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Chapter 3

It was silent now. All that could be heard was the pounding of her heart in her ears as she looked down with fearful recollection at her bloodstained clothing. Images came back to her in horrifying waves that beat down on her with violent force, drowning her in their intensity. She remembered the two Andromedan soldiers with golden eyes like her own, yet somehow they were different. Theirs were lurking with evil and deception; with a whisper of depraved madness about them. The sound of the gunshot pierced through her ears once more like a sharp pin puncturing the tender surface of a balloon. She winced recalling the man staring blindly at her as the blood slowly drained from his inanimate body. His gaping mouth called out to her in a desperate plea for help. A single, untainted tear rolled down her cheek and tumbled onto her lap, leaving a glistening trail behind it. A tear shed for the man who died and for all those who had suffered needlessly as a result of the Andromedans' corruption. She followed it down to the splatters of crimson on her clothes. She needed to get out of them. Perhaps a shower would do her good.

Vida got up and walked to the bathroom. She looked at the control panel by the shower and set it for a hot water shower. There were dry showers which got rid of germs and dirt, but she found water showers much more relaxing and only took dry showers if she was in a hurry. Right now, she definately wasn't in any hurry. She shed all of her garments and turned on the shower. Steaming water cascaded from the showerhead, drenching her in warmth and comfort. The tiny beads of water tumbled gracefully down every curve of her body and gently washed away the tension and anxiety from her traumatic day. She lathered her delicate skin with soap that foamed into rich and frothy bubbles with a envigorating scent that revitalized her senses. She wished she could stay enveloped in their warmth forever.

She stepped out of the shower and modestly wrapped a towel around her as she left the bathroom. She pulled out a pair of deep crimson silk pajamas from her bag at the foot of her bed. The silky soft touch felt luxurious against her skin as she draped them over her body.

Vida's shower left her feeling restful but still a sense of turmoil lingered. It was always there. She had learned to live with its immutable presence, though it weakened her. This day had consumed every ounce of energy inside her. Now she was a hollow chasm, the water swallowed up by the heat of the cruel sun.

She slipped into bed in hopes that sleep would come. Deep down she knew her hopes were in vain. She would never truly sleep. The constant battle within her revealed itself in her dreams. Every night she would try to block them out, but they would come, regardless of her efforts. Horrible images of demonic creatures, blood, decay. It was almost too much to bear. She would wake up in a cold sweat, feeling no more rested than before.

Darkness devoured the room with the touch of a button on the control panel beside her bed. She looked around her. Everything was black at first, but it took only seconds for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Objects took shape and became discernible. An amateur painting hung on the wall, slightly tilted to one side. In the far corner across from her was a mustard colour chair that mismatched the rest of the grey, bland furniture.

Her heedful ears were aware of the many sounds around her. She could make out the voices of people in the other room through the supposedly soundproof wall. Footsteps in the corridor echoed through her head. The sounds of ships docking at the port could be heard outside her window. The were always noises to be heard. Over the years, she had grown accustomed to noise, though she yearned for absolute quiet. It is rare for anyone to experience complete silence, let alone someone with Vida's fine tuned hearing. Only once had she been priveleged enough to enjoy such a luxury. She had been deep below the surface of Arturo, a planet in Earth's neighbouring solar system. There was a small convent built underground. She had gone there for meditation and privacy. The nuns brought her to a secluded chamber where she had all the solitude she needed, only appearing for meals. The heavy metals in the soil muted all exterior sounds. That little taste of undistorted tranquility had stirred a desire within her that had remained unknown to even herself until then. Though as she thought about it more, it was not precisely a desire for stillness around her but more a desire for stillness within.

Vida lay still in her bed for some time. She used this time to ponder unanswered questions and contemplate the events of her day. Seth entered her mind. His gentle kindness had touched her. Never before had she known such compassion from a stranger. She had always been treated as a foreigner, an outsider to both Human and Andromedan societies. She recalled his warm kiss that still burned her lips. As sweet as he was, she had no intimate feelings for him. He was her friend and she needed his friendship right now, no more. She would set things straight the next time she saw him.

Slowly sleep came, washing over her like the rolling waves of a troubled ocean. It carried her away into the stormy water.

She walked through a cold and desolate plain that stretched on for miles. All was quiet and for once the silence gave her no comfort. She could faintly hear the sound of the bitter wind whistling past her ears. Along with the gust came evil whispers, but she refused to listen. She would not give in to the evil. She began to run, hoping she could escape the depraved voices. Her feet struggled to take root, but the treacherous ice beneath them would permit no foundation. She stumbled hit the gound, her weight breaking the feeble ice. Her lips uttered an unheard scream of terror as she fell for what seemed to her to be an eternity. Finally the ground rose up to meet her. She was dead. She felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing. But then an overwhelming heat hit her and she opened her eyes. She looked around to see that she was encircled by fire. The flames danced and crackled about her, taunting her.

A strange sensation came over her body that made her skin crawl in disgust. She looked down to see a serpent slithering out of her shirt and creeping slowly to her neck. Her heart pounded wildly beneath her chest, but she dare not move. The creature wrapped itself around her neck and brought its head forward to face her. It smiled with sinister pleasure as it looked into her eyes, as vivid as the fire which gleamed around them. Vida saw that the serpent's eyes were eerily like her own. She tried desperately to turned away from the mesmerizing stare that tempted her, but she could no longer resist. She stared unblinking at the eyes. She felt as if it were a reflection of her own exposed self. The scaly skin that rubbed against her felt strangely calming. It became a part of her as she was a part of it.

Suddenly the spell was broken by the sound of a voice, calm and gentle. She followed the oddly familiar and comforting voice that was beyond the ring of fire which surrounded her. Without hesitation, she walked unto flames with no fear of being burned. She paused within the fire, letting its strength run through her veins. Then she stepped through the blinding light to see Seth standing with his arms outstretched. She started to move towards him when she heard the serpent hissing in her ear. It spoke to her with words of malice and hate. She felt an object in her hand and looked down to see her fingers wrapped around a knife. The serpent spoke to her again, louder this time. Temptation overwhelmed her. She took the knife, prepared to lunge at Seth, but instead she ruthlessly jabbed it into the snake. It hit the ground and writhed in pain then went limp. Vida looked down at her trembling hands covered in blood.

Her tormented gasp disturbed the stillness in the air. Vida looked around the dark room with feverish eyes. She touched her face and wiped away the dampness on her cheeks. Another night of anguish over with. It was still early, but she couldn't possibly sleep. She pushed the covers away and sat on the edge of the bed, letting her feet lightly touch the ground. She fumbled for her bag and found her creamy velvet slippers. Her toes wiggled with delight at the downy texture. She walked sluggishly down the hallway, chasing away the last bit of sleep that lingered in her muscles.

On the far wall of the living room, there was a small alcove with cupboards and a counter underneath them. She opened one of the cabinets and found they were full of dehydrated food. There was dried fruit, biscuits, muffins, cookies, coffee grounds, tea bags, popcorn kernels, pasta and many other preserved goodies. Dehydrated food was no surprise. This was the normal state of food on spaceports since it was the most convenient way of storage. Occasionally there was fresh food, but only in the restaurants. As unappealing as dehydrated food sounds, when placed in a hydrator, it was actually quite good. Still, nothing could compare to the savor of fresh food.

Vida pulled out a bag of muffins and placed two of them in the hydrator that was sitting on the counter. Two minutes later, a couple of moist muffins emerged from the machine. Next she took a tea bag and left it to simmer in a cup of steaming hot water from the water despenser at the left of the counter.

Vida took cautious steps towards the couch balancing the two muffins and a cup of tea in her hands. When she reached her destination, she placed the tea and muffins on the glass coffee table in front of the couch. She picked up the cup of tea, holding it gingerly in her hands. The steam rose up into her nose and she could smell its comforting scent. She eagerly brought the cup to her lips and she could feel the hot fluid slowly filling her body with its warmth. The muffins were tasty, especially when she dipped them in the tea.

There was an unexpected knock at the door that startled Vida. She rose from the couch to greet the visitor.

"It must be Seth," she thought to herself, not sure whether she was distressed by this knowledge, or gladdened by it.\par \tab A look of surprise crossed her face when she opened the door to find a young woman with curly red locks and freckles smiling back at her. Jade. Her surprisement quickly turned to distaste.

"What do you want?"Vida asked.

"Well you don't have to sound so happy," she said in her usual sarcastic tone. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"

Vida hesitantly stepped out of the doorway, allowing her to enter. She stood with her arms crossed and stared at Jade skeptically.

"I guess I sould introduce myself. We didn't start out so well last night. My name's Jade Riley," she said, holding out her hand. Vida made no move to accept it. Jade dropped her hand, but wasn't going to give up yet. "'Nice place you've got here. Looks just like mine. That's the problem with these spaceport suites, they all look the same."

"I don't mean to be rude," Vida interrupted, "but what are you doing here?"

Jade sat down on the couch and looked at her earnestly. "I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I talked to Seth--"

"So Seth put you up to this," she said crossly, then walked towards the window looked out, so she wouldn't have to make eye contact with Jade.

"No,"she protested. "No, this was my idea. He just told me how kind you were. He really likes you, you know."

Vida turned to face her with a hint of a smile at the edge of her lips. "Did he say that?"

Jade nodded and smiled at her. "Listen, I was just on my way to the gym to do some boxing," she said, changing the subject, "would you like to come along with me?"

"Boxing?"

"It's an old sport," Jade explained. "Come with me and I'll show you. I think you'll like it."

Vida pondered this for a moment. Jade's candid nature would take some getting used to, but it would be nice to get out and do something. "Well, all right. I'll give it a try. Just let me go change," she said and rushed down the hallway to her bedroom.

"Wear something that's easy to move around in," she hear Jade call.

Vida chuckled. All her clothes were easy to move around in. She had no fancy clothing. She put on a pair of grey sweatpants and a black halter top that revealed her sleek, slim belly and her sinewy arms. Then she put an old, but comfortable pair of sneakers on her feet. Next she tied her light brown hair up in a high ponytail to keep it from falling onto her face. She took a quick glance at the mirror in the bathroom and then ran back to the livingroom to meet Jade.

"Is this okay?" she asked, modelling her outfit for Jade.

"Great, lets go."

The gym was fairly empty since it was early in the morning and all the sane people were still fast alseep in their warm beds. There was a small group of boys having a game of hoverball and their voices echoed through the large chamber, creating the misimpression of a large crowd. A few people were in the fitness room, working out on the excersice machines. Vida was impressed with the wide range of equipment available. One man was using a state of the art Virtual Treadmill. His virtual goggles gave him the illusion of being on a peaceful sidewalk somewhere, the early morning sun hitting his face. He could almost smell the crispness of freshly fallen leaves that crunched under his sprinting feet.

"Come on," Jade said to Vida, "we're going to one of the Virtual Chambers."

They walked over to an empty chamber and Jade ran her fingers over the control panel. She typed in the information without thinking. Obviously, she had done it so many times that it was now involuntary.

Vida looked around in amazement as they stepped into the room. It was evident that Jade had put a lot of time into this program because the accuracy and detail were incredible. There was a boxing ring in the center of the room and at the back wall neatly hung diverse boxing equipment. To the right of the ring were numerous punching bags of different shapes and sizes.

"Like it?"

"It's wonderful," Vida said, still looking at the many intricate objects around her.

"Thanks," she said proudly as a mother, "I've worked hard on this place. I come here every day."

"I can tell."

"Well, let's get started, shall we?"

Jade pulled off the sweatshirt she was wearing to reveal a stylish black bodysuit that tightly hugged her slight frame. Vida suddenly felt self-conscious as she looked down at her own clothing which was now seemingly unkempt compared to Jade's sleek outfit. As they stood side by side, Vida also became painfully aware of Jade's towering height.

"Over here."

She led the way to the back wall where the equipment was kept. She threw a pair of boxing gloves at Vida who caught them effortlessly, even with Jade's powerful throw.

"They might be a little big, but they'll do," Jade said as Vida put the bulky gloves on her slender hands.

Then Jade led her over to the punching bags. She placed Vida in front of a large red bag. Vida stared at it, unsure what she was supposed to do. She had never boxed before in her life.

"Just punch it," Jade explained simply.

Vida gave the bag a weak hit. The cumbersome gloves made her clumsy.

"No," Jade said, trying to hold her laughter in, "harder. Put all your force into it. Relieve your anger. I like to pretend I'm punching someone who I really hate."

She demonstrated by hitting the punching bag with one mighty blow. Vida was surprised that someone with such a petite body could produce an impact of that magnitude.

"Go on, you try," she said, stepping out of the way.

Vida stared at the bag, her eyes on fire. The anger and passion within her built up into a single, focussed point. Then, she released it all in one potent strike of her fist. The bag flew off its hinges, almost hitting Jade and was finally halted when it collided with the wall in an explosive bang. They both stared at the mutilated punching bag which now lay on the floor. Jade started to giggle and soon the giggle turned into a full blown laugh until she was finally on the floor, roaring with laughter. Vida wasn't sure what was so funny, but she started to laugh and it wasn't long before she too collapsed beside Jade in noisy hilarity. Vida felt better than she had felt for a long time and for once there was nothing weighing her down.

After boxing, Jade and Vida headed to the nearest restaurant to refuel. All the exercise had made them ravenous and they were relieved to rest their overworked muscles.

"Look," said Jade as they sat down at a table, "there's Seth."

She waved at Seth, who was sitting alone at a table on the other side of the restaurant. He gave a friendly wave in return and smiled when he saw that Vida was with her. Jade motioned for him to join them, so he left his table and walked over.

"We were just going to have brunch," Jade explained, giving her brother a hug.

"So was I," he replied. "So you won't mind if I join you two?"

Jade pulled up another chair and told him to sit down. Once they were all seated and comfortable, a waiter came to take their order. After he had left, Jade began to rant and rave about the many events of the morning. Seth listened rather unintently for he was more interested in Vida who sat quietly, occasionally laughing or helping Jade explain what had happened.

"...and then she knocked it right of the hinges! You should have seen her face, Seth, it was so funny." Jade laughed at the memory and Vida and Seth chuckled along with her.

"Well, it sounds like you two had a very interesting day," Seth replied after Jade had finished her rather long story.

"I'm glad to see that you're getting along. I knew you''d like each other."

"Yeah, we had a great time," Jade said just as their food arrived.

They all ate hastily and quietly, for the most part. Now and then, Jade would ramble on about something or another while Vida and Seth listened, glancing at each other. After awhile Vida found his glimpses bothersome and tried to ignore him.

"Are you even listening to me, Seth?" Jade snapped angrily.

"What? Yes, of course I am."

Jade looked at him dubiously. "I was just telling Vida about that time when you and I watched that meteor shower."

"Yeah, that was something."

"Yeah," she mocked him. "Well, I have to go. Gandalf won't be happy with me if I'm late for work."

"Bye Jade," Vida said.

"See you later, Vida. Let's do this again tomorrow, it'll be fun," Jade told her. Then she turned to Seth. "Good bye Seth, I'll talk to you later," she said, pinching his cheek.

"Ow!" he protested.

When she left, there was an uncomfortable silence.

"So," Seth started breaking the ice.

"So..."

"Um, I wanted to apologize for last night. I shouldn't have...done that. I just got caught up in the moment and it seemed like the right thing to do, but..."

"Seth," Vida stopped him, "it's okay. I just don't want you to get the wrong idea about us. I want to be your friend. I'm scared that anything...else would complicate things and that's the last thing I want."

Seth looked a little disappointed, but he smiled his wonderful smile to disguise it. "Right, friends. Okay."

Vida bit her bottom lip. She had hurt him, she could tell and now she felt the terrible pain of guilt creep up on her. "Oh Seth, please say you understand."

He looked at her and saw she was distressed. His false smile faded and he looked at her earnestly. "I do," he said, honestly this time, "I really do. You need a friend in me and I'm grateful that you think of me as a friend."

"Thank you," she said quietly, almost whispering.

Seth nodded. "Now, what are you doing today" he changed the subject.

"I don't know, I haven't thought about it."

"Then come with me to work. I'm sure no one would mind if you came with me on my shift. That way, I can give you a tour of the spaceport so you'll know your way around.

"That sounds wonderful!" she said enthusiastically. "You're really great, you know that?"

"Hey, that's what friends are for."

End of chapter three. To read chapter four, click here.

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