With a mug of coffee in one hand and a chocolate croissant from the french bakery in the other, Vida sat down at a quaint table with a red and white checkered table cloth. She loved this particular section of Borderport, the warm and inviting french atmosphere delighted her. She imagined that this was what Paris must have been like before...well, she didn't like to think about that.
While she munched on her moist and fluffy croissant, she looked around for Jade who was supposed to meet her here for breakfast before boxing. The french bakery had become their regular meeting place since they found that by the end of their workout they were always ravenous. A good breakfast held them over. This definately was a good breakfast, Vida thought, licking the melting chocolate off her fingers.
"Vida, how can you eat chocolate for breakfast?" Jade nagged, startling her. "It's so...unhealthy. But then again, you can eat whatever you want and not gain an ounce. It's sickening."
"Me? Look who's talking. You're a virtual toothpick."
"Yeah, but I have to work to look this good," she said with mock conceit, placing her fruit salad and orange juice on the table.
"I do too," Vida insisted, "the croissant part is healthy. That should count for something."
"So," she said eagerly, "what happened last night?"
Even though she was expecting this question, Vida found herself fighting to keep her voice steady. "Nothing, he never showed."
"Shit. Are you sure? I was certain."
"Of course I'm sure, but you couldn't possibly have known. Don't worry about it. Like he said, it's probably for the best. He wasn't exactly a model citizen."
"No, I know that, but..." Jade stammered, looking distressed. "I just had a feeling, that's all"
"I guess we can't always trust out feelings," Vida muttered. "Well, we should start heading to the gym, I want to get in as much time as possible today since I missed a few days."
"Right, so how are you doing? You look good for someone who was attacked by Andromedans only days ago," she said as they walked. "I thought they would have killed you."
"They would have, if it wasn't for--" she stopped herself. She didn't want to think about Tristan anymore. "But I'm fine now, just a little tired from healing. At least my Andromedan genes are good for something."
"Hmm," Jade mumbled in brief assentment.
"So, have you heard from Seth? I wonder how everything's going with him and Nova," she mused with a sly smile.
"I haven't heard a sound from either of them."
"Yeah, they must be really busy, if you know what I mean."
The two women giggled immaturely as they made their way into the gym's virtual chamber, which Jade had reserved.
"Great, let's get started. I can't wait to hit the punching bag again," Vida said eagerly.
Jade held her back. "Wait a minute. You have to warm up first, remember?"
"Right," she replied sarcastically, "however could I have forgotten?"
"The warm up is the most important part," Jade explained in her athletic trainer voice. "Otherwise, your muscles will be swore. Believe me, you'll thank me later."
With a dispassionate sigh, Vida stretched her muscles, feeling the straining sensation beneath her skin and welcoming the pain it brought.
"I don't know. Whether my muscles hurt now or later, what's the difference?" she complained.
"You're not supposed to stretch so much that it hurts," Jade scolded. "Just forget it. Go punch a bag if you're really that eager, but don't go blaming me if your muscles ache later."
"Thanks, Jade," she said and bolted to the punching bag.
Jade shook her head and smiled at Vida's enthusiasm. She was still such a child at heart, despite her mature appearance.
Later, when Vida had worn and dented two punching bags in her fervor, she moved on to push-ups, a less destructive activity. Jade was ardently absorbed in a match with a holographic figure. She administered a vicious blow and knocked her opponent down.
"Did you see that?" she asked Vida, who was still doing push-ups on the floor. "That was one hell of a punch, don't you think?"
"Sorry, I didn't see it," Vida said between push-ups.
"Vida, come on. I'll have you a match. Don't worry, I won't be too hard on you, I promise."
Vida rested on the ground to catch her breath, smiling at Jade's proposal. It wasn't herself she was worried about.
"I don't think so," she declined, wiping the sweat off her brow. "Actually, I'm ready to go now. We've been here a long time. It's past lunch."
"Is it really?" she questioned, looking surprised and a little disappointed. "Well, let's go have lunch, then."
Vida nodded and got up, noticing the pouch around her throat was missing. "Oh no," she gasped.
"What? What is it?"
"My stone, it's gone!" she said, on her hands and knees, searching desperately for her mother's precious gift.
"I found it," Jade announced, examining the strange stone. It came to life in the heat of her hand, shimmering and shifting from translucent brilliance to vivid hues. "Wow," she whispered in a barely audible voice.
"Oh, thank god. I don't know what I'd do if I lost it."
"Well, you're going to if you keep it in that old leather pouch. You should get a nice gold chain for it. I know someone who could do that for you. He's a jeweller."
"Maybe that's what I should do."
"Great, I'll take you there when we're finished lunch. I've been meaning to introduce you to Griffin, I think you'll like him."
Griffin was in the process of cutting a rare crystalline jewel in his shop when Jade and Vida arrived.
"I'll be right with you," he said, without looking up. With his sophisticated laser cutter, the process was much easier, but still required his undivided attention. When he was done, the crystal shone flawlessly and he smiled, pleased with his work. He looked up at last to see a beautiful woman with hair of fire and eyes of stone and had to gasp for breath, for this vision outshone even the flawless brilliance of the crystal.
"Hey Jade," he said with a welcoming smile, hardly noticing Vida. His white teeth looked unnaturaly white next to the deep tones of his brown skin.
"Hi Griffin," Jade replied flirtatiously. "That's a gorgeous crystal you have."
Vida watched the scene with amusement, feeling like an observer to the perfect example of the mating rituals of Humans. Jade fluttered her eyelashes and laughed girlishly. She had never seen her act this way before. Growing tired of the sickeningly sweet sight, Vida cleared her throat loudly to get their attention.
"Oh, Griffin, this is Vida. She has the strangest stone I've ever seen and she's been wearing it around her neck in a leather pouch, but it broke. I told her that you could put a chain on it instead."
"Can I take a look at the stone?"
"Of course," Vida consented and placed it in his hand.
Watching in amazement as the shiny, smooth rock began to light up. "Damn, girl, where'd you get this thing?"
"It was given to me. I don't know where it's from."
"I've never seen anything like this. It seems to gain energy from body heat and transform it into light." he said, studying the stone curiously. "Well, I'd be happy to put a chain on it for you, no problem. It would give me a chance to study it some more."
"Great. When will it be ready?" Vida asked.
"In about ten minutes, if you don't mind waiting," he said, turning his glance to Jade who smiled shyly.
"We don't mind at all, take your time," she told him.
When he disappeared into the back room, Vida pulled Jade aside and said, "What's gotten into you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't bullshit me, Jade. It is so obvious that you like him."
Jade gave her an innocent look. "What? I do not! You're imagining things. He and I are just friends, I thought I told you that."
"Uh huh, sure."
"Fine, I can see you don't believe me, so you can just believe what you want to believe, I don't care," she said, but it was clear that she did care...about Griffin.
Vida looked past Jade to a couple that had just entered the shop. The woman was tall and slender with long, flowing hair, black and sleek like a raven's feather. She walked with confidence and poise, holding her graceful back in perfect posture. The first few buttons of her khaki shirt were seductively left undone and her shorts were cut high on her thighs, exposing her soft, tanned legs. Almond-shaped and slanted, her eyes revealed her asian ancestry.
Although this woman was the more eye-catching of the two, it was the man who caught Vida's eye. Also clad in a khaki outfit, but a much more conservative one, the man was an inch shorter than the woman and it looked as though he hadn't shaved for several days. His skin was like leather, tough and worn from the sun. A large scar ran across his right cheek; the damaged skin was a shade or two lighter than the rest of his bronzed complexion, pronouncing its depth. She would recognize that scar anywhere.
"Hello stranger, what brings you to these parts?" Vida asked him.
Recognizing her voice, he turned towards her and smiled, embracing her. "Vida," he spoke with an eloquent british accent, "my darling Vida. It's so good to see you again. My wife, Cassandra, and I were on an expedition on a planet not far from here. We collected some fascinating metallurgic samples, thought not nearly as fascinating as your stone. In any case, we came here to hopefully make a sale."
"You're married? I can't believe it! Congratulations."
"Oh, that's right, you haven't met Cassy yet. Cassy, my love," he beckoned her. She left the display of jewels where her interest had been drawn and returned to the side of her husband who laid a protective arm around her. "This is Vida, a dear friend of mine," he said to her.
She graciously shook Vida's hand and said, "I'm so pleased to finally meet you. Connor has told me a great deal about you." She turned to Connor, "Honey, I saw the most beautiful Andromedan crystals in the display case over there."
"Oh my, I've been wanting to get my hands on some of those for quite sometime. I shall talk to the owner of the shop and perhaps we can come to some arrangement. Vida, I'm terribly sorry, I don't think I've met your lovely friend yet."
Vida blushed. She had completely forgot about Jade who stood patiently, not knowing who these people were with whom Vida was convering. "This is Jade Riley. I met her here at Borderport."
"A pleasure to meet you," he said and charmingly lifted her hand to his lips.
"Oh," Jade giggled shyly.
"Jade, Connor and I used to go on expeditions together."
"Yes, and we had some splendid times and made millions at the same time. We were an incredible team. I wish you would consider coming with me to Earth again. There's still some great treasures to be found."
Jade finally understood why Vida could afford to pay for all those clothes when they had gone shopping. She was a goddamned millionaire!
"No, thanks. I have enough money to last me a lifetime after the last trip we took there."
"Don't be foolish, you can never have enough money!" he laughed prudishly.
"You have Cassy, you don't need me to be tagging along with you."
"You're always welcome, remember that," he said sincerely, placing a caring hand on her shoulder.
At that moment, Griffin stepped out of the back room with Vida's mysterious stone hanging on a delicate gold chain.
"There's my stone," she said happily as Griffin handed it to her. It dangled between her fingers as she examined it. "You did a great job, Griffin. Thank you. Please, let me pay for it."
"No, no. I already said you didn't have to."
Vida opened her mouth to object, but Jade spoke to him instead. "Griffin, it's okay. Let her pay for it."
"All right," he gave in, throwing his hands into the air, "if you really want to pay so bad, I'll be happy to help you out."
Vida went off with Griffin to the counter to pay for the necklace, leaving Jade with Connor and Cassy.
"So, how did you get that scar on your face? It looks like it was a whopper of a wound."
Exchanging glances with his wife, he smiled and said to her, "that's Vida's handiwork." He stopped to see Jade's shocked expression and then continued, "we were on Mars trekking through the underground caverns. It was getting late, so we had set up camp for the night. Vida was cutting up a piece of fruit with her pocket knife and I made the mistake of sneaking up behind her. I was only trying to frighten her as a joke, but before I knew it, she had sliced my face with her blade. I never made that mistake again, I assure you," he laughed bitterly.
Jade laughed as well. "Did she apologize afterwards?"
"Oh yes, of course, she was most sympathetic. She had thought I was an intruder of some sort. Jumpy little thing, isn't she? Her reflexes are astonishing."
"What are you guys talking about over here?" Vida said, approaching them.
"Nothing much, just telling your friend about my scar."
"Oh," Vida said, her cheeks burning. "I'm still really sorry about that, Connor. Really very sorry."
"Is there anything I can do for you folks?" Griffin asked Connor and Cassy curteously.
"Yes, my boy, there is. I have some items of interest that I'd be willing to sell to you."
"Great. Let's take a look at what you've got," he said, leading them over to the counter.
Connor dumped his bagfull of gems onto the counter. Griffin whistled in awe when he picked one up and examined it under his magnifier.
"These are excellent quality. What are you asking for them?"
"Would you be willing to make a trade for that Andromedan crystal in your display case?" Cassy piped up.
Griffin shook his head. "I'm sorry, those aren't mine to trade. They belong to the Andromedans."
"Oh, that's too bad," said Connor. "Well, we'll settle for ten thousand merits."
Wincing at the price, Griffin said, "that's a little higher than I'm willing to go."
"Nine thousand, but that's my final offer."
"Five thousand," Griffin urged, his face like stone.
"Good chap, you insult me. These are worth far more than that. Nine thousand is a steal, take it."
"Look, they're fine rocks, but money's a little tight lately. I don't have nine thousand merits to spare, I'm sorry."
"So am I," Connor sighed, disheartened. He looked at his wife, "We'll just have to keep looking for a buyer, won't we, Cassy?"
"Of course," she said with a deep and entrancing voice. "We are grateful for your time, sir. May I have a word with you?" she said to Griffin, pulling him aside discretely.
When she came back, Connor eyed her suspiciously. "What were you doing?"
"Oh, um, I was thanking him and then I gave him a small payment for his trouble. Is there something wrong with that?"
"No, of course not. I was only curious. Well, I suppose we'll be on our way. It was a delight to see you again, Vida. I hope our paths cross again soon."
Cassy stopped him. "Sweetheart, we don't have to leave right away. Why don't we stay awhile and visit. I'd love to get aquainted the infamous Vida of which you speak so fondly."
"You're welcome to stay," Vida said. "Jade and I can show you around and we can go for dinner afterwards."
"Very well, how can I refuse such a beautiful young lady?"
"You can't. Now, come on, I'll take you for a tour," she offered and escorted them out. Jade didn't follow. "Jade, aren't you coming with us?"
"No, that's okay. I have to work in a couple hours, I'll just stay here with Griffin if you don't mind."
"Not a problem," Vida said, now knowing that she was right about Jade's crush. "I'll see you later, then."
Vida took Connor and Cassy to all her favorite spots on Borderport. The observatory, the virtual chambers, the greenhouse, the gym, and of course, the shopping center. Cassy bought herself a slinky silver dress with spaghetti straps and a slit down the side. She had wanted something nice to wear for dinner which Connor insisted had to be at the most expensive restaurant on the spaceport. So he bought a suit for himself and a golden evening gown for Vida to bring out the colour in her eyes. At first, Vida had objected to the extravagant purchase, but it was hard to say no to someone like Connor. It was a beautiful dress, after all, with a low-cut back and elegant design.
After the excursion, they went to Vida's suite and prepared themselves for dinner. Cassy and Vida styled one another's hair while Connor relaxed with a drink in his hand.
"Are you girls ready yet? I'm starving," he said, sipping his martini tediously.
"Almost, we'll be out in a minute," Vida called from the bathroom.
Finally, they both stepped into the livingroom and watched Connor's mouth drop. Cassy's hair was left down, but curled in ringlets that tickled her cheeks and shoulders. Her silver gown shimmered and rippled like the midnight ocean as she moved and the slit down the side bared one seductive leg.
Vida wore the elegant golden dress and as she turned around, Connor marvelled at the beauty of her smooth and agile back and her swan-like neck. Her hair was arranged in a swirly french bun and her tiger eyes were as big and beautiful as ever. This was not the ratty young girl he remembered, with tangled hair and an immature smile; this was a young woman, a divine and compelling young woman who stirred something inside him that even his wife could not match. As he thought about it, he had always felt that way for her, even when she had been a mangy child, there was a beauty that radiated from inside of her. Back then, she had been a diamond in the rough, only now did he realize she had reached her full potential and become a refined jewel. She was the one jewel that he could never posess, for no one could own something so free and so wild. There was a raging fire burning within her soul, so that anyone who loved her would either be scalded by her intensity or end up smothering her to death.
"You two have got to be the two most beautiful women in the universe," he told them, giving them each a hug. "And you're wearing my favorite colours: silver and gold," he chuckled.
The threesome arrived at the classy restaurant and were soon seated at the best table in the house with a little help from Connor's charms and an exetremely large bribe. Vida studied the somewhat repressive atmosphere. Prissy waiters circled like vultures while the rich customers sank their teeth into small but expensive meals. The dignified sounds of violins and other string instruments blared through the sound system, playing some long forgotten ancient melody. Everything sparkled immaculately; the wine glasses, jewellery, even the waiter's smile shimmered with false politeness.
"So Vida, what have you been doing with yourself these days?" Connor made friendly conversation.
"Not much. I've been relaxing, taking a break from wandering," Vida explained, and casually took a sip of bitter wine. She hated wine.
"Whatever for? I thought you loved being a Wanderer, you couldn't pull yourself away-"
"Well I've changed," she cut him off..
"You certainly have," he said in a barely audible tone, but Vida sensed something in his voice, an emotion that she could put her finger on.
Cassy cleared her throat awkwardly. "Has everyone decided on what to eat?" she asked politely. "I think I'm going to have the Elysian seafood. I hear it's just to die for."
"Yes, that sounds good, Cassy. I'll have the same," Connor said and placed his order. "What about you, Vida?"
"I'll just have the chicken."
"Chicken? Come now, be a little more adventurous."
"Maybe I'm sick of being adventurous. I'd just like to have some plain, damn chicken for a change," she replied wearily.
"Fine. I know better than to get into an argument with you, my dear. I wouldn't want to get a scar on my other cheek."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all. I was trying to be funny," he explained. "Look now, let's not fight, not here, not now. I don't want to spend the few precious hours we have together bickering over foolish things."
Vida thought she would burst with anger, but managed to calm herself with a deep sigh. "You're right, as always, Connor. I'm sorry to bother you with 'foolish things'. I'm just tired, that's all, just very tired."
"Oh, if this is too much for you, we can leave. We don't have to stay in this crowded restaurant," Cassy said, placing a comforting hand on Vida's.
"No, no," she protested, "don't worry about me, I'm fine. Let's all try and enjoy ourselves, that's what we're here for."
Their meals arrived promptly and they ate heartily, discussing the most insignificant topics and staying clear from anything deeper for fear of agitating Vida. By the time dessert came, they were laughing and joking; a refreshing relief from their problems.
"...And then I tripped and splattered my red wine all over Cassy's white blouse," he laughed, recounting the story of how he had met his wife. "You should have seen her face! Oh, it was priceless. I thought she was going to kill me, but instead she offered to buy me another drink. I knew at that moment that this was the woman I was going to marry."
"Well, a ruined blouse and a glass of wine is a small price to pay for such a wonderful husband," she stated and kissed him softly.
Vida watched jealously. They were so much in love. Her thoughts returned to Tristan, even though she had tried as hard as she could to push him from her mind. She should hate him, it would be easier to hate him, but she couldn't.
"I am terribly sorry, but I have a splitting headache. I think I'm going to leave, if that's all right," Cassy said.
"We can go back to my place, and you can lay down," Vida offered.
"Thank you, Vida, but you two don't have to come with me. I'd just like to be alone for a while."
"Okay, if you say so," she pulled out her room pass and handed it to Cassy. "I hope you feel better soon."
"I'm sure I will, I just need to rest. Bye darling," she kissed him again, "I'll let you both catch up on things."
Connor watched her go, and then turned to Vida. "So, tell me what's really going on with you."
"You think I'm hiding something from you?"
"You tell me."
Vida looked shocked. "Why are you saying this? What is it that you think I'm hiding?"
"Stop answering my question with more questions. I hate it when you do that. I know you, Vida, better than you might think. Now, why were you being so curt with me?"
She sighed. "I don't know. I'm...I'm just struggling with things right now. I'm not sure if I want to be a wanderer anymore.
"I guess I want a place to call home. I like it here, but then you and Cassy came along and you're both so adventurous and in love and having the time of your lives. I don't know how to choose between settling down or living wildly like you."
"I can't imagine you ever settling down. What's bringing this on?"
"Don't you ever get tired of wandering aimlessly?"
"I'm not wandering aimlessly. I have a purpose."
"And what's that?"
Connor shrugged. "To make as much money as I possibly can."
"But that's the problem, Connor, I'm not like you. I don't want money, I don't have a purpose."
"Yes, you do."
"What is it, then?"
"I don't know, but you have a purpose. All I know is that you were born for a reason, we all are."
"Yeah, well I wish someone would tell me what it was."
"You'll figure it out someday," he laughed. The music that was playing caught his attention and he said, "Would you care to dance? Remember how we used to tango?"
She shook her head reluctantly. "Oh, I don't think so. It's been too long, I don't think I can remember."
"Come on," he said, pulling her out of her seat and onto the dance floor.
Violins played a mournful melody as Connor put a red rose between her teeth and took her in his arms. As they performed the intricate and seductive moves of the tango, Vida felt almost guilty. Maybe it was the way he looked at her, or how he touched her when they danced. It didn't seem like the way a married man should be acting towards another woman. No, it was only her imagination. She'd had a crush on Connor when she was younger, but he only thought of her as a child. The song ended and the crowd that had gathered clapped joyfully. She hadn't even noticed that anyone had been paying attention, but she smiled gratefully and the applause. When she attempted to return to the table, Connor grabbed her.
"One more dance, please?"
"Fine, one more and that's it."
As they danced, Vida found herself thinking of Tristan again. Here she was in the arms of a rich and handsome (and not to mention married) man and all she could think about was a poor, wretched thief. She would have given anything for one more moment with him, but maybe Tristan was right, maybe it was better this way. She didn't need love, the only thing love had ever brought her was heartache. But then again, Cassy and Connor had love, and they were drunk with happiness. Seth and Nova, even Jade and Griffin, they were all happy. Everyone was happy but her.
Connor smiled at her and drew her closer. It was strange, she would have never thought him to be the marrying type, but here he was with a beautiful wife. In a way, she envied him. He had found love that was pure and true and he was wise enough to hold on to it. She wished that it could have been that way for her.
A warm breath crept down her neck and sent shivers down her spine. It jerked her from her thoughts and she realized how close Connor was to her. His arms clung tightly to her and he nibbled softly at her ear.
"Oh God, my sweet Vida," he whispered, "I never knew how much I wanted you until I saw you today. You've grown into beautiful, beautiful young woman. I'm such a fool for not realizing it until now."
"You're right," she told him, "you are a fool. What do you think you're doing?"
"Come now, Vida. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it before. We could be so much together. I could give you the stabililty you so much desire and the adventure that you can't give up."
"No, no I can't do this."
He paused and looked at her with sudden realization. "You're still in love with my cousin, aren't you?" he said, more of a statement than a question. "He's dead, you know, and he's not coming back."
"I can't believe you," she said, pushing him away from her. The anger in her voice was becoming more apparent. "I can not believe you. You just assume that I would sacrifice eveything including my integrity and run away with you. What really hurts is that you would drag up Gealan as an excuse for why I won't. As much as you and your ego would hate to admit it, you're not as great as you think you are."
"Keep your voice down, people are starting to stare. Let's go to somewhere more private if you want to yell."
"No," she said even louder, "I want everyone here to know what a cheating, stuck-up asshole you really are. What about Cassy? Did you think about her? She's your wife, for God's sake! How could you even think of betraying her like this? All this time I was actually jealous of how in love the two of you were. I would hit you, but I don't want to waste the energy. I'll let Cassy have the first swing at you."
She took off, dragging him along behind her in a fiery rage. Connor struggled to loosen her grip, but soon gave up the futile battle.
"Where are we going?"
"To see Cassy, of course," she said calmly.
"No, please, Vida. I am sorry, really. Just let me go, you're breaking my wrist."
"I don't give a shit about your wrist. You're lucky I didn't grab you by the balls, because believe me, I was tempted. I feel so stupid. I actually thought that you loved her."
"I care for her deeply, she's a beautiful woman."
"You care too deeply for beautiful things. It's a nasty obsession of yours. For once you should try looking deeper than that. I don't understand you, Connor, I really don't."
"You understand me too well."
She stopped and looked at him with her searing golden eyes, full of passion and pain. A blood-curdling scream echoed through the empty corridor and she deflected her glance elsewhere.
"What was that?"
"I don't know. Just someone screaming," he said with indifference.
Not just someone; the scream sounded too familiar. Vida let go of Connor's wrist and ran in the direction of the shriek.
When she found her she was dead, a gaping wound through her heart. She touched Cassy's long, silky hair with pity.
"Oh, Cassy, oh no," she whispered.
At that moment, Connor ran up behind Vida's crouching figure and saw his wife's corpse lying helpless on the hard, cold corridor floor. He let out a wretched wail and then collapsed over her broken body, weeping out of desperation and guilt. Vida silently put a consoling hand on his shoulder. He took Cassy's ice cold hand in his own. Her fingers were clutched in a tight fist. He pried them open and winced when he saw a single Andromedan crystal in her palm.
"This was for me," he muttered in an unsteady voice. "She knew how much I wanted those crystals. I never thought she would risk trading with the Andromedans. Why, Cassandra, why?" he cried, burying his face in her hair.
"Because she loved you," Vida answered the words that Cassy could never again utter.
She crept away silently. Connor was left alone, trying to find comfort from his guilt and sorrow in the embrace of his wife's cold, dead arms.
Vida entered the morgue, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the stench of rotting bodies. Death was all around her, breathing down her neck, making her skin crawl. The sterile walls felt as if they were closing in on her, but she continued through the sinister shelves of the dead until she found Connor. He was talking with the undertaker with a solemn look on his face.
"I thought I'd find you here," she said, her voice resonating through the emptiness.
The two men stopped their conversation and looked at her. Conor forced a smile. "Hello, Vida. This is Mr. Phillips. He's taking care of.." he paused and cleared his throat, unable to continue.
"Nice to meet you," she said and graciously extended her hand to the man.
"If you'll excuse me, I have some other business to attend to. The morgue's a busy place, you know," he said, chuckling. When he noticed that no one else found him amusing, he continued more seriously, "if you need me, just call me through the control panel."
When he was gone, Connor took Vida's hands in his own and said, "I don't know quite what to say to you. All I can think of to say is that I'm sorry. I know that may not be enough, but I really am sorry."
"I forgive you, but I'm not the one who you should be apologizing to."
"She gave her life for me and what do I give her in return? Only betrayal. What is wrong with me, Vida? Why couldn't I love her? I thought I did, but..." he began to weep, but quickly composed himself. "I wish I could take it all back and start over again. Damn it, I'm such an idiot! I let the most important thing in my life slip through my fingers. I thought that money was all I needed to be happy, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Now it's all I have left and I'm miserable. What am I going to do?"
Vida sighed, not knowing how to ease the hurt of his guilt. "You said that you wished you could start over. Maybe that's what you should do. Make a brand new life for yourself."
"Yes," he agreed, "yes, maybe you're right. I need to start anew, that's what Cassy would have wanted for me. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'll figure something out. I can't thank you enough, Vida, for everything you've done for me. Please, if there's anything I can do for you I'd be glad to help. You can have my money; I don't want it anymore."
"That's kind of you, but I think I'll manage on my own. I'll make it," she said, giving him a hug, "we'll both make it, I'm sure of that. Besides, you should use your money to do some good."
"Yes, of course, you're right," he hugged her back. "Take care of yourself. Perhaps I'll see you again someday."
"Are you leaving already?"
"I need to get out of here. Cassy's in good hands. Her family has been notified and her body will be sent to them for a proper burial. Right now I just want to be alone. I don't think I could handle going to the funeral and being around her family."
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know yet. I suppose I'll find out when I get there," he said, smiling sadly. "Good bye, Vida."
"Good luck. I'll be thinking of you."
He nodded and walked out of the morgue, away from his old life and everything in it.
Vida stood in the deathly silence, feeling alone in a sea of bodies. People that once lived and breathed, loved and cried were now no more than an empty shell of decomposing flesh. She often wondered what happened to people when they died. Did they simply cease to exist or was there something more after death? Did Cassy know the truth at last about her husband? She hoped that if she did know that she would be happy that he had decided to change his ways. It was a shame that it took his wife's death for him to realize that there was more to life that money and adventure. Maybe he did love her in his own way, the only way he could.
"Mmmph," she heard a muffled voice groan.
She jumped back, surprised at the sound. "Hello? Is someone there? Mr. Phillips?"
No one answered. It was only her imagination running away with her. She had to get out of the morgue. Being surrounded by the dead was making her hear things. She started to walk out when she heard the moan again.
"Now I know I didn't imagine that," she said to herself.
It sounded as though the voice was coming from inside one of the drawers. She started opening them up until she caught a glimpse of movement from inside one of the body bags. She cautiously opened the bag, her heart pounding in her chest. She drew in a sharp breath of surprise when she saw a pair of blue eyes staring up at her. He was covered in blood, but he was still breathing shallowly.
"Tristan! What happened?"
He let out a laboured moan in return. His skin was pale and clammy and his eyes stared at her vacantly.
"Don't worry, it'll be all right. I'll go find some help, okay?" she told him, trying to stay calm, but her hand was shaking as she hit the control panel.
Allyson rubbed her aching forhead and let out a weary sigh. The endless stream of patients was wearing her down.
"Doctor, come quick!" an nurse called to her as the patient was brought in on a hover-stretcher.
She rushed over and was surprised to see the young hybrid woman standing over the patient, her trembling hand over her mouth and his blood on her clothes.
"Vida," she said while she was examining the man's condition. "I wasn't expecting to see you back here so soon."
"Neither was I."
"What happened here?"
"Apparently he was presumed dead and placed in the morgue. This lady found that he was still alive," the nurse explained.
"Well I'm not surprised," Allyson said. "It's a miracle he's alive considering the extent of his injuries. It looks like he was shot by a photonblaster at point blank. His pulse is barely traceable."
"Oh no," Vida cried.
"Booker, would you take her to the waiting room, please?" Allyson asked the nurse.
"But-" she protested.
Allyson turned to Vida, "I promise I'll keep you informed of his condition."
Staring at her black coffee, Vida waited impatiently in the waiting room. She couldn't stand waiting without knowing whether he was dead or alive. She had to know, she just had to know. Surely she would have been told if he had died, unless, of course, they had forgotten about her. Maybe they thought she had left, gone home to rest. After all, she didn't know him that well. Why should she care if he died? But she did care. She didn't know why, but the thought of him dying frightened her.
"Vida," Dr. Winters called gently, the way a mother would speak to her sick child.
She lifted her head and looked expectantly at Allyson.
"We need to talk," she said, sitting down beside her.
Vida's heart felt like lead in her chest. She prepared herself for the worst. Any sentence that started with "we need to talk" was never followed by good news.
Muscles that she hadn't even realized were tense suddenly relaxed at the doctor's words.
"But he's still in serious condition. I've done everything I can for him. We'll just have to wait and see if he pulls through this," the doctor informed her.
Vida looked skeptical. "Something tells me that's not the only thing you wanted to talk about."
Allyson smiled, but her eyes revealed her concern. She said, "It's just odd..."
"His injuries are far too severe for any human to survive. I don't understand it. There's only one possible explanation that I can think of."
Vida swallowed hard. "And what's that?"
"He's not human."
After stumbling to find her voice, she finally spoke. "What are you trying to say?"
"Vida, he's a hybrid, like you. It looks like you're not alone in the universe after all," she said, smiling with happiness for Vida.
Vida didn't share her joyous mood. Her cup of coffee fell to the floor and smashed into a million pieces, splattering cold coffee in every direction.
"No, I don't believe you!" she cried. "Do one of your DNA scans. You've got to be mistaken."
"I'll do one, but I'm sure it's only going to confirm what I already told you. He's part Andromedan. He's slipped into a regenerative coma. Only Andromedans can do that."
She calmed herself and stared at the coffee on the floor. "Why didn't he tell me? It's just so hard to believe. He doesn't even look Andromedan."
"He may not appear like one on the outside, but he's got to have more powerful healing capabilities than even you."
"Can I see him?"
"I don't see why not," Allyson said, "but he's still in a coma. It may take weeks or even months for him to wake up. There's still the danger that he might never wake up"
"Thank you, doctor," she said, getting up from her seat.
Allyson stopped her with a friendly tap on the shoulder and said, "Vida, you and Tristan, are you...close?"
"No," she stated simply. "I don't even know his last name. I thought he'd left Borderport already, but the Andromedans must have found him before he had a chance."
"Why would they do this to him?"
"Why do the Andromedans kill anyone? They're evil. All you have to is stare at them the wrong way."
"Maybe so. I guess I just have trouble understanding why they would shoot an innocent man for no reason. Not only that, but he has deep knife slashes all over his body. It's almost as if they were trying to torture him before they shot him. Why would they do that?"
Vida sighed. "Well," she started, reluctantly, "Tristan wasn't exactly innocent. He killed an Andromedan while he was trying to save me. That's why they tried to kill him; they wanted revenge."
"I see," Allyson replied with surprise. "Maybe they're not so different from us after all."
Vida smirked. "There's many who would disagree with you."
"I'm sure that's true," she laughed. "What about you? Do you disagree?"
She paused, looking away from Allyson's attentive glare. "Will you excuse me? I'd really like to see Tristan now."
"Go ahead. Let me know if there's anything you need."
"I will," she said, walking out of the waiting room.
When she entered his cramped cubicle, she almost broke down at the sight of him. Tubes and medical instruments were attatched to his swollen body and the disturbing beeping of heartbeat registering on the monitor pierced her ears with every beat. He was weak, but there was still a sense of strength that lingered and gave Vida hope. She pulled up a chair beside him and sat down, taking hold of his hand. She loved his hands with soft skin like a baby's, yet they were solid and powerful. Impulsively, she brought her lips to his hand and kissed it, delighting in the velvety smoothness and the salty taste of his skin. Her throat tightened and her tears fell onto his lifeless fingers. She inhaled a stifled breath and held it, and afraid to exhale, afraid that she would wake him with her crying. When she could hold it no longer, she let it all out in one explosive sob. The tears kept coming and she found herself sobbing like a child into Tristan's hand. She didn't understand why she felt so connected to this man she hardly knew, but she was certain that if he died, she would lose a part of herself. It felt like that horrible night when she discovered that Gealan, her first true love, had died. She was living it all over again. Love seemed to her to be the cruelest force of all, even more destructive than hate.
Jade sighed in relief when she saw the familiar curly mane of hair which spread across the edge of the hospital bed and over Vida's sleeping face. Next to her lay a young man, his body wrapped in a cacoon of sheets and tubes. So this was the mystery man who had captured Vida's heart. She couldn't blame her; in spite of his critical condition, he managed to appear healthy and undeniably alluring. She smiled at the slumbering pair who reminded her of an ancient tale she had once read about two young loves who had died in each other's arms. What were their names? She couldn't recall.
Vida lifted her head and blinked at Jade. "Jade," she muttered, her voice wavered with sleepiness. "Is that you?"
"Oh, sorry," she apologized, covering her mouth. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"That's okay," Vida replied, rising from her spot on the bed. "How did you find me here?"
"When you didn't show up for boxing, I went to your room and there was no answer. I thought something might have happened to you again, so I came here to check."
Vida nodded her head, her mind elsewhere. She touched Tristan's cheek lightly, but he showed no sign of rousing from his coma.
"Is he going to make it?" Jade asked.
"God, I wish I knew."
"The Andromedans did this, didn't they?" she said accusingly.
Vida nodded again, saying, "They killed Cassy, too."
"You mean that lady I met yesterday? Oh, I'm so sorry," Jade exclaimed with shock. "How's your friend taking it?"
"Connor left early this morning. He didn't know where he was going, but he had to get away and think things through. There's going to be a lot of changes for him to deal with."
"I'm sure there will be. No one can be the same after something like that."
"No, they can't," she agreed, solemly.
"Why don't we get some breakfast and then we can talk more?" Jade offered.
"I don't know. I think I should stay here in case he wakes up. Maybe you should just go and get something and bring it back here."
"Vida, you can't stay here forever. Come with me and you can change out of your dress and freshen up."
Vida groaned in objection as she pulled her hair out of her face. "Fine, but then I'm coming right back here afterwards."
"Whatever you say," she said, taking Vida by the arm and pulling her out of the infirmary."
End of chapter 9. Check back soon for the next chapter!