The mud squishing between her toes actually felt good. Lisa wiggled them while she selected and shoved another cluster of grass down through the shallow water into the mud. She tried hard not to call it rice. On Endard, it was something entirely different. They harvested little nuts from the roots. Their analog for rice grows on trees instead.
She glanced up and took in a deep breath. Her new eyes afforded her a view that she would never have been able to see with her birth-eyes. Courtesy their enemy, the Sadari. Now she saw as most of the citizens of the Cooperative saw. Far beyond both sides of the normal visual spectrum she had grown up with, plus a bit of the magnetic spectrum. However, back home, even pigeons could see a lot of that already. Humans…Terrans, they were all but blind and didn’t even know it.
Months had passed since she was rebuilt from a dying body, but she still wasn’t used to what she saw. It was early morning. The sun was just kissing the horizon. It was during that hour she could see UV radiation dancing in the upper atmosphere, generating almost fluorescent hues in the sky. Soon that would be gone, drowned out by the overall brilliance of Endard’s sun.
She turned and smiled at another welcome sight. Telestra, Endard’s ringed sister planet looked spectacular in the sky. The rings seemed to take on similar hues to the fluorescing sky.
“Hey dork, this rice isn’t going to plant itself.”
Brandon. Her brother. She glared at him, but he looked so silly standing there grinning in the mud that she couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’s kyperose, pea-brain. Not rice.”
“What are you looking at anyway?” Brandon turned around and looked at the largely cloudless sky. To him, it was still a dark blue, with a few twinkling stars still visible in the waning pre-dawn twilight. Telestra simply looked like the love-child of Earth and Saturn. Pretty, but not spectacular.
“I could show you, but you’d mess your pants,” Lisa said as she bent down and shoved another kyperose seedling cluster into the mud.
“Pfft, look at you. Princess can gate and share thoughts now.” Brandon smirked as he followed suit, shoving a clump into the mud.
“Break that in half, Brandon.” Lisa pointed. “Spread it out more.”
Brandon sighed and split the clump up. “There. Happy?”
“You two are falling behind.” A colorful man stepped nimbly through the mud towards them. The goop he waded through didn’t seem to even cling to his feet. His skin was covered with colorful patterns one would expect of reef creatures. A Selkie, indigenous to Endard.
Lisa gazed at him for a long moment, then looked away, embarrassed. The regular colorful patterns on his skin she had once seen with her birth-eyes seemed to have come alive in brilliance and animation with her new eyes. It was hard not to stare. Besides, the Selkie was an eyeful to begin with. But all of them were.
“Sorry, Ker’nal,” Lisa said, blushing furiously.
“It’s okay. You’ll get used to it eventually.” Ker’nal grinned. He hip bumped her as he walked by to hand Brandon another large clump of kyperose.
“You two need to get a motel,” Brandon grumbled as he fumbled and tried not to drop the seedlings.
“I’m not familiar with that word. Motel.”
Brandon looked at him, thinking. The language Craolin didn’t have a word for motel. Travelers became guests in homes. Brandon couldn’t even think of an adequate alternative in Elvish or Common. “A place where you sleep while traveling. Specifically for travelers. Or something.” Brandon waved his hand flippantly, annoyed at his inability to find a suitable analog. “But you pay. With money. Not that you’d know what that is.”
Ker’nal grinned. “I think we shall indeed get a…. motel.”
“Dude. I’m her brother.” Brandon made a face as he shoved another clump into the mud.
“Not too deep.”
“I know, I know. Professor over there has been nitpicking me all morning.” Brandon adjusted the last seedling he planted.
“You know, there are robots that could do this.” Brandon sighed. “We even have them back on Terra. Just load them up, push a button and step back.”
“You know our history with robots, Brandon.” Ker’nal stepped back as Brandon moved forward. “We only use them for the most basic tasks now.”
“Yeah, that’s right, you had real-life Terminators.” Brandon stood up, looking at Ker’nal thoughtfully. “Actual Terminators.”
“They didn’t time travel, you dit,” Lisa snorted.
“Terminator?” Ker’nal looked at Lisa, curious.
“Terran drama. Future robots find a way to travel back in time to kill the person who was defeating them. Over, and over, and over again.”
“Heh, like Groundhog Day. With killer robots. How many movies did they make?” Brandon laughed.
“You Terrans are so peculiar.” Ker’nal gave both of them a bemused look.
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” Brandon waggled his brows at Lisa. “Just wait until you’re life-mates.”
Ker’nal started to ask why when he noticed Lisa staring at the sky. He followed her gaze as she stood up and squinted.
“What? Another shuttle?” Ker’nal looked.
“Feels bigger.” Lisa closed her eyes briefly. “Gunship. Coming from Terra.”
“Think she’s on it?”
“If they didn’t destroy her.” Lisa chewed her cheek.
“Gate to it. If it’s not moving too fast.” Brandon stuffed another seedling into the mud.
“Every planet I gate onto is already traveling many thousands of miles an hour, Brandon. I thought you knew this.”
“Copernicus,” Brandon mumbled.
“Plate.” Lisa snorted as she returned her attention to the sky. “I don’t know. I don’t want to intrude.”
The glittering glint seemed frozen in place as it approached them. Only when it got closer did it become apparent that it was moving extremely rapidly. As it approached, Lisa could make out the clear outline of a gunship, flying low. Suddenly it zipped overhead silently. Had Lisa blinked, she would have missed it. Several moments later, a sonic shockwave hit them, scaring teles’trike dragons into the sky. Several of the workers in the field looked up and grumbled. Even the ground-hugging fog was disturbed by the shockwave.
“They buzzed us.” Brandon squinted as the gunship disappeared in the distance.
“They buzzed her,” Ker’nal said quietly, nodding at Lisa.
Lisa glanced at both of them then returned her attention to the horizon. “They have her.”
“Lisa…” Ker’nal started. But she vanished without another word.
“Hey!” Brandon fumbled as another pile of kyperose appeared on his existing stack. He couldn’t help but drop several clusters. “Great, just great.”
~ ~ ~
As the gunship slowed, it approached what looked like a large mesa covered with massive trees. Only when it got closer did the mesa reveal itself to actually be gigantic trees that towered thousands of feet over the landscape. The huge trunks of the trees were melded together, forming a unified structure. The large vessel ducked in among immense branches, finally settling down on a cluster of branches that formed a flat landing platform.
Lisa appeared on the edge of the platform, walking toward the hovering gunship. It never powered down, nor did it actually ever land. From a mechanical perspective, the ship was alive. A technician guided a feeder tube toward the hull as Lisa stopped a short distance away. The hull formed a nipple to receive the tube, then latched onto it firmly. Other tubes were similarly connected to the gunship, all coming from deep within the living platform. Lisa could only guess what flowed through them.
The hull closest to her shimmered and she took a step back as a dark, cloaked figure emerged from the metallic skin. The figure stopped beside her, turning to wait expectantly. She watched as the cloak melted away into a vapor that seemed to pull back into startlingly white skin. He only gave her the briefest of glances. “Lisa.”
“Lohet.” Lisa nodded. She returned her attention to the gunship as other figures emerged from the hull. “Sirel?”
A diminutive girl had floated out of the skin as if emerging from water. Her long, red hair seemed to defy gravity and float around her. She barely landed, her feet just slightly touching the woven deck as she approached Lisa. “My dear, have you completed your training?”
“Yes, Sirel.” Lisa nodded, a little awed. Sirel looked like a little girl, perhaps just passing her tween years. But she was impossibly ancient, even for a Faerie. “I’m a working Gatekeeper now.” She neglected to mention that part of her job included helping her host village plant crops. Everyone wore many hats in the Cooperative.
“I am so glad you survived the Awakening.” Sirel smiled sweetly. She looked over her shoulder. “When you see her, you are not seeing the one you knew.”
“What?” Lisa blinked, startled by the sudden change in topic.
Sirel gave her a knowing look and stood beside her, holding her hand.
The next figure to emerge from the hull was one Lisa had spent a lot of time with, during a period when she was vulnerable and misled. Lisa gripped Sirel’s hand tighter as she watched the figure approach.
“Rachel.” Lisa grit her teeth.
“Lisa, Aliya is not in her.” Rachel said guardedly. “It is me, Asherah.”
Lisa opened her mouth, then closed it, not sure how to respond. She knew Steven had controlled Aliya’s golems before. Still controlled many of them, actually. But his life-mate? “How?”
“Aliya connected me to Rachel when she had me.” Rachel looked at her hands. “It was easy to find her on the network and regain control.”
“You are wearing the body of…” Lisa stopped and took a breath. “Asherah, she had fooled me. Made a fool of me. Used me.”
“Aliya was actually very fond of you,” Rachel said. “That is why you are the Gatekeeper chosen for this assignment.”
“Assignment?” Lisa raised her brows.
“In order to discover Aliya’s plans for my daughter, I must release Rachel. Let Aliya back in.” She smiled at Lisa. “She would never kill the girl she had come to love.”
“I’m in here. I can sense it. She connects with a very few, and you are one of them.”
“She saved you on Legracia. And rebuilt your body.” Lohet said.
Lisa shivered, remembering being digested alive by a plant.
“And, we are confident your disgust with her will keep your perspective from being swayed.”
Rachel grinned. “She is extremely seductive.”
“She couldn’t turn Steven. She’s not going to turn me.” Lisa grumbled.
“Then it’s time to introduce her to the Elder’s planet.”
“I can’t gate there.” Lisa started. She looked down, realizing she spoke without thinking.
“I can, my dear.” Rachel grabbed Lisa’s free hand. “I just needed your acceptance before we moved forward.”
The light around them changed to late evening and Lisa looked around as the platform seemed to melt away to reveal a beach she had grown to love. The parties they’d had there were still fresh on her mind. They were on an exotic, tropical planet so remote only gods could travel there.
One such god stood waiting patiently.
“Steven.” Lisa beamed.