The Old One
Edited by Sharon Best
Special thanks to Gary Henry
Our life is finite and ends in dust. Our existence is infinite and fills the universe. And somewhere in the resolution of those two ideas are moments of wonder and adventure.
This is a story of one of those adventures.
The planet Tetra, 6 months after the First Arion War
A restful peace brings silence to the habitat area as a tiny dustdevil swirls and dances along the ground. So happy to exist, it seems to want to go in one direction, only to change its mind to go in another, oblivious to the fact that its natural lifespan can be measured in minutes. On and on it dances, unable to decide on a firm course, wasting its precious life until finally dispersing into a momentary cloud against the face of a sleepy Tetrite who rests upon the smoothest of rocks. The dustdevil is gone.
Annoyed at the intrusion of the bothersome rotating dust, the drowsy Tetrite rotates wobbly around an unspecific center, barely lifting his small fuzzy body up on eight spindly legs. Deciding upon a more proper orientation, one that would surely prevent any more intrusions, he resumes his blissful sleep.
Lillith is patrolling to the North today. The foothills and the mountains beyond will see her beauty, meeting her watchful eyes, and possibly even speak to her of the definite possibility of an early winter this year. But only if she wishes to take a brief respite from her duties to chat. That has been something that she has not been of a mood to do these last six months. Sheís been quiet, keeping to herself a bit. Very unusual for the Protector to act in such a way. So all the Tetrites think. But lately, sheís smiling more, talking more, sharing her moments more. Everything is just about like it used to be. And for that, the Tetrites are pleased.
William and Phil have their chores to do too and they are off to the West, deep into the valley, but not too far from home.
It is a very quiet day on Tetra. All is well with the planet and, perhaps, even the Universe as a whole. But then........
A smooth metallic object appeared suddenly directly over the habitat. It was shined to a mirror finish. Shaped like a water droplet turned on its side, the blunt end leading while the tapered pointed tail followed as the craft silently cruised in descending circles again and again. Ever slower. Ever lower. Around and around.
Puffer ducts along the perimeter of the horizontal droplet of mercury fired for the briefest of moments as needed to keep the craft upright and steady. The ports from which the puffers fired were unseen, there were no openings, only jets of gas that instantly appeared and just as instantly disappeared. And those jets of gas were only noticeable as the craft drew nearer to the ground. Ten meters, 5 meters, 1 meter, down. No landing gear or projections appeared to keep the craft upright. It merely settled quietly on its smooth, shiny belly, much as the confused Tetrites on the rocks around the newly arrived craft, who gazed in amazement, but did not approach.
A few moments passed before a hatch, curving along one surface, opened with a soft "clatch", falling freely open to land on the dusty ground. The light dust swirled away from the intrusion in three directions. For many minutes, nothing else occurred.
Then, a foot appeared. A foot attached to a long leg. A womanís leg. Followed slowly by the rest of the attached being in the expected order one might see a humanoid woman appear following a single foot. She stood a moment, adjusting her gown over her slender figure. She was old.
Her skin was drawn a bit and had evidence of a few wrinkles. Crowsfeet here, a line there. But she had aged without losing her beauty. One can see by looking at her that she had always been the most beautiful of women. There was a pride in her face. A confidence born of years of overcoming the most grueling of tests. A confidence of knowing that she had come this far in life successfully. And yet, a face of such loveliness and serenity that it was a comfort to look upon it. But it was in her eyes that her age truly showed. The blue of them may have been the envy of the sky, but each minute of her long, long life was there in her gaze for anyone with a moment to see. There was sadness and happiness, despair and hope, love and hate, life and death. Years of it all. She was very old.
Her hair was full, long, as white as virgin snow. It cascaded in waves, flowing to her waist in extravagant currents and eddies. Her drawn, aged hand slid its fingers easily through it, moving the fullness away from her face. She wore a gown that draped over her slender body all the way to the ground without a crease or wrinkle to mar its silky surface. The material had a pearlescent sheen to it, changing in subtle hues as she moved. Her hair blended flawlessly upon it, as if the two were one. She wore no jewelry or hat or glove or anything other than the gown. Nothing, that is, except a single brooch, clipped to the gown directly over her left breast. It was an intricate design, full of scrolls and flourishes, but embedded in the design, prominently in fact, was the letter V.
She looked around the area, smiling warmly at the Tetrites who still remained motionless, yet peered back at her. Their heads turned slightly at the sight of her, their unfulfilled curiosity readily apparent. To answer what would surely be their first question, the old woman smiled brightly and spoke in the friendliest of voices.
"Good morning, my friends." She heard no response, but the Tetrites stood down from their readiness to flee.
Looking back over the top of her craft, she saw the habitat and walked steadily toward it. Placing her ancient hand on the smooth surface of the building, she slowly ran her hand along it as if she had never seen the like of it. Lost in thought, she jumped noticeably at the sound of a voice behind her.
"May I help you?"
She turned to see William and Phil standing a few meters away. William looked a little out of breath, placing Phil down on a nearby rock. He looked as if he had just run a great distance to get here in a very brief amount of time. The old woman smiled at William, about to speak, when Phil broke the silence for her.
"Madame! Your presence honors us!" When William looked down at Phil, he saw that the Tetrite had leapt down off the rock, prostrating himself on the dusty ground.
William was more than surprised, he was amazed. "Phil, do you know her?"
"Oh, yes, sir! She...."
The old woman interrupted suddenly, almost rudely. "Stand on your own good legs, little Tetrite, you embarrass me."
Her friendly cajoling brought Phil quickly to his feet. He evidently had either forgiven or forgotten her rude interruption. Just as Phil rose, a beautiful young Velorian Protector descended in a grand entrance from the sky to stand directly at Williamís side.
The old woman did not seem surprised at what she has just seen. She only nodded at Lillith respectfully and wished her "Good Morning." Sensing that all parties had now arrived, the old woman felt the time right to fully explain herself.
"First, let me say that everyone of consequence to me simply calls me ĎThe Old Oneí. And, since I am traveling incognito, I would appreciate it if you both would simply call me by that name. Velorian politics - you understand."
The Old One winked with a twinkle in her eye, obviously amused by a joke not shared.
"But I donít mind my age. It would make no matter if I minded or not, I suppose. I am old and that is that. And when one considers the alternative to old age, I find that I can accept the name gratefully enough."
That brought smiles out for everyone.
"I am on a pilgrimage through this sector. Itís been so long since Iíve been able to get out and away from Velor. I should tell you that I have been on this planet before and it is a favorite of mine. When I saw your structure here, I became curious about our new Protector. I did not know you had taken a mate, Lillith."
Lillithís mouth popped open slightly.
"You know my name?"
"Oh, yes. Do you not recognize this symbol?" She turned slightly to give Lillith a better look at the brooch. Lillith gasped.
"The seal of the Velorian High Council! But.....youíre a woman!"
"Yes. I am aware." The Old One winked at William, amused.
"There have been some.....changes on Velor, Lillith. Weíll talk of it later. But Iím most interested in whatís been going on here! The Messengers keep us somewhat informed and Arion subspace communications is filled with talk about the Protector on Tetra. Something the Arion Military still denies exists. You donít exist Lillith. Isnít that nice!"
Lillith only looked down at the ground, the joke had little amusement for her. The nightmares still haunted her sometimes. The Old One sensed the problem and quickly chose another subject.
"The effect of this symbol on your Tetrite friend was overly done, but appreciated. I thank you, my good Tetrite, but please, no more of that. I am, how do the Terrans say it,...... ah, I am on vacation!"
Lillith brightened and remembered her courtesies. "Old One, this being is William. He is a Terran and my mate, as you said. He has experienced the enhancement." Lillith sounded very proud.
"Yes, that tends to happen around young Velorians, does it not, Lillith."
The Old One had once again tried to joke but Lillith only looked away out of embarrassment. Suddenly aware that this young woman would take everything spoken by a member of the High Council very seriously, the Old One merely scoffed, flipping her hand aimlessly in front of her.
"Oh, Lillith, I did the same thing when I was your age. What the devil good is youth if you canít enjoy it."
She took a step closer to William as Lillith grinned from ear to ear.
"And you, sir, are lucky to have survived it." A quick test of this Terran male.
"Madam, I am lucky to have had the chance in the first place."
At that the Old One smiled brightly. Turning to Lillith while pointing back at William with her thumb, she winked knowingly at Lillith.
"I like this one! Hang on to him for a while, Lillith!"
Lillith took her prize by the arm. "Oh, heís not going anywhere."
The Old Oneís smile faded as she quickly turned away, her voice fading just as quickly. "No........no, heís not."
"Wonít you stay with us while youíre here? We have plenty of room and it would be good to entertain a guest for a while! Oh, would you?"
Lillith was up on her toes, bouncing slightly with excitement at the prospect of having a member of the High Council as a guest in her house. She missed the company of Velorians and someone of such stature was a rare treat.
The Old One looked to William, seeing only the broadest of smiles and hearing only the friendliest expression of "Please."
It was done. She would stay.
Lillith immediately organized a work detail to get the habitat in order. William was, by default, that work detail.
"Why donít you two go ahead and I can get my things out of my craft."
"Do you need any help, Old One?"
"Oh, no. I donít have much except this gown and a few books and things. I wouldnít even be wearing this if I hadnít have stopped at Earth before here.
Lillith beamed. "Oh! Then you know my sister, Kara! She a.."
The Old One interrupted. "A Protector on Earth. Yes, dear, I know. And she said to give you her love. She misses you very much."
Lillith immediately faked a pout. "Oh, I just have to visit her one of these days." William knew where the conversation was going and quickly changed the subject. He felt it wasnít a good idea to travel right now.
"Lillith, where should those crystal Tíhagmeers be moved to. I donít know where these things are supposed to be from one day to the next."
Lillith put her slender hands on her smooth hips and stared in disbelief. But the wicked smile on her face betrayed any misunderstanding of true anger.
"You men are so helpless! Jeez, come on. You can just help me! Excuse us, please."
The Old One laughed, waving her hand again and again.
"Go. Go. Iíll be right here."
When Lillith and William disappeared into the habitat to prepare guest accommodations, the Old One leaned down close to Phil, speaking in hushed Velorian.
"Phil, my trust in you is absolute! Do not betray me!"
"I will do as you ask,.....Old One."
Outside of the habitat, that evening.
"....and thatís how Kara defeated the Arions that day!" The Old One was entertaining her hosts with stories of Lillithís sister, Kara.
"She never tells me any of this!"
Lillith felt a mix of excitement and a touch of anger at her sister for leaving such exciting parts of her life out of their own conversations.
"Her Scribe offered some printed copies of her stories to me a couple of years ago when I last visited, but she wrote them in Terran English and I couldnít read any of it. Please tell us more?"
The Old One looked up at the moons overhead and sighed contentedly. "Itís late. I should rest now. Perhaps tomorrow, eh? Donít get up."
She rose to her feet easily and looked down on the two lovers. Her face showed her pleasure at the sight of them.
"Peace through the night to you. We will talk more in the morning."
"Peace through the night!", called Lillith as the Old One turned to enter the habitat.
"Good night!", added William. And they were alone.
Lillith cuddled closer as William surrounded her with his arms. His head rested atop hers as they both just enjoyed the moment by thinking back through the stories that they had just heard. Lillith broke the silence first.
"Oh, I forgot to ask about Velor and all the changes." She sighed in resignation. "I suppose it really doesnít matter. I can never go there anyway."
"I suppose.", William concurred. A few more minutes passed in silence before Lillith again spoke.
"We should go see Kara. Itís been too long."
"Youíre right, hon. We should."
William looked up to see Phil retreating slowly into the darkness in the direction of the habitat. Probably tired, he thought, it had been a long day.
Lillith sighed again just as William kissed the top of her head. Turning toward him, she guided his chin so she could softly kiss his lips. He returned her kiss just before lowering himself to the ground, the young Protector straddling him. Splaying her fingers, she ran her hands over William from his waist to his shoulders, and back. She liked the feel of him, but tonight she had something in mind. As her hands returned to her for the last time, they continued onto her own thighs allowing her to arch her back a bit. Stretching her long body, she pushed her solid, spherical breasts out in front of her, as if offering them to her lover. Her hands slid slowly up her muscled belly, tracing the outline of her ribcage before cupping her own breasts seductively. Lillith tried to speak what little English she knew, her words coming out of her with a thick coating of her Velorian accent and her lust.
William smiled and slowly sat up by his abs alone. Lillith was slowly rocking her hips as she leaned forward slightly to slide the tips of her nipples back and forth across Williamís pecs.
"Yeah, you like when I Ďdoí that, donít you baby." He rarely called her Ďbabyí, but when she wanted him like this, he just couldnít help himself. William knew exactly what she wanted and the thought of it pleased him. He was mesmerized by her sensual dance as he bent his legs, raising his knees to allow Lillith to lean back on them. She continued her undulations as she ran her hands upward through her hair. Her lips would open wide then purse erotically as her head slowly turned from side to side in anticipation. Her hands, now locked together over her head, pressed hard together making every muscle in her body flex larger. Triceps, lats, abs, delts, all expanded as she arched back, pushing her breasts out for him. Her words were little more than moaning now.
"I like! You do!"
Responding to her urgent demand, William began by starting with his hands on her shoulders, he would caress slowly down over her breasts, cupping each in a hand, rotating his hands around the fullness of them while his thumb played repeatedly over the nipples. Then he would move his hands down along the hard sides of her waist, up and down, again and again, before passing his hands back over her slow moving hips to meet at the small of her lower back. His fingers would then trace up her spine lightly back to her shoulders where it would all begin again.
He started slowly, letting her feel his hands caress her muscular body one place at a time. But then William began to speed up the movement, faster and faster, until his hands were just a blur. As he sped up, Lillith leaned back further, giving herself more and more to this wonderful movement. Her young, sexy mouth formed a seductive ellipse as Williamís hands were everywhere at once. The nerve endings in her skin had a persistence of touch that, while only William was touching her, she felt like there were dozens of hands all worshipping her body simultaneously. The whole experience was so incredible for her, that the first time William did it, she completely lost control and had a hard orgasm within minutes! And tonight was no exception as her loverís hands flew over her with lightning speed! Her breathing was fast, staccato as her body heaved under the virtual orgy of hands! They were everywhere! Feeling her! Feeling her body! So good! So strong! So much! So.....
The young Protector was going to cum. She could feel the wonderful surge building within her. But the two lovers werenít done yet!
William had also been flexing his abs so tightly that his deeply cut muscles formed huge ridges that Lillith loved to slide her pussy over at times like this. Williamís stomach was dripping with her wetness as she slipped her sex up and down over his steel hard abs. She loved the feel of him this way, loved the idea that she could caress her lover in such an intimate way. A way that he too found so incredibly stimulating!
Now she was totally lost in these overwhelming sensations! She couldnít .......she........
Her body was flung upward, cumming so hard and so deep that her body locked completely. Just as she did, William slowed his hands a bit, making everything longer, more intense, and that included her orgasm that rolled through her like a tsunami! Lillith was in absolute heaven!
Finally, flung onto the rocks of intensity and beaten by the waves of pleasure until she was completely exhausted, Lillith collapsed back down onto William, her legs sprawled over his shoulders. She could feel his cock on the back of her neck as her head was held upright by his bent legs. Long blonde hair scattered randomly across her flushed face, matted to her body by a sweet sweat that can only be made by the passion of lovers. Just now catching a breath that only moments before had been wildly running away from her, she opened her eyes, smiled sweetly at William, and cooed.
William was still moving his hands in slow wide sweeping movements across her thighs as he waited for them to cool from the temperature that gave them both a dull red glow. He stared back into her eyes as she placed a fingertip teasingly in her mouth, scrunching her nose as her smile would suddenly brighten for a brief moment. She was thrilled with her lover as he softly spoke.
"I like too"
In that moment, she needed to be even closer to him. Gripping William by the sides of his waist, she pivoted her face forward as she lifted her legs to swing them back in a move that any gymnast would be hard pressed to duplicate. Putting her face up to Williamís, she flickered the tip of her long tongue, tracing a path up his neck to his ear. There she whispered to him words from another world in a voice so sensuous and loving that the sound of her voice would be more than enough to send him there.
She took his head in her hands, holding him so she could look deep into his eyes. She had learned yet another Terran word, just for him, just for a time like now.
William had never heard her say those words in English before! It created the most astonishing feelings in him!
Lillith looked as if she might had said the wrong words. She thought quickly! No, those were the words that Phil had told her were correct. She had practiced so much! They must be right! She tried again.
"I love you?"
William had tears in his eyes! So many times he had heard her say that very phrase to him through the gateway, but never had he heard her say it on her own in English! It hit him harder to hear it in his own language - as if it were the first time!
"Oh, Lillith! Honey! I love you! I canít tell you how much I love you! Itís so great to hear you say that in English! What a wonderful sound! Youíre really something, babe! I just canít wait...."
Lillith stared directly into Williamís mouth completely perplexed as to what was coming out of it. An occasional recognizable word would make a smile flash across her lips, but for the rest of the time, she was completely lost. Finally, she touched his moving mouth with her finger, silencing him immediately. And once again, she spoke from her heart.
William nodded with a now silent smile. And just as he pulled her closer to kiss her again and again and again, he told her of his own deep feelings.
"Kai tamoorĎsk, Lillith."
Unseen in the darkness of the habitat, the Old One watched the lovers out in the bright moonslight through the small side window. From the doorway, Phil could see clearly the face of the Old One illuminated by the same light. He quietly approached her, stopping at her feet.
"Why do you weep, Mother?" The Old One did not turn away from her view of the lovers now consumed once again in the passion of each other
"For what was lost, my sweet friend.".
The Valley of Death, the next morning
"Tus Skietra!" The Old One was looking up at the huge relic of black Vendorian steel and Titanium that rose up from the desert floor in front of her. "I had forgotten how big these things were!"
"I wish I could." Lillith had reluctantly joined the Old One and William on an impromptu tour of the battle site. All of the dead were long gone now. Only the shattered Arion technology remained behind. But still, Lillith did not really want to be here. That day haunted her still.
"Were? Did you see these things up close before?" William was still trying to figure out who she really was.
"When I was a Protector, yes. But I didnít do anything like this!" She swept her arm across the multiple wrecks around them.
"A Protector? Really? Where? When?" William was being obvious now. The Old One simply smiled an I-know-what-youíre-doing look at him.
"I was a Protector before I went into politics, William. And Ďwhereí is none of your business!"
The smile remained on her face as she scolded him like this. He wisely understood that she was telling him to knock it off. He made a mental note not to press this woman again. The Old One turned to Lillith now.
"You had some Skalatran traders through here right after, didnít you? Theyíre a very talkative people. gave us the first reports on what happened, complete with pictures. But this! This is beyond their descriptions!"
The Old One stopped to see if Lillith would respond, but noticed that the young woman was staring at something behind her. When she turned, she saw that the shifting wind had uncovered a bone. A small amount of flesh still clung to it, along with the remnants of an Arion uniform. Turning back to Lillith, she saw that Lillith was fixating on the bone, an anguished look just forming on her face.
Quickly, the Old One stepped between Lillith and the grisly object that haunted her. Taking her by the shoulders, she spoke firmly to her, demanding her attention.
"Look at me. LOOK AT ME!" Slowly, Lillithís eyes focused on the face of the old woman.
"That happens. You canít retrieve them all. That happens. The Arion Retrievers will come and take it home if you want. But donít let it get to you."
"I......I donít...." The Old One pulled the heartbroken Protector to her, holding her tightly as she spoke intimately into her ear.
"I know. Skietra, how I know. You must be as strong in your heart as your body is! You must be as invulnerable inside as you are outside! You protect and beings die. You donít kill for enjoyment, you killed because you had to in order to save. It doesnít make enough sense to be worth spit, I know. But thatís the way the universe is, my young friend, thatís just the way the universe is."
Turning her face in closer, the Old Oneís voice dropped to a whisper. "Be strong, Lillith. You saved the life of your lover that day. Did you know? Well, he does. Be strong for him so he may thank you all the days of your life!"
Lillith hugged the old woman tightly, her tears slowed and stopped. Releasing her, their eyes met as they exchanged appreciative smiles.
The Old One momentarily closed her eyes as she nodded. They both turned and looked at William who had been keeping a respectful distance from them. When he noticed that they were both just silently looking at him, a confused look came to his face.
Walking up the slope, the tour continued. At the top of the rise, they came upon the trenchline, where the Tetrites and William made a stand. William explained in overly detailed descriptions of the placements and movements and on and on. The Old One listened with great patience, even asking a question or two as William went on and on.
"The Traynor weapon sounds like a very formidable weapon. What became of it?"
"It was so heavily damaged in the battle that it was pretty useless. I ended up using the rail to support a structure. The rest of it was just cut up for scrap. But I kept the breechplate for a souvenir. Itís back in the habitat. Lillith doesnít like it in the house, but she tolerates having it around. I had to clean it until it shined."
Lillith was standing on the very spot where she had launched into the sky that day. A slight depression could still be seen in the ground at her feet. She looked out once again over the valley.
"What are you thinking, Lillith?" The Old One had finally extracted herself from Williamís monologue.
"You know, when I first saw the fleet, I really thought the Ancient Ones would come." The Old One looked out over the panorama before them and nodded.
"Seeing this all now, what makes you think they didnít?"
Back at the habitat, later that day.
"Tell me about Lillith, William." The Old One looked back toward the habitat and could see Lillith scolding Phil about some transgression.
"You speak English very well, Old One!"
"Tricks learned for my trade, William. The Terrans just canít bring themselves to learn any of what they call Ďoutworlderí languages, so we have to learn all of theirs. And it does come in handy during negotiations! But youíre trying to change the subject on me. Donít do that with a politician, William. Weíll eat you alive!" The Old One chuckled as William nodded at being caught once again by this woman.
"I apologize. Jeez, youíre as tough to get away with stuff as Lillith is!"
"You bet your ass. Tell me about her."
"Well, sheís absolutely tough when it comes to her Protector job. I mean, she loves this planet and the Tetrites incredibly. If anything threatens them, she can get pretty pissed, uh, I mean angry."
The Old One just shrugged. William continued.
"I mean, you saw those wrecks today. That was Lillith protecting her planet. Iím still amazed when I think about what she did here. Even more so when I see what it all did to her. She has nightmares about it, sometimes she wakes up screaming and flailing around in the bed. I get beat up pretty good sometimes. But those bad ones seem to be fading away these days. I try to help her, but she just wants to be left alone sometimes. All I want to do is hold her and let her know Iím here for her, but she pushes me away. That can be pretty tough to deal with."
"Donít let her do that. Donít let her. You just keep trying. Sheíll either hate you for it or love you even more. If she loves you now and understands you and your love for her, she wonít hate you. So just keep at her! Sheís a Protector and she canít let these episodes drag her down. Thatís a luxury that she cannot have! Promise me youíll do that for her."
"I will, Old One. I promise." William looked around without purpose before speaking again. "Do you have any regrets in your life?"
"Regrets? Who doesnít have regrets, William. Some you can fix, some you canít. Thereís no right or wrong to it - it just is. And if you have any complaints about that, take it up with God. But he wonít help you. He has a few himself."
"Youíre sounding a bit bitter, Old One."
"Bitter? Naw! I may see things with the clarity of having NOT seen them at least once in my long life, but I still dream of things to be! Vivid, wonderful dreams! Some of them erotic enough to turn you into a proper hat rack, let me tell you." William blushed.
"Dreams still at your age?" William was kidding.
"Hey, donít let them tell you different, William, a being can live and dream and hope at any age. My life.......my life......was the most wonderful adventure. Iíve seen and done things that right now you can only imagine. Some you couldnít imagine! But youíll see."
"I bet you had a few hundred mates in your time." William liked the Old One and he always found himself kidding beings that he liked.
The question pleased her openly. Her intense blue eyes twinkled as they met Williamís.
"You know, Iíve only known one true love. No, really. All my adult life, I had the most ardent lover. My, how he loved me and I him. We were together for over 450 years."
"You said Ďwereí. What happened to him?"
The Old One turned away, running her hand back and forth along a stone, gathering her thoughts and her emotions together to say what she had to say. It was obviously hard for her.
"He....died. Last year." Her face distorted momentarily as she fought back the flood of emotions that were forcing their way out. She would not allow that. She was too tough to allow that! The old Velorian warrior seemed to have won the battle as she drew a long, deep breath before turning back to William.
"Thatís why Iím on this pilgrimage. To get away. To get back to....."
She caught herself in the act of doing something that she did not want to be seen doing. What it was, William did not know. She diverted it all with a quick self-depreciating lie. "Itís just a silly old womanís way, I guess." William smiled back at her.
"Itís not silly at all. Iíd bet heíd want you to do this."
"Yes,.......yes, he would."
There was a moment of silence between them that neither found uncomfortable. It was just a nice pause between new friends. And it gave the Old One a chance to turn and look around her. Walking over to a long bench, she noticed small strips of metal with holes melted through them. Picking one up, she focused her eyes on the edges. A burst of Tachyons emitted from her blue eyes, revealing the surface and subsurface structure of the melted edges of the hole.
"William? Have you mastered your heat vision?"
William saw her holding the metal, knowing immediately why she asked the question. "Iím trying to find a way to use it to weld metal. But I just canít seem to control it that well. Lillith has tried to help, but I donít think she really knows how to explain it all. She just Ďknowsí how to do it. So I try and try. So far, no good."
"Hmph." The Old One flipped the scrap piece full of holes on the bench and located a whole piece. Wiggling a finger in the air, she commanded in a voice used to being obeyed. "Come here."
William moved to her side as she held out the metal plate.
"Do not speak, William. I will speak. You will do. As I tell you what to do, do it. Do only what I tell you to do. Understand?"
William nodded silently.
"Very good. Take this piece and.....this one."
She picked up another whole plate. "Hold your pieces together, thus. Look at the spot where you wish to fuse the metal together. Concentrate on one spot. Picture the metal melting precisely like it should. Imagine the depth at which the melt should proceed. Imagine the exact size of the melted pool. Become lost in your imaginings, forget about your eyes. They will take care of themselves. When your vision tints violet and it feels as if the rays are being drawn out of your eyes, do not waver from your imaginings. Move your gaze along the route that you wish to fuse the metal. When you have completed your task, simply see the metal the way it is, not the way you imagined it. Your heat vision will cease. It is concentration and imagination, not strain and force."
William suddenly realized that he had just tacked the two plates together perfectly! He could not contain his excitement except...
"Damn that took a lot of concentration! Itíll take me forever to do anything with it!" The Old One turned her head from side to side, correcting her pupil.
"Practice, and you will achieve the effect without trying. Like so...."
She picked up a small piece of sheet steel and, in the time it would take someone to read the headline of a newspaper, a perfect welded bead was cooling from red hot on the surface of the small piece. Handing it to William, he turned it over and saw that the weld penetrated perfectly to the other side. He was amazed, the look on his face pleased the Old One immensely.
"Of course, welding is not one of my normal job functions, but itís nice to have something to fall back on if this Supreme Council thing doesnít pan out."
They both broke out laughing as William finally sputtered, "Thank you....thank you very much!" before giving in totally to the laughter. Lillith heard them as she approached.
"Whatís the joke?" William held up his prize of two metal strips melted together. Lillith immediately understood.
"Oh, wonderful! Great, honey!" She looked at the metal mass as if it would earn William a Nobel Prize. Setting it down on the bench, she simply asked, "Now what?"
William looked at the Old One, smiled brightly, and moved his eyebrows up and down twice.
Upon seeing this display, Lillith scrunched her eyebrows down together, eyeing William suspiciously.
At the Old Oneís craft, later that afternoon
No one wished the visit to end. They had so enjoyed each otherís company. But the Old One was insistent. Something about pending business back on Velor.
The thanks the Old One expressed to William and Lillith were deeply heartfelt. As was theirs. This visit would be remembered by them for a long, long time. The Old One simply nodded. Leaving them at the door of the habitat, she walked the short distance to her craft.
The hatch, already open, rested on the ground next to a large brown Tetrite. The Old One leaned down and spoke softly.
"It was so good to see you once again, my curious friend. My affection for you is timeless." Her slender hand came to tenderly rest atop Phil, staying for a moment as they regarded each other in silence. Finally, she rose, climbing easily into her craft. Phil noticed that the interior walls of the small craft were nearly transparent from the inside, even though the outside was opaque. Phil raised a leg, the sign of a coming question, when the Old One headed it off. "The metals have been alloyed and processed to give it an almost crystalline structure when viewed from this side, Phil. But donít tell anybody. It hasnít been invented yet." Philís head immediately rotated a few degrees, betraying his inability to understand the answer. But she offered no clarification for him.
As the hatch slowly closed, the Old One gave Phil one final wave. By the time the hatch was fully shut, Phil had joined Lillith and William at the habitat.
Almost silently the craft rose from the surface. The puffers once again keeping everything level with their popping and hissing. Rotating slowly until the proper heading was achieved, the surface of the silvery droplet began to show wavelike rings that passed from the front of the craft to the rear tip. These wavelets swept repeatedly in train faster and faster until a standing wave effect seemed to occur, quivering hills and troughs in the surface as if it were liquid. This effect only lasted a matter of seconds before the craft shot into the afternoon sky so quickly that it was out of sight within a second.
Lillith sighed. "What a nice being! But so mysterious sometimes. Itís too bad she couldnít share her name with us." Phil had turned away from Lillith and William, standing still and silent. "Phil? You seemed to have known her. Someone from before I got here, perhaps? Can you tell us who she was?"
"No, mistress. I thought I knew, but I was mistaken." He could not look them in the eyes.
The planet Tetra, 2001 years later.
The small craft exited the time distortion without traveling any distance at all. Descending to the planet surface, it operated on automatic pilot, flying a standard descent profile. As it neared the surface, the same small puffer exhausts steadied the craft, softening its touchdown, much as it had when it had visited this very spot so long ago. Huge Tetrites waited nearby, the greatest, Large Grey, stood at the head of the group. When all engines had shutdown, the group waited patiently for the hatch to open. An opening that did not come.
They moved quickly toward the craft. Two Tetrites pulled a small access cover off and pulled the manual release of the hatch. It fell away from the craft with a loud bang. Large Grey knelt down and peered into the shiny capsule.
She lay quietly with her eyes closed. Her ancient form still having a regal presence. Her breathing was slow and labored.
"Mother, are you well?"
"No, Grey, I fear Iím not."
"Your time nears."
"Yes. You were right about the passage, Grey." She laughed weakly. "You were always right, werenít you."
"I endeavor only to be correct, Mother."
"You endeavor pretty good.", she joked. Grey bowed his head in acknowledgment. "Grey, thank you for this chance, this gift. Thank you for coming back for me, to let me do this before..."
"It was our only possible gift for you, Mother. You suffered so long. It was right for you to go back. It will not affect the timeline in any significant way. But your suffering subsided quickly now. That part of history has indeed changed."
She smiled at him. The trip had been successful.
A few moments passed before she once again spoke.
"Grey? Do you think he waits?"
"Oh, yes, Mother. He waits impatiently."
"He always was impatient with me. No thatís a lie. He was most patient. I had such a temper."
"A temper to make the Arion Empire quake, Mother!"
"Perhaps." Suddenly, she drew a long breath. "Grey?"
"Yes, Mother. I am at your side." She smiled painfully.
"As always." She turned her head toward him, looking into his large black eyes. "Grey,......... did I do well?"
Grey place his arm on her shoulder in that same tender way he had done so many years ago.
"Mother, You were magnificent."
Speaking barely above a whisper, a smile came to her lips one last time. "Thank you, Grey. Tell them all how I loved them so."
Greyís deep voice finally broke, his emotions fighting his control.
Silence fell over both of them as they just waited, waited for....
Her eyes opened, looking upward the intense blue of them shown as they had for hundreds of years, now thousands. She saw something, recognized something, as a bright smile appeared as it had so many times. As it had the first time. Her voice, so full of emotion, was barely heard above the wind.
And the silence returned.........forever.
Large Grey waited a moment to collect his thoughts and his emotions. Behind him, hundreds of thousands of large Tetrites had gathered at the news of her return. They had come once again for her.
Slowly, Grey turned to face his people. And in his great voice, a voice befitting a leader of these beings, he simply said,
"Lillith, Mother of Our Protectors, is no more."
Tetra, in the habitat, the morning after the Old One left
During the night, the temperatures had dropped. Moisture, collecting in the clouds for days, finally tired of their stay and fell away from their gray prisons. Falling through the night sky, the cold grips them, tears at them, changes them. By the time they reach the ground, each has become white, flaky snow. As if they were celebrating their metamorphosis, they swirl and dance through the open door and window of the habitat. Tiring from their celebrations, they collect in a large heap at the foot of the bed to rest and move no more.
The sun has just cleared the horizon as a single foot, a female foot, appears out from under the heavy blankets of the bed. Her toes pointed, making her calf bulge beautifully, the foot explores the near reaches of the floor at the foot of the bed. It recoils swiftly at the touch of the freshly fallen snow, the toes wiggling from the experience, and just as quickly retreats back beneath the blankets. A slight movement can be detected just before a sleepy face pokes out from under the blanket to explore as well. Her young face focuses its eyes on the gathering white mass below her, a shock of misplaced hair falling intrusively across her nose. Recognition of the situation appears complete as she glances at the open window and across to the open door. A tiny pink tongue pokes out between pursed lips. "Blrrrrrrrrrtttt!" The head retreats back from where it had come. The decision is final.
A few moments pass in silence before the foot returns. This time, it eagerly dabs and pats the mound of snow, collecting some of the cold wetness as if collecting a sample for analysis. When the foot is cold enough and wet enough, it once again goes back under the covers.
Suddenly, as if a tornado had developed right on the bed, the covers swirl and flap as a loud male voice curses and yells while a female voice laughs just as loud. It looks as if William has been ejected bodily from the bed as he jumps feet first away from the sudden wet and cold something that has jolted him awake. He lands right in the middle of the resting pile of snow.
"Oh, maaaaaaaaannnnn! How did this get here?"
Lillithís voice sings her song with the melody of innocence. "Morning, baaaabyyyyyy! Are you up so soooooon?"
William glares at the little face that peeks out at him from the warmth of the pillow mountain. Lifting his foot to display the now cold and wet appendage, he points. "Hey, honey, guess what I have for you!"
"Oh no you donít! Donít you dare come back into bed with wet feet! You wouldnít!" But William is already climbing back under the pillow mountain! "Oh, yes I would!"
Lillith shrieks and laughs as she fights off the vengeful William. The covers fly up repeatedly as if feet were kicking wildly. But then the movement slows and slows and finally stops as only the sounds of breathing, accented with the most subtle moans of pleasure, can now be heard.
And as their playful wrestling subsides, Phil sits quietly on his rock watching. One leg suddenly springs straight out to the side before slowly turning upward and back. The tip finally coming to rest on the appropriate spot. A repeated movement and the itch is dealt with properly. His leg folds back to its original position. Another foot taps the rock lightly a few times, as if he is deep in thought. Finally, rotating away to look out the window, he sighs once and mumbles to himself.