Friday, July 11, 2008

Wind by Sarah Dickson

Mari never felt more contented as she did now. Lying on the large sofa in her cabin, she ate another grape. She couldn't help it if she wanted to prolong the memories of being pleasured senseless for a week on Destiny, a world that catered for such diversions from reality.

A pity this kind of decadence would have to stop after she returned home.

She sighed. Soon she'd return to the routine as befitting the heir apparent: meetings, disputes, and accepting invitations from men who wanted the throne over her.

In her position, Mari could choose whomever she wanted as a life partner. Her suitors so far had wanted to control her, not treat her as an equal. At least paid lovers never disappointed.

In frustration, she had taken a trip to Destiny to unwind.

Her father, Emperor Suran, had approved of the trip. It had surprised her why he'd insisted on using their most sophisticated craft. Her trip hardly stretched the sentient mind of the ship, which was more accustomed to longer voyages.

She decided not to argue, certainly not with her father. If he was going to provide her with such a ship, who was she to complain?

Gazing out of the small window, the red planet Namfel came into view. The last stopover they had to make before returning home.

"Your highness, we're approaching orbit," the captain said over the speaker.

Climbing off the sofa, she tossed the remaining grapes into a nearby bowl. Donning another robe of gold as befitting her rank, she opened the door of her cabin and proceeded to the shuttle bay.

They were here to collect her cousin, Piela.

The Psychic Engineer of the ship, Karn, seemed agitated. Odd, considering he and Piela were lovers and her shuttle would soon be docking.

He ran his hand through his dark hair. Before she could think of something to say, he averted his gaze from hers.

Well. So much for conversation.

As for Piela, Mari had to admit being a little curious as to why she had ended up on Namfel at all. Only those who suffered psychologically from an accident or a terrible incident in their lives went there to be healed. Piela, the last time she had met her, appeared to be in perfect health.

"A shuttle is approaching," Captain Tallis said over the intercom.

Gazing out of the one of the nearby windows, she saw blood-red desert sands with the occasional mountain range relieving the monotony. Aside from several citadels and a few hundred caves, little else existed on Namfel. Extreme heat during the day and cold at night prevented any kind of outdoor recreation. And if that wasn't enough, raging dust storms at times covered the whole planet, resulting in an untimely end for anyone who didn't find shelter quickly.

She opened the intercom. "You've been there, haven't you, Captain?"

"I have. The caves are extraordinary, as are the keepers who heal. I had a woman tend my recuperation. The method of healing can't be described, only experienced."

Considering sex was an integral part of the healing process, Mari could well imagine. Briefly she wondered if Piela had dabbled in any sex during her stay.

She'd soon find out.

"The occupant of the shuttle has been positively identified as Piela," the captain said. "Open the outer door."

Once the shuttle landed and air had returned to the bay, the inner door slid open. She smiled as her cousin strode over. Arranging her red robe, Piela gave a look of triumph.

Karn's face brightened. "Did you--"

Piela stood on tiptoe and kissed Karn's lips. "Yes. I need to speak to Mari first." She grabbed Mari's sleeve. "Come on."

Confusion filled Mari as they reached her cabin.

Karn followed. "Piela. There is no time to--"

"We'll be only a moment," Piela interrupted.

Karn clenched a fist.

Inside the cabin, Piela brought her lips to Mari's ear. "The keepers are supposed to have very strict rules when it comes to any sexual healing, but I found one who was most accommodating."

A ripple of energy raced across her hand where her cousin touched. Looking down, Mari noticed a bulge in a fold in her robe.

Piela removed a blood red crystal, its inner glow almost extinguished. "I took this. Isn't it perfect?"

A silent scream filled Mari's mind. Heart racing, she backed away. "Are you mad?"

"You haven't heard why I went."

"Every ship that leaves Namfel's orbit with a crystal smuggled on board explodes," she shouted.

"It's not going to explode."

Mari didn't care what Piela thought. She pressed the intercom. "Captain, don't leave orbit."

"We almost have. Should I halt?"

How many seconds from oblivion had they been? "Yes, for now."

Piela pressed mute on the intercom. "We've always shared secrets, right."

Mari's heart drummed so loudly she could barely hear her cousin's words. She nodded.

She gripped Mari's arm. "Listen to me. All we need to do is tune into the crystal to keep it stable."

How many others had tried to stabilize a crystal taken from Namfel? To some, the healing properties were worth the risk of possible destruction. Anyone who could control the energies of the crystal would never be ill again. Problem was, no one had ever succeeded.

"Please, Mari. Once we have this contained, the crystal will become inert, causing no danger at all."

A sliver of curiosity broke through her walls of doubt. "How?"

Piela's eyes took on a wild look. "In essence, all we have to do is create a perimeter field of psychic energy around the mind that controls this ship."

Mari noticed the increasing pressure on her arm from Piela's grip.

"How do you propose to create a field without the aid of a Psychic?" Mari's heart skidded to a halt before restarting. No wonder Karn seemed agitated. "Karn instigated this ... venture?"

Piela appeared to hesitate, then nodded quickly. "Once the energy is stabilized, Karn can connect to the memories inside this crystal and be able to read about whomever we want."

Had her hearing left her? "What memories?"