to know him better, which means being around him more.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“We have the travel glasses. Why not stop in at the Clock Tower for a visit?”

“I’d rather not show up uninvited.”

“Why not? That’s how he showed up here.”

A rush of warmth filled my cheeks as I considered the possibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sloe again. But as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I didn’t know him well. As far as I was concerned, he was a good person. He hadn’t done anything to suggest otherwise. But I didn’t know where I stood as far as friendship, either. He hadn’t visited Edgar since the day the baglamas was stolen.

“Okay, perhaps we should visit the Clock Tower,” I said, hesitating. “What will Sloe need to do to convince you that you’re wrong about him?”

Javis shoved a hand in his pocket. He pulled out a pair of travel glasses. “I don’t have anything specific in mind; but I’m willing to feel him out a bit. Are you ready to go now, or would you like to freshen up first?”

I winced. “Freshen up?”

“Put on more makeup or change out of your scrubs…whatever girls spend so much time on before going basically anywhere.”

My jaw slackened at his teasing grin. “I’m ready now,” I said through clamped teeth. “Let’s go.”

We stepped toward a long stretch of pathway. I held out my hand. Still grinning, Javis slipped the dark glasses over his eyes.

I exhaled, shaking my head as I took a long look at the field of flowers—to where Sloe had entered Edgar the first time I’d met him.

His features were burned in my mind.

Dark hair. Eyes of pale lavender roses. A grin that tilted to the left. There was no doubt I could do a better search for Sloe to get us to the Clock Tower. I’d had a lot of time to think about him during my days off.

But this was Javis’s idea. Sighing, I decided to let him drive. Since I wasn’t a silhouette from the past, Javis could transport me. I prepared to run by pressing my weight to the back of my heels, trying not to hurt myself while he focused on our search.

“On three,” Javis said. “One. Two. Thr—”

“No, wait!” Instead of running forward, I squeezed my hand more tightly and pulled him back. He fell backward and I fell forward. Our hands separated, and we toppled to the ground. Pain prickled across my kneecaps.

“What are you doing, Silvie?”

“I saw something.”

I stuck out my finger and pointed to a space in distance. “Hands and shoes. Sloe may be coming here to visit us.”

The legs and torso of a person began to emerge from Edgar’s entrance portal.

I scrambled to my feet. “Come on, Javis. Let’s see who it is.”

My heart zoomed as I half bounded, half clomped across the flowers, hoping Sloe had come to visit us. Then I could prove to Javis what a nice guy he was.

I stopped, my heart sinking. A man stepped through the portal, his cloak flapping around him, followed by another figure whose face was covered to his lips with a hood.

Javis’s breath came out in ragged gasps from somewhere on my right. “Who are you?” he called out.

The men didn’t answer; they didn’t have to. I knew they had something to do with the man in the tunic from the world we’d escaped with the baglamas. They were dressed like the cell guards.

I pressed my fingertips to my ears and screamed. Until a hand covered my lips.

“Save your breath, girl. We have questions for you.”

Unable to turn my head, my eyes darted to the left and right, searching for my brother.

Javis writhed against the bulkier man’s grasp. “What do you want from us?” My heart pounded at the panic in my brother’s voice.

“The baglamas.” The words that escaped the lips pressed at my ear were warbled and strange. “We’ve come to take it back.”

“I don’t have it,” I growled.

The man holding back Javis’s arms pressed his brows together. “Where is it?”

“Hidden. I wouldn’t be able to tell you where it was if I tried.” I bit at the hand that half covered my lips. “Let. Me. Go.”

“Not until you tell us who knows where the instrument is.”

I clenched my jaw. There was no way I was going to implicate Father.

Javis strained against the cloaked man who wasn’t wearing a hood. Both stared up over my forehead, presumably at the hooded man who held me.

Javis’s eyes opened wide as he began to shudder.

“What’s wrong?” I yelled out. “Javis, what’s happening?”

“His eyes…they’re like the dog’s eyes. He’s putting words in my head.”

I twisted until I felt my neck would break. The hood was pulled back from my attacker’s face. His eyes glowed white and burned of moonlight.

“Stop looking into his eyes, Javis! He can’t talk to you if you look away.”

Arms around me tightened.

Then, suddenly, the vise of pressure disappeared. Both cloaked men slackened and fell to their knees.

The man who’d held Javis moved for the portal—the invisible space where they’d entered Edgar. “We’ve stayed too long,” he said, his voice thin and choked.

I bit my lip to keep from asking what he meant by that.

The hooded man held out his hand.

“But that’s not the exit port—” I gulped and pressed my hands to my lips, feeling like an idiot for what I’d revealed.

I took a few step backward and reached for Javis.

Both of the cloaked men were in pain. I could sense it—feel it—with my healing talent. As much as I felt the pull to comfort them, I resisted. This pain was foreign to me. I had no idea what it was or where it came from. And I wasn’t about to escort them to the rear of the hospital where I knew the exit portal was located. I didn’t what them anywhere near Father or the recovering Lost.

I set my jaw, watching the hooded man’s hand pass through air. He and his companion crawled across the space where they’d entered; where I imagined the entrance portal would be. Flowers crunched beneath their knees and hands.

Both strained to stand upright, before they turned and walked backwards into the space they’d passed.

And disappeared.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 26, to be posted June 24. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 3 Edgar

I splashed my face with water and rubbed away what was left of my eyebrows. The spaces above my eyes worked the same way I imagined real eyebrows did, with muscle twisting skin over the brow bone. But the skin was hairless and smooth.

The skin above my eyelids warped and pinched as I tried to wriggle absent brows. I scowled at the grotesqueness that made me look like an alien from science fiction movies watched by the Earth-born.

Javis and Father both had eyebrows, and so had Mother and Grandpa Plaka. How was I the only person in my immediate family to have manifested this Chascadian gene? The trait was exclusive to females, which made it even less fair.

I opened a jar of face paint and dipped my brush. With sweeping strokes, I drew a fresh pair of arches along my brow bone—full and thick, and tapered at the outside edges, the way Mother’s used to be. She smiled at me from inside a picture frame I kept in the bathroom, where I could see her every day. I painted my skin to match hers as closely as possible.

The dark arches emphasized shining green eyes, the color Father’s once were. This time, when I wriggled my “brows,” I almost looked normal. But, as uncomfortable as I was without them, I felt I was hiding part of myself.

I twisted my long, dark hair in a messy bun and slipped on my uniform, a blue shirt and a matching pair of pants that Mother used to call scrubs. Even though I grieved the loss of Grandpa Plaka, there was work to do at the hospital. There were recovering Lost who needed me. And there was no way I was going to let them down. I packed up my healing kit and made my way downstairs.

Smells from the kitchen made me pause, and my mouth began to water. Vanilla and cinnamon. Mixed together, they reminded me of a flavor of cake Mother used to make for my birthday. My stomach twisted, both out of hunger and regret. Grandpa Plaka’s funeral had been on my birthday, but the closest thing to a birthday cake had been the funeral cake. The taste of lemon still lingered; I wasn’t sure I’d ever eat it again. But worse than that, I felt selfish for being disappointed that no one had said happy birthday.

I stepped inside the kitchen to find Javis sitting at the table, drumming his fingertips against the wood. When he looked up, a smile stretched across his face, ending in the faintest of dimples.

“Good morning, cupcake,” he said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Who said I was talking to you?”

I frowned. “If you weren’t talking to me, then who were you talking to?”

He curled his upper lip and stared at me. “Did something happen to your ears? Didn’t you hear what I said?”

Crossing my arms. I scowled back at him. Javis was my best friend, but his sense of humor was maddening.

“I blame your lack of maturity on having been born later in time than me,” I huffed.

He scratched at the curls that covered the back of his shirt collar. His dark eyes sparkled. As much as he looked like Mother, his mischievous grin was all Father’s—the way he’d smiled before Mother died.

Javis touched a finger to his lips and closed his eyes, presumably instructing me to listen.

“I don’t have time to stand here all day.” I slouched forward, indicating my uniform. “As you can see, I’m on my way to the hospital. I stopped by for a snack.”

His finger stayed pressed to his lips, the sides of which curled at the edges.

A bell rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and then audibly sucked in a breath. “You set that up!”

Laughing, Javis opened the oven door and removed a round baking pan. He set it on the table.

“No!” I screeched, scrambling through cupboard drawers. “You need to put a cooling rack or trivet down first or the pan will burn the table top.”

He chuckled. “I would have, if the pan were hot.”

I wrinkled my nose and looked over my shoulder. “What are you doing, Javis?”

“The pan already cooled. When I heard you stomping around upstairs I hid it inside the stove and set a timer.”

He dragged a knife along the inside edge of the pan and tipped the cake forward before setting it on a plate. It was a single muffin the size of a dinner plate.

Smugly, he walked past me to the refrigerator and returned with a bowl of whipped frosting. My jaw dropped and mouth started watering again—not a good combination if you’re trying not to drool all over yourself—as he mounded spoonful after spoonful of fluffy white frosting on top of the cake and smoothed it with a spatula.

With a finishing swipe, he stood back and admired his work. So did I.

“It looks great, Javis. What’s the occasion, and why the secret?”

He gave me that look again, the one with the curled lip, as if he couldn’t believe I was this stupid. His fingers pointed at something in the air like he was calculating figures. He shrugged.

“Okay,” he said, a little too seriously. “Earlier I said, good morning, cupcake, and now here it is. Happy Birthday, Silvie, one day late.”

Tears prickled my eyes. “You did all this for me?”

He hung his head and handed me a paper napkin. “I felt bad about how we spent your birthday.”

I dabbed at my eyes, letting the napkin soak up the moisture before it had a chance to ruin my brow paint.

“Thank you.”

I stuck a fork in the edge of the frosting and dug until I captured a small amount of the cake, too. I popped the forkful into my mouth and chewed. The vanilla and cinnamon shot waves of flavor through me, along with memories of Mother.

“Does it taste bad? What’s wrong?” The space between Javis’s perfect brows creased.

“No, nothing,” I said, though I’m sure my smile was bittersweet. “It’s delicious. If the hospital cafeteria ever needs more staff, you should apply for the job.” I winked.

His eyes were serious, thoughtful. “I miss her, too,” he said, seeing through my attempt at humor.

The cake left in my mouth turned to dust. I nodded, blinking.

Javis handed me another paper napkin, then looked away. I wondered whether he was fighting back tears, too.

“Thanks again,” I said, pulling myself together. “I’m guessing Father’s already at the hospital, so I’ll wrap this and take him some. I bet Madeline would love a slice.”

Javis smiled when I mentioned the girl’s name. She was one of the recovering Lost, a teen girl from Earth, with fiery red hair. Her eyes were gray now, but she told us they’d been blue at one time, before her travels through time and space. Before she’d become Lost. She was a special case, but only in the sense that Javis spent so much time with her.

“I’ll see you later?” I said. “At the hospital?”

He nodded with smiling eyes and a grin that was once again mischievous.

***

I opened the front door and stepped beneath a sky filled with golden light. Three suns hung in the sky. A path of bricks led from our house to the hospital. Flowers flooded the ground along both sides, such that the path was effectively a bridge between both buildings. On other worlds I’d visited, the ground was covered with patches of grass, rock, and soil. But, here, the flowers had outgrown the grass long ago.

Father built the world of Edgar—our world—for Mother. Something new blossomed each day, adding to the air’s fragrance, a mixture of honeysuckle, jasmine, rose, gardenia, freesia, and my favorite, the stargazer lily. The rainbow-studded fields looked and smelled delicious. The flowers and the warmth of the suns lifted my spirits.

I hugged the cake Javis made close to my heart and smiled at the sign above the hospital door. Center for Recovery of the Lost. After taking another, deeper breath of the fragrant air, I opened the door.

A few of the recovering patients walked through the hallway, holding on to hand bars along the walls. Mother insisted on them being available for those that had been weakened by Uproar attacks while traveling through time and space. Uproars were ethereal beings of white light that attacked their victims by knocking them to the ground. Their impact sapped the life out of the travelers until they became sick and ended up in our hospital. But only if we were able to find them.

A woman smiled at me as I passed. Her hair was neatly combed and gathered beneath a headband. She wore a red dress with stripes that matched the silver gleam of her shoes.

“Good morning, Chelsie,” I said.

She glanced at the cake I held in my arms.

“Would you like some? Javis made it.”

Her smiled broadened as she followed me to one of the kitchens. I unwrapped the cake and set two slices aside, one for Father and one for Madeline. I chose a larger slice and set it on a plate.

“This one’s yours,” I said holding it out to Chelsie.

Her murky eyes watered. She carried the plate to a table and broke it into smaller pieces. When I offered a fork, she shook her head and proceeded to eat the sticky gobs of cake with her fingers.

I scooped up the slices I set aside and headed to Father’s office, leaving the rest of the cake behind. Each of the recovering Lost had their issues, but they were not selfish. I expected the cake to slowly disappear throughout the day. The thought made me smile.

I greeted each of the recovering Lost by name as I slipped through the hallway. Father’s office was past the gymnasium and a block of empty rooms. Empty in the sense that he hadn’t reached out with his World-Builder talent to fill them yet. He could create more than rooms behind the doors; he could build what some would consider entire worlds—lands and skies filled with plant life, suns, moons, and stars. It was a talent the Time and Space Travel Agency, or TSTA, still had under its control.

Father’s office door was wedged open, allowing for the mumbling of voices to pass through into the hallway.

“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Calcott,” said Father. “Before your sister can be admitted, someone will need to find her. We cannot begin the process of healing the Lost before they are found.”

“How long will it take for someone to find her?”

Father’s frown could be heard in his silence.

“Please, Mister Hall, we’ve looked everywhere.”

“I will send a traveler to locate her, but I cannot guarantee she will be found, or that, if found, she will be ready to join the center. The safety of our current residents remain our priority.”

“I understand.”

I cringed at the defeat in the man’s voice. More extraordinary than the healing that took place at the hospital was how the recovering Lost arrived there. Until now, Remnant Transporters found and brought them to our world. Healing was a special gift, but there could be no healing until we found those in need of it. And the healing began long before the Lost were brought to Edgar.

My stomach twisted. Now that Mother and Grandpa Plaka were gone, there was no one to begin that process, except for me.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 4. >>>

Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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