X'Aviar cursed. "This is the first time I've run into this." We were looking at a covering over the door. It was totally sealed. That encasement was thick and pale grey. He examined it, tried to chip away a piece. Nothing came off. "It's too substantial to dig through. I'm sorry, Sheraden."
Without planning it, my left hand touched the stone and my right hand went up. A pale, red light, dimmer than normal, shot out. It covered that enclosure. The grey overlay began to melt. I could feel their eyes on me, stunned. Within minutes, the inner door was revealed. The red beam ceased. My hand lowered. I didn't look at the others.
"Thank you, Sheraden," X'Aviar said. "I know! I know!" when I began to protest. "It wasn't you, but I have no way of thanking the symbion other than by thanking you." He paused only a moment then said, "Let's go in. Just remember, don't touch anything until I've taken tri-D's. And we have to catalog everything as to what it is and where it's located." Understanding, we nodded. He opened the door and led the way inside.
It was obviously a tomb but the things within were far more distinguished than a mere man would take with him to the grave. Even I, with my untrained eye, could see that. X'Aviar went to the far wall where writing covered the surface. I saw him reading, his lips moving quietly.
He grew excited. "Do you know what this is?" Of course we didn't. "This is the burial place of King Urlen." He began snapping pictures like crazy, moving around the room with excitement. He muttered, "Oh, my!" over and over.
I spotted a statue and walked over to it. I didn't touch it. It was one of the natives of this planet but this one had a crown on his head. His left hand was touching a Heart Stone and his right was bent at the elbow, his fingers close to his face. "Even back then," I thought and shuddered. It would turn out to be the King. "How did he die?" I asked when X'Aviar told me who it was.
"The writing said he simply fell asleep. He lived two hundred and fifty years. The stone probably ceased to exist and could no longer help the king keep his good health."
"So they can die?" I asked quietly.
"Oh, yes, nothing lives forever."
"It's an honor to be chosen," Gaeven said, not even attempting to hide her displeasure.
"Oh, my yes, it is," X'Aviar agreed, surprised that I would dare insinuate that it wasn't.
I told them quite coldly, "I wasn't chosen and I didn't volunteer." And then I walked away from them. Alphonse followed me.
"I don't think they meant any harm," he whispered, standing close to me.
"I'm tired of being told what a grand, glorious thing this is!" I whirled around to face him but though anger had been within me, it no longer was, vanishing with the touching of the gem. In a calmer tone, I said, "It isn't."
"I'm not going to pretend to understand," he told me in honesty, "neither how you feel or how that thing works. I'm not even sure how I would feel if I were in your shoes."
"It takes all emotions away. I can't experience anything for more than just a moment. Can you imagine wanting to experience dismay or anger or happiness, hatred, anything, and can't?"
His voice was hushed. "No."
Touching the stone, I told him, "This is not a gift, no matter what Gaeven or X'Aviar claims."
He touched my arm. "I'm sorry."
"Sympathy is an empty cup to me." I walked from him.
We made money from the sale of the items from that tomb. Even the tri-d's X'Aviar took sold and resold. Loctus preened when I handed her her share for though it wasn't healing, I thought it only fair that I give her twenty percent of what I made.
Alphonse said, "If we pool our money, we can buy a small ship. I know you don't like it, but that red heart of yours can earn us money. You want to find your father and I love adventuring."
I was tempted.
Gaeven asked, "Can I go with you, Sheraden?" Her eyes were full of wonder, excitement. Her body quivered with her desire. "I always wondered what out there would be like."
"I'd like to join too. Four of us would be safer than just two or three," John said. His own eagerness was evident.
"Sheraden?" Alphonse inquired quietly.
"Let's do it."
"Great!" Alphonse positively beamed with joy. "There are several ships for sale at the Port. Let's go and pick one out."
"I don't know a thing about ships," I told him.
"Nor me," Gaeven agreed.
"I know a little," John added.
"You know if you'll be comfortable in one or the other. All of us need to see the ships before a decision is made." Alphonse was firm.
"You'll have to let us know if they're space worthy."
Alphonse agreed, "I will. And, I'll make sure we don't spend too much for it. We'll need money to buy supplies, fuel."
"Who's going to pilot?" John wanted to know.
Alphonse answered, "I can and I can show all of you how. It's not hard. All ships have brains that do the majority of the flying."
"I'll cook," Gaeven offered.
I volunteered, "I'll clean."
John teased, "I'll just sit around looking pretty." Gaeven threw a towel at him. They laughed together.
Alphonse was pleased. We went to the port and after moving back and forth, going from ship to ship, we chose a small one. "I think we made a wise decision. The Hugo is larger but this one is capable of entering worm holes without being on a jump tramper and the Hugo can't."
Some of the ships I had traveled on had had to wait until the tramper had a berth full before it took off. I had hated the waiting, but there was nothing I could do. The trampers made their money by ferrying the vessels through wormholes.
Alphonse smiled. "This will be a good buy."
We bought supplies, and enough fuel crystals to last for years. Gaeven packed her things, we bid Loctus good by, and we took off.
"Where to, Sheraden?" Alphonse asked. I gave him the last know location of my father and that's the flight plan he filed.
Of course, Father had gone by the time we got there. I was able to trace him to his next stop. At that point, we needed more supplies, so I healed people to make money for us while the others made a few small repairs to the ship.
"Do you want to keep chasing him?" Alphonse asked, puzzled.
"Yes, but you don't have to. Tailing him can be dull. You three can take the ship and go on your way. I will understand."
"No, that wasn't what I meant. It just seems like a waste of time."
"It isn't," I told him quietly. I wanted to look him in the face one last time.
"I know you don't like the Heart Stone," Alphonse told. We were going to move on the next day but that evening was for rest. "I think it makes you remarkable." He rested his hand on my wrist. I saw the growing desire in his eyes.
Without thinking, my hand went automatically to the gemstone. All emotion fled. "I can't feel anything for you," I told him with no expression in my voice.
"No?" He kissed me, just for a second before I jerked away.
"No." We stared at each other. "I can't give you what you want."
"You can try."
"Don't you understand? Haven't you heard anything Gaeven told you? Don't you even recall what I said? It won't let me feel anything. It shuts them down immediately. My emotions are poison to it." I rose.
"Sheraden!" He reached for me again as I left him there on the Bridge. I went to the small galley where Gaeven was preparing dinner. John sat at the table, joking with her. She laughed as I entered. They looked at me as I came in. "I came for coffee."
"Sit; I'll get it for you."
Protesting, I argued, "I can get it, Gaeven."
"I know, but I want to." I only nodded. "John?"
"I'm fine," he told her. He took another sip.
Alphonse said over the intercom, "The flight plan has been approved. We're taking off."
The ship shook a little, vibrating, as we moved away from the planet's surface. The cups on the table rattled.
All through the journey to the next world, Alphonse flirted with me. My withdrawal whenever he was near did not deter him. I don't think he would ever understand. Once more, my father was not on that planet but I was able to trace him to the next. Alphonse filed a flight plan but when it came time to leave, he did not show up. He left a visual message.
"I have to try this, Sheraden. I have to get your attention. I know all about your heart, how you have to touch it. See! I did listen to Gaeven. I've taken it. I'm on the same route you're on but I left last night. Maybe this action of mine will wake you. See you on the next world."
"Is he crazy?" Gaeven asked in dismay. "Doesn't he realize what it will do you?"
"I don't think he does," I said in a neutral voice. Part of me was glad and though I felt the overwhelming urge to find my heart, to hold it, there was little I could do about it.
"How much time do you have left?" she inquired, worried.
"Not long." I grew quiet, introspective. In truth, I had two months, long enough, I hoped, to locate him and retrieve what was rightfully mine. If that gem died, so would I and I wasn't ready for that. She watched me for a moment and then walked away from me, so obviously concerned.
Alphonse wasn't on the next world but had gone on to the next, the same as my father. For one brief moment, I was irritated. We should never have agreed to let him go with us. I had no fear that I would not be able to get to my heart in time but I resented having to chase him. Of course, that irritation quickly vanished. The stone took it away.
But he wasn't on the next world either.
He sent another visual message. "Keep following me, Sheraden. You're very close." He gave us the location of his next stop.
My time was growing short.
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