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Chapter 8

The next day, Vida was discharged from the infirmary and was looking forward to going home. That was what her cramped living quarters on the spaceport had become; it was her home. She hadn't really had a home that she could call her own before. There was, of course, the lunar colony where she had grown up, but that had never really been her home. It was a lonely and confusing time. Ada's three children, Camille, Isabelle and the youngest, Richard (whom she affectionately referred to as 'Little Dick'), had been unforgivably cruel to her. They had thought of her as an outsider, as most people did, and had constantly teased and tortured her for their amusement. Ada rarely interfered or even noticed their behaviour. She was far too caught up in a chronic depression that began when her husband was murdered by an Andromedan. She had died along with him and left her children with an unfeeling and empty shell for a mother. She wallowed in a misery that eventually drove her to shoot herself through the head with a photonblaster. Vida had found her body resting on the bathroom floor, her blood painting patterns on the tiles. That was when Vida decided to leave the colony.

She opened the door to her room, smiling with delight at a lovely bouquet of yellow roses on her coffee table. She searched for a card, but found none.

"How sweet," she thought as she bent down to breathe in the delicious fragrance.

Despite her gladness in returning home, her suite seemed pitifully bleak and empty. Frustrating boredom had already begun to seep into her veins like poison. Although she liked seclusion and tranquilitly, there were occasions when it overwhelmed her. She desperately needed something to do after being cooped up in an infirmary for the past two days.

She walked across the hall to Seth's apartment, hoping he would be awake so she could thank him for the flowers. This was his day off, she recalled, so he might be sleeping in. She tried the door and discovered it was unlocked, so she let herself in.

"Seth?" she whispered, searching the suite.

She heard the sound of pots and pans coming from the kitchen alcove and dicovered Seth with his head in one of the cupboards.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

Her voice startled him and he lifted his head, hitting it on the sharp edge of the cupboard's rim.

"Shit," he swore under his breath. "Vida, you scared me."

She laughed at him as he rubbed his bruised crown. "I'm sorry, I just dropped by to thank you for the flowers, they're wonderful. I know it's early, but I was so bored."

"Flowers? Oh, uh, that's fine. I just didn't hear you come in, that's all. I was, uh, just making breakfast," he explained in a stilted voice.

Vida realized that he knew nothing of the flowers she spoke of. "You didn't send the yellow roses?"

"No," he looked bewildered, "should I have? Oh no, I forgot your birthday, didn't I?"

"No, it's just..." she looked at Seth who smiled at her falsely. He wasn't himself. "Have I come at a bad time?"

"Actually--"

"Seth," a female voice called, "who are you talking to?"

The woman appeared in the entrance of the kitchen, wearing nothing but an oversized shirt, obviously one of Seth's. Vida put a hand over her shocked mouth in embarrassment.

"Nova, this is Vida. I think you've met before."

The fair-haired woman nodded at her with a curteous smile.

"Um, hi," Vida greeted her weakly, heat rising in her face. "Well, this is awkward. I'll leave you two alone, now. I'm sorry to bother you."

She left Seth's suite hastily, without looking back. When the door slid shut behind her, she leaned against the wall of the corridor, absorbing what had just happened. She wished she had tried the doorbell before rudely barging in on him. What had she been thinking? It was such a shock to see Nova there, but why should it be? Seth was an eligible bachelor, after all. He did have women friends other than her. She should have thought of something like that before she dropped in for a visit.

The door to Seth's place opened and he stepped out into the corridor where Vida was standing.

"Vida," he said sympathetically. "I'm sorry, I should have told you that Nova was here."

"Don't apologize, it's my fault. That was really rude of me. I guess I just didn't expect--"

"It's all right, this isn't something I do regularily."

"So, is it serious?" she asked with a teasing smile.

"I hope so," he said shyly, "she's incredible."

"You better get back in there, loverboy," she vexed, "you don't want to keep her waiting."

"Bye, Vida," he said and anxiously retreated into his apartment.

Vida walked down the corridor. She wasn't ready to go back to her room yet. She wanted to find something to do. The problem was she didn't know what she wanted to do. She stepped into the shuttlelift and read the directory. She went to the twenty-first floor where the virtual chambers were located. Hopefully one of them would be free. There were twenty-five virtual chambers all together and usually all of them were in use. People often had to book them ahead of time. Vida walked down the corridor, searching optimistically for an unoccupied room. She was in luck; a man had just stepped out of one of the chambers. She rushed over to it and went inside. The room was completely blue.

"Welcome to the virtual chamber. Please type in a program code on the control panel next to the door, or start a new program by pressing 1."

She walked over to the control panel and started a new program.

Vida wasn't sure what to say. She had never custom made a virtual program before. "An open field in...Terra 2."

"State the time."

"Fifty years ago," she said. That would bring it to a time before Terra 2 was corrupted by pollution and technology. "In the spring."

Scenery changed from blue to a beautiful green landscape. Mountains painted the horizon. She listened carefully to the silvery sounds of birds chirping and singing joyously. The feild was strewn with daisies, dancing in the soft breeze. The breeze took hold of her hair, making the locks come alive and prance in unison with the daisies. The translucent bodies of the verdant leaves that encompassed a nearby birch tree glowed magestically in the sunlight. It was all so real. Even the sweet smells of the wildflowers and the lush aroma of grassy field was impeccable.

"Computer," she summoned, finding it strange to think that she was still in the same blue room that she had started in, "I'd like a horse to ride, a white one, please."

A white stallion appeared magically before her. The sun shone down on his mane, creating a gleaming halo around it. He neighed a greeting to her, making no attempt to run away. He was so enchanting, there was only one thing missing that would make it perfect.

"Computer, give the horse a horn on his forehead, like a unicorn," she requested.

It was silly, she knew, but she had always wanted to ride a unicorn. The mystical creatures intrigued her. The sight of a unicorn brought back reveries from her youth, when she had believed in such things. It was an escape from harsh reality and a glimpse into some enchanted fantasy land.

The unicorn bent down, urging her to climb onto his back. She bounded towards him, feeling like a child again. She hopped onto the smooth, sturdy back and the unicorn arose quickly, taking off in a steady gallop. Laughing with a childlike glee, she held on tight to the unicorn's silky mane as it sped across the field. She rode the animal with an ease that demonstrated her equestrian prowess. They dashed through meadow as a single entity, moving in rhythm with each other.

When she was younger, she had gone to Terra 2 for a year to stay with a friend of Ada's. Poor Ada had needed the break, so her friend Ashley offered to take Vida off her hands for a while. Ashley was a brilliant horseback rider, horses were her life. She taught Vida everything she knew about riding. Terra 2 was a wonderful place to ride; there were acres after acres of untampered land. Humans had begun colonating there only a decade before. She had loved it there and hated to leave, but she carried the memory of what she had learnt with her through the years. As she rode the holographic unicorn, she was amazed at how easily it all came back to her.

Now, remember what I taught you...

A voice echoed in the caverns of her memory. The image appeared in her mind of a beautiful woman with caramel hair and rosy cheeks horseback riding with a smile that lit up even the darkest of nights and the gloomiest of days. She was the most graceful rider Vida had ever seen.

She bounded through the grass on her unicorn, closing her eyes as the cool wind blew and the warmth of the sun hit her face in delightful contrast. It felt like she was coming home.

Vida returned to her room, exhausted, but contented. The embarrassment of her encounter with Seth and Nova that morning had faded. Someday, she thought, she would look back on this day and laugh, but not today. Tristan would think it hilarious, she was sure. It was like him to take pleasure in her humiliation. She could see his smirking face in her mind.\par \tab She walked to her bedroom and paused at the mirror in the hallway. She groaned at the sight. Her tousled hair was strewn about haphazardly from riding in the wind. There were dark circles around her eyes and her tired face drooped lifelessly. It was to be expected; her body had suffered considerable damage and the rapid healing process had taken its toll. Full-blooded Andromedans could spare the energy, but her human side could not. She needed to rest and regain her strength.

Longing to feel the softness of sheets on her skin, she sat on the edge of the bed and removed her chocolate brown sandals and slipped underneath the covers. Sleep came quickly and she welcomed it, too weary even to worry about the nightmares.

When she woke, she felt refreshed and wondered how long she had been sleeping. It felt like days had passed. She had slept so soundly without any nightmares disrupting her slumber, but again, she had had no dreams at all, or none that she could recall. This was not unusual; she rarely had dreams except for bad ones. She glanced at her watch. She had been alseep for over six hours.

"Just in time for supper," she said to herself.

When she walked past the bathroom, it reminded her that she should have a shower before she did anything else. She desperately needed one and the thought of a nice, hot, wet shower appealed to her.

As she removed her clothing, she realized how long it had been since she had changed her clothes. She had been wearing this outfit on the night of her attack. Her blood still stained the collar and spotted the front of her shirt, blending with the red and black pattern. Her red pants were smudged with dirt and grime. It was a good thing she was not overly concerned with her outward appearance or she would have been disgusted with herself, but in her life as a wanderer, she was used to wearing the same clothes weeks on occasion and sleeping in the dirt if necessary. This was immaculate compared to that.

The shower felt divine and it was so good to rid herself of the sweat and filth that had accumulated on her skin. She sang to herself softly, enjoying the sound that echoed off the bathroom walls.

Tristan waited patiently in the shuttlelift as it sped downward. His palms were sweaty and he could feel his heart racing. He found it strange to find himself feeling this way. Nothing made him nervous, not even when he scammed the Andromedans into giving him money and yet, ripping off this poor, innocent, (if not irritating) young woman scared him. The worst she could do was deny him the money, whereas the worst the Andromedans could do was kill him. It made no sense, but then again, nothing that he did made much sense anymore. The shuttlelift stopped and Tristan took a deep breath and stepped out.

Walking down the corridor, he wondered if sending her the flowers had been too much. At the time, he thought it had been a good idea to get on her good side (if she had a good side) before he stole her money, but now he wasn't so sure. She was smarter than that, she would know something was up.

He hit the visitor button and waited, but no one answered or came to the door. He pressed it again, but still no answer. When he tried the door, it was locked. Cautiously, he looked around to make sure no one was watching and then took a small magnet out of his pocket and ran it through the slot. It beeped and the door jolted open of its own accord. Pleased with himself, he strided boldly into her apartment and the door closed behind him. He had learnt that trick, along with many others, from a master, the most gifted con artist he had ever met. Thievery really was an art. It took months and even years of planning and preparing and it was almost always worth it. The magnet trick was old and well-known among thieves, but it worked most of the time, except for on the newer, more sophisticated models. For those models, there were other ways that were, of course, much more complex, but not impossible. One of the most important things his mentor had taught him was that no system was unpenetrable. Although theft was seen as a lowly occupation, Tristan was proud of his accomplishments.

Thinking that no one was home, he searched through her belongings, making sure to leave eveything exactly as it was. He found her merit card, relieved at how easy this had been. It couldn't have planned it better himself. Now, he would have to make up some intricate story of why he need more money, he could just take it and get the hell out of here. If there was enough in her account, he could even buy his own ship! The excitement was making his hands shake. Steadying them, he proceeded to work his magic. He placed his own merit card into the slot at the base of hers. It asked for her password. Using his hacking skills, he was able to break into her account. He searched for the amount, his eyes widening as an impressively large number appeared on the small screen. He blinked in disbelief. His head was swimming, adrenalin was rushing and he heard...music? What was that? A sonorous voice softly humming as sweetly as an angel. It sounded like it was coming from the bathroom. An angel humming in the bathroom?

"Oh shit," he whispered, as he heard the bathroom door slide open.

Quickly, he fumbled for his merit card and placed hers back where he found it. There wasn't enough time to steal her money, he would have to come back.

Unclad, Vida walked out of the bathroom in frustration. She opened the closet and searched for a towel, unaware that an intruder lurked only meters away. He watched intently as the steaming water beaded on her supple skin and gathered into the cleft between her breasts.

He could have gone, but his feet remained planted in the ground, his eyes studying her every curve. Time stood still, and he stood, almost hypnotised by her beauty.

Then the trance was broken and time again resumed as Vida noticed him and swiftly covered herself with a towel.

She shrieked, "Tristan! What the hell are you doing here?"

"I was, um, I was..." he started but his mind drew a blank. He could ordinarily talk himself out of any situation, but now his brain was numb.

"You came for the money," Vida concluded, looking unimpressed.

Tristan tried to speak, but words failed him, so he nodded his head like a scolded child. In a way, it was the truth, only he came for all of it, not just the two-thousand. And now he knew there was an awful lot of it.

"Fine, I'll get it for you, and then you can be on your way. I can't believe you barged into my home like that, but I guess it's what you do best, isn't it?" she told him bitterly. "You know, Tristan, you are the most selfish person I've ever known."

Her words cut him like a knife and he felt the sting of guilt and shame like salt in his wound. He was no longer proud of his profession.

"You know what, I don't need the money, it's okay. I, um, I really should be going now. I'm sorry about this," he said as he walked out the door.

Vida was beginning to regret her harsh words. She forgot that beneath the tough exterior, a sensitive man hid beneath. She ran out the door after him and saw him walking slowly down the corridor.

"Come back, Tristan," she yelled. "I didn't mean it. Please, wait!"

He turned around and said, "No, Vida. I know what you think of me and you're right. You'd be better off without me around."

She didn't know what to say. All she could do was watch him as he walked away and she suddenly felt very alone.

She ate dinner by herself that night, in the quiet of her suite. As she sipped her soup, she pondered everything that had occurred that day. Here was Seth and Nova, only aquaintances and just like that, they spend the night together. How could two people find each other so quickly? It didn't make sense that she was alone and miserable. She had tried so hard to convince herself that she was content without anyone, but seeing Seth and Nova made her realize how lonely she was. Relationships never worked out with Vida. It was mostly because of her appearance; people found her golden eyes unnerving, even Jade and Seth. The only person who didn't seem to notice them was Tristan and now he was gone. She had pushed him away. It seemed like a mistake now, but had her reasons. She refused to be beholden to anyone. Remembering the vow she had made years ago, she told herself to forget about Tristan. He was a thief and a crook. He was everything from which she had tried so hard to escape.

So many thoughts emerged in her mind and she found it difficult to even concentrate on eating. She needed to talk to someone, get her feelings out in the open. There was Jade, but she wasn't sure that she would understand. Still, she would try, it couldn't hurt. Unsure where Jade might be, Vida went to the control panel on the wall near her door and asked the computer to locate her. She was in the green house. Vida raised her eyebrows in surprise; she didn't know Jade was a gardener. Shrugging, she decided to check it out.

Sure enough, when Vida got there, she saw a form bent over a patch of pansies, a thick mane of brilliant red hair streaming down her back like molten lava. Green eyes looked up in anticipation of her approach.

"You must be the one who sent me those flowers," Vida said, happy that she had solved that mystery.

Jade looked puzzled."You got them already? That was fast. I just sent them to you a few minutes ago. Did you like them? I love poppies, they're so colourful, so I thought you might enjoy them."

"Poppies," she said, wondering where the yellow roses had come from, "no, I haven't got them. I must have just missed them."

"But you just said--" she started, confused. "Vida, what's wrong with you? What flowers were you thinking of?"

"Tristan," she realized, "oh my god, it was Tristan who sent the flowers."

She sat down beside a confused Jade and sighed woefully. "And now he hates me. Oh, Jade, what have I done?"

"There, there," she comforted her like a mother would a distraught child, "tell me what happened."

"This whole day had been horribly embarrassing. First, this morning I walked into Seth's apartment and found Nova there--"

"What?" Jade interruped excitedly. "No way. Nova was there? My friend Nova? Man, I knew she had a crush on him, but I never thought...Anyway, go on."

"And then later today, I was having a shower and I forgot to bring clean towels into the room. They're all in that little closet in the hallway, you know?"

"Oh I know, I hate when that happens. So then what?"

"Okay, so I walk out of the bathroom without anything on and I go to get my towel when I notice someone in the living room."

"Let me guess. It was Tristan."

"Yes, he was standing there gawking at me. I grabbed that towel as fast as I could. It was so embarrassing."

By this time Jade was laughing at the scene that Vida had described, but she could tell Vida didn't see the humour in it. "What was he doing there?"

"He wanted reward money for saving me from the Andromedans," she said with disgust.

"I can't believe he would do that!" she replied, thoroughly shocked. "Did you give it to him?"

"I was going to, but he wouldn't take it. I was a bit mean to him, and he acted like he was actually hurt. It was really unlike him. Usually my insults don't even phase him."

Jade was smiling at her knowingly.

"What is it?"

"Don't you see?"

"See what?"

She reached over and whispered in Vida's ear, "he loves you."

"Jade, that's stupid! I probably scared him off when he saw me walking out of the bathroom with nothing on."

"Now you're being stupid. It's the exact opposite. It probably made him realize how much he wants you," she teased.

Vida was blushing now, but continued, "you don't know what you're talking about."

"Vida," she said more seriously, looking her straight in the eyes. "Don't you know how beautiful you are?"

"Stop it, you know that's not true. You're only trying to make me feel better, but I don't need your sympathy."

"Jesus, Vida," Jade exclaimed with frustration. "You really don't know. Don't you ever notice how every man stares at you when you walk in a room? Don't you see how Seth looks at you? Sometimes I think he's in love with you, too. I don't know this Tristan, but unless he's gay or dead, he wants you."

"Wanting and loving aren't the same thing."

"No, but if he didn't take money that you offered him, he must really care about you. I know these wanderer types. He's probably flat broke and hungry for any money he can get his hands on."

"How did you know he was a wanderer?"

"Seth told me. He also told me that you couldn't stop thinking about him at dinner the other night. He must be quite a guy."

"He's a thief," she rebuked. "He broke into my apartment and I think he was looking through my bag."

"You know what that's like to have to steal to survive. Hell, we all do. Give him a chance. I can tell you care him, or we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"It's too late, he's gone," she said, bowing her head ruefully.

"He'll be back, just wait," she predicted confidently.

"Then you can get laid," she added jokingly.

Vida blushed even more and smiled shyly, saying, "Jade, get serious."

Looking at Vida's timid face, she realized how young she looked. "You're not as old as you seem," she observed thoughtfully.

"I'm eighteen."

"Eighteen? You're still a child. I'm seven years older than you! That makes me feel so old. All this time I thought you were around the same age as me. I guess you have a sort of maturity about you, that's all."

"Well, thank you."

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Go ahead, it's not as though I could stop you," Vida said.

She laughed lightly at Vida's comment. "That's true. Anyway, back to my question. Are you a virgin?"

"Jade!" she yelled, appalled at her question. "Why would you want to know that?"

"You know me. I'm just curious. Now, are you going to tell me, or do I have to pry it out of you?"

Vida looked at her captiously and asked, "And how do you plan to do that?"

"I have my ways."

"And what ways are those? No, nevermind, I don't want to know," she decided. "I'm a virgin. There, now you know. Are you satisfied?"

"Yes, but you obviously aren't."

"I am perfectly happy without a man, thank you very much. Besides, I don't see you with any hot dates."

"Well, there was Dermott, but that's definately over now."

"I'm sorry, Jade. I didn't know."

"Don't worry. It wasn't your fault. He's an asshole," she said resentfully. "So," she said, her face returning to its normally cheerful state, "how can such a gorgeous girl like you still be a virgin?"

"I don't know," Vida muttered at the ground, not wanting to make eye contact with her friend. "Guys don't find me as appealing as you think they do."

"That's not it and you know it."

"It's my eyes. They frighten people. They're also the reason why people stare when I walk into a room, as much as you'd like me to believe otherwise."

"Vida, why do you keep lying to me? Stop making up excuses and tell me the truth," she told her sternly.

Vida was annoyed by her meddling. "I'm not lying to you," she protested angrily. "Why do you always have to know about everyone else's personal life?"

"Because that's just the way I am, okay? There's no need to be so touchy."

Vida calmed down. "Well, it's not something I like to talk about, that's all."

"So I was right," Jade said, her curiosity growing again, "there is something you're not telling me."

"You\'re not going to let this go, are you?" she snickered.

"Not bloody likely."

"Promise you won't tell anyone else?"

"Cross my heart, hope to die," she chanted.

Vida took a deep breath. "It was a long time ago," she started, not sure if she wanted to continue, but it was too late to turn back. "Or, it seems that way. I guess it's only been a couple of years. Anyway, I was visiting a dear friend on Terra 2 and that's when I met Gealan. People told me he was too old for me, but I didn't care. He was adventurous, ambitious...and incredibly handsome. I really thought that I loved him, but I don't know if it was just the idea of him that I was in love with," she paused and bit her lip. She had never realized that she had felt that way until she verbalized it. The memories overwhelmed her with sadness.

She finally continued, "One night, we were supposed to meet at Avalon spaceport. He never came. For many months I was angry and hurt... I thought he had changed his mind about me. Then I heard that he was in the colony of Terra 2. I was furious and it took me a while to work up nerve to go there and confront him. I was planning all the nasty things I was going to say to him, but when I found him, he was dead. On the night that we were supposed to meet, he came down with the Andromedan plague. He died only a few hours before I got there.

If I hadn't been so caught up in feeling sorry for myself, I could have at least been there when he died," Vida said, blinking back the tears. It had been such a long time since she had thought of this. She had tried so hard to forget.

"I know how it feels to be hurt," Jade finally said. "But it's like a wise friend once told me: you have to let it go."

"I know," she wept.

"Go back to your room. If he loves you, he'll come back."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive," she resassured her.

"Thanks for talking with me," Vida said, giving Jade a warm hug.

"Now go on, get out of here!" she commanded her with a laugh.

She wiped her tears on her sleeve and went to her suite, hoping and yet dreading that Tristan would come.

The doorbell rang only minutes after she returned. Amazed at the accuracy of Jade's hunch, she eagerly rushed to the door nervously. She took a deep breath and rolled the tension out of her shoulders and then opened the door. Her expectant expression dulled when she came face to face with a delivery man carrying a bouquet of poppies. She accepted it graciously and gave the smiling man a tip and he hurried off. There was a card attatched to them with a quick note from Jade wishing her well. She smiled and placed the flowers on the nightstand in her room.

An hour passed, and then another, without any sign of Tristan. Vida was beginning to think it foolhardy to have listened to Jade. Jade knew nothing of Tristan. She'd never even met him. How could she know what he would do? Vida yawned sleepily. She needed some more rest. It was no use staying up any later, he would not be coming tonight or ever again. She had had her chance, and now it was gone.

She idly savoured a cup of soothing chamomile tea, letting the heat of the liquid enflame her core. Too tired to make her way back to the solace of her own bed, she curled up on the couch with her head resting on a mound of couch pillows. Vida briskly perked up to an imagined sound at the door. Displeased, she lowered herself onto the cushions once more. Every sound was amplified by her anxiety. At last, she nodded off into an unsettled state of restfulness, hazed by her undying need for peace of mind and of soul.

End of chapter 8. Click here for chapter 9!