Sorry guys - no sex in this one... Béla and her group explore the 'great ship'. Alicia tells her daughter about living in the Confederacy.
NON-EROTIC means what it says: There is NO SEX in this chapter!
The Phoenix III was powered up and accelerating once again at one-quarter gravity. This time it would only be for a few hours. That’s how long it would take to arrive where the great ship drifted as it slowly followed Mars around the sun.
Not wanting to wait, the Femme Fatales and their new trainees, the Necrotwins, all teleported from the Phoenix into the dark, dead hulk. Béla and Lisa went together. Jackie went with Alicia. Tabatha teleported to the cargo hold with the Necrotwins to take inventory of what they could use aboard the Phoenix.
Béla and Lisa appeared in the officer’s quarters near the communal baths. She wanted to check them first. The artificial gravity was still working, so they didn’t have to worry about floating away.
“Why didn’t we go to the bridge, first?” Lisa wanted to know.
“Because,” her mother replied, stopping at a darkened door and directing her light sphere toward it.
The light sphere was another mental marvel that Tabatha and Lisa had dreamed up. It was, of course, another teleportation device, or rather, phenomenon; a wormhole that teleported light from one place to another – just like the ones Tabatha and Lisa had created to supply air and water to the Phoenix III.
“Know where you are now?” Béla asked, grinning at her now-daughter who had accompanied her on this long journey as her then-sister, Beth.
There was no power, so Béla simply teleported the door into the slot where it would have gone had it slid open. There was no air in the compartment (there was no air in the entire ship, as about a quarter of it was completely missing).
Their old quarters were clean, neat, and unoccupied. They both felt an empty longing for those simple days. Then Béla frowned and turned away.
“Wishing for things that were,” she murmured to herself, then angrily turned and left the compartment.
Lisa followed, silent for once, making sure to keep their bubble of air around the both of them as they walked.
Their next stop was the communal baths. Here, there were several corpses, well preserved in the frozen water. Béla stared down at her old friends for several minutes, not radiating any emotion at all, then turned and left.
Jackie and Alicia were standing outside the door panel that led to the bridge.
“You don’t remember that old movie, ‘Alien’, do you?” Alicia asked her daughter.
“I never saw the original flatscreen version,” Jackie admitted, “but the Tri-d remake was pretty gruesome. Two actors were actually killed by that animatronic creature as part of the script.”
“I remember,” Alicia said. “The remake was really gory, but the flatscreen version was a lot spookier. This team was wandering through this dark, lifeless alien vessel and there wasn’t a straight-line bulkhead anywhere in the entire ship – almost as if it was organic or something. And it had these rib-like support structures with conduits running along them like huge, bloated blood vessels. It was like they were exploring some monstrous beasts’ belly.”
“That sounds wicked,” Jackie grinned.
“Yeah!” her mother said. “I spent most of the movie watching my boyfriend watch it. I drove him nuts! ‘What are they doing now?’ ‘What’s happening?’ And he’d say, ‘Will you shut up and fucking WATCH?’ And I’d glance at the screen for half-a-second and something really scary was happening and then I’d stare a hole in the side of his head to keep from turning my head toward the screen and start the whole spiel all over again all the time shaking like a leaf!”
They were both laughing by now.
“Oh, God, Mom,” Jackie laughed. “How did he ever stand you?”
“Well, he liked me well enough that he forgave me,” Alicia admitted. “He even married me!”
“What?” Jackie asked, stunned and surprised. “You were talking about Dad?”
“Um-hum,” Alicia replied. “Out of all my husbands, your father was my first and favorite.”
“Hmm,” Jackie said thoughtfully, then decided to finally ask what she’d wondered about for a couple of months, now, since her mother had returned. “You remember when you left a few years back? You know, to visit the Confederacy?”
“Uh, yes, I remember,” Alicia replied, hoping her darling daughter wasn’t going to ask certain personal questions but pretty sure she was.
“You haven’t talked about it,” Jackie continued. “About your adventures, or what you did there.”
“What’s there to talk about? I learned what getting filthy dirty felt like,” Alicia said, hoping that she could scare her daughter away from the subject. “I learned what it is to be owned, and to be shot at, how to steal and what it’s like to be a fugitive. I learned how it feels to stand in front of a firing squad and get gunned down. I learned… how it feels…” she took a deep breath, not knowing if her voice would give out or not.
“I learned what its like to be gang-raped,” she continued, her voice on slightly shaking. “And I know what it feels like to be imprisoned. So I don’t talk much about my ‘adventures’ in the Deep South.”
“Please forgive me, Mom,” Jackie whispered. “I had no idea…”
Alicia laughed. It sounded unpleasant. “They say, ‘Ignorance is bliss’, you know?”
She stared at her daughter in the dim light of the little wormhole fireball that illuminated them. “But it’s not. Ignorance is cruelty. Ignorance is racism and hating someone who’s different than you. Ignorance is enslaving half the population because they’re females and because you have the power to do it. And killing someone just for the fun of it or because they have something you want.”
Alicia’s voice was very quiet now. “And ignorance is taking your child away from his mother because she might teach him compassion and love…”
“Mom?” Jackie cried out as Alicia burst into tears.
Jackie reached out and hugged her mother tightly. Alicia sobbed into her daughter’s shoulders for a moment, then became quieter.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” Jackie whispered. “I really had no…”
She stopped, realizing she had said that before.
“Didn’t anything good happen to you there?” she asked, needing to know.
Alicia was quiet for a moment. Her tear-streaked face looked almost serene. She sighed then, and looked at her first-born.
“Jonathan,” she said, then smiled at the slight confusion on her daughter’s face. “His name was Jonathan. My son.”
“You had a son?” Jackie whispered. “Where is he now?”
The brief serenity vanished from her mother’s face now. She looked sad and broken.
“He’s probably dead,” she said, her voice flat and emotionless. “My darling step-daughter probably killed him when she nuked Nashville.”
Jackie didn’t know what to say. A girl can only apologize so many times for dredging up horrible memories, so she stayed silent, and felt ashamed that she didn’t know what to say to make anything better. So she simply hugged her mother tightly and let the tears roll down her face.
After several minutes of silence, they heard Béla and Lisa talking to each other as they approached.
“Speak of the devil,” Jackie murmured, understanding something more of her mother’s attitude toward Lisa, then smiled and called out to them, “We’ve been waiting for you. We thought you’d want to enter the bridge first.”
The truth was that neither Jackie nor Alicia wanted to go onto that bridge at all. So far, the sections of the ship they’d explored were devoid of life, or rather, devoid of death. But they were both certain there would be alien corpses on the bridge, so they’d waited for reinforcements.
Béla didn’t say anything, but pushed gently between them and faced the entrance panel. There was no power to it, so she teleported it into the bulkhead like she had the entrance panel to her old quarters. Light from their two light-spheres dimly illuminated the bridge for the first time since the destruction of the ship over thirty years ago.
Except for the vacuum and the absence of power, the bridge could have been occupied yesterday. The four of them stepped into the bridge chamber and gazed around in awe. There was gravity here, as well as in most of the ship, and the bridge crew were mostly still at their stations.
“Oh, Raman,” Béla whispered sadly. “Why did you have to come on this doomed journey?”
She walked up to her old friend and stroked her fingers along his frozen cheek. Then she closed her eyes and he vanished. One by one, Béla gazed one final time at each member of the bridge crew as though she was saying goodbye, then teleported them somewhere.
Mind-linking with her mother, Lisa discovered that she’d laid them all out in Raman’s quarters. When Béla was finished, fifteen long, alien bodies were lying on the floor of her old friend’s sleeping quarters. She looked at her daughter and nodded. Lisa knew what her mother wanted her to do. It took less than five seconds to vaporize everyone and everything in Raman’s quarters.
“It seems the ship really was running on minimum crew,” Jackie mentioned. “Except for the bridge, we haven’t found anyone aboard.”
“There were a few others,” Lisa said, not being more specific. “Mom, should I take care of the ones we found in the communal baths?”
“What?” Béla asked as she was brought back into the present with Lisa’s question. “Oh. Uh, no. Yes. Do whatever you want.”
“Mom,” Lisa replied, sounding more like her teenage years. “I would make a funeral pyre out of this whole ship. Let’s find the Praetor and get out of here!”
“Be patient!” Béla snapped at her daughter. “Leave if you want. I’m not ready to go yet.”
“Oh,” Béla added, “Leave the light…”
Lisa gazed sullenly at her mother and disappeared.
“Wow! Look at all this stuff!” Tia exclaimed as she floated from one six-ton pod to another. “Here’s another load of, um, whatever this stuff is.”
“Can you read the label?” Tabatha called up to her.
“No,” Tia whined. “It’s all squiggly stuff!”
“Whose idea was it for us to do inventory, anyway?” Holly called from another part of the cargo bay. “Why did anyone think we’d know what all this junk is?”
“All right,” Tabatha replied. “I’ll take the blame! I thought this would be more of an adventure than its turning out to be. So if you’re interested, here’s new instructions. ‘Look for food and supplies and tools that you recognize. Call out if you see anything interesting. Got that?”
“Cool!” … “That’s more like it!” … “About time!” … “Let’s go exploring!” … “Good idea!” … “Eeeee! I found something! He’s dead!” … “Oh, Crappola! It’s a real live alien! I mean a dead alien!” … “Don’t touch it! You might get infected!” … “What with? You fucking watch too much Tri-d.” … “Where is it? I wanna see!” … “Ewww! It’s dead!”
Tabatha sighed. “Teenagers…”
“How do you suppose he died?” … “Probably suffocated when the ship depressurized.” … “You think so?” … “I don’t know. I wasn’t here!” … “Wonder if there’s any more of them?” … “Oh, God! I hope not!” … “Come on! Let’s go see if we can find another one!”
“Girls,” Tabatha called out. “Don’t go through the force field! There’s no air on the other side of it. Okay?”
“K,” … “Yeah, we hear you.” … “You worry too much!” … “How far does the for…” … “Hey, Tara’s turning gray and her eyes are bleeding…” … “Oh, gross! She's sticking her tongue out at us!”
“Christ!” Tabatha muttered as she closed her eyes, located Tara and teleported her to Sick Bay on board the Phoenix.
“Eeek! She vanished!” … “My God! Where’d she go?”
“Okay, everybody,” Tabatha yelled loudly. “Front and center, right now!”
Gathering her six-pack (five, now) of unruly, excitable twins, Tabatha teleported the lot of them into Lisa’s Grotto (which was where they wanted to be anyway) then decided to explore the cargo bay by herself.
“Where is everybody?” someone behind her said, scaring the hell out of her.
Tabatha turned around to see Lisa standing behind her.
“You jumped a mile, you know?” Lisa chortled.
“Can you read this alien script?” Tabatha asked without saying hello.
“No,” Lisa confessed. “I can read some English, but that’s all. Reading wasn’t really popular where I grew up. They had storytellers, instead. Does arithmetic count?”
“Not really,” Tabatha replied. “I was just curious about what all this ‘stuff’ is.”
“Stuff?” Lisa laughed, knowing it wasn’t a word that brainy Tabatha used. “Why don’t you just ask it?”
“What?” Tabatha asked, wondering if Lisa was scheduled to go nuts next.
“Just ask…” Lisa stopped in mid-sentence and sighed. “Humans! Tabby, just look at it and…” she sighed again. “How can I explain this?”
“Explain what?” Tabatha wanted to know. “You know how to do something, and I want to learn. How hard can it be?”
Lisa reached out and turned Tabatha around to face her. Gazing into her eyes, she moved Tabatha through a mental sequence that would demonstrate her function. It was purely an exercise to show Tabatha how it was done. She suddenly let go and turned away, stunned by what she’d just learned.
“What’s wrong?” Tabatha asked, not understanding what had just happened.
“I’ve… I,” Lisa took a deep breath. “I’ve never done that with a ‘person’, before.”
“So… What happened?” Tabatha asked quietly, curiosity getting the best of her, again.
“I just saw your purpose,” Lisa stated, her voice flat and tightly controlled.
“My purpose?” Tabatha asked, half laughing. “What the hell is that?”
Lisa looked at her dear friend and occasional lover very seriously. “You save things. And people.”
“Ooo-kay,” Tabatha replied, totally lost, now. “I save things. Good.”
“You don’t even know!” Lisa said, laughing at the incredulous impossibility of it all. “You saved Albuquerque. You saved Solar City after I was blown into the future. You saved the fucking Dead Sea Scrolls, for crying out loud! You saved Béla from going insane five hundred years before you even met her! In fact, you saved her entire fucking family from being butchered by that Madigan fellow.
“You’ve saved Tanya at least a dozen times,” Lisa continued, and you’ve saved me.”
“I saved you?” Tabatha asked, stunned by Lisa’s emotional performance.
“Yes,” Lisa replied, her voice softer now. “You saved me, and you saved the Hurrahs from me. It’s you that saved our entire fucking future. Not me, not Béla…
“I think we’ve all done our share of saving,” Tabatha said into the silence of Lisa’s revelation. “I could give you a list of your accomplishments, as well, and it would be at least as long as mine, I’m sure. You are probably the most powerful girl, no – person. The most powerful person in the world, and probably the most intelligent!”
“Yeah, right!” Lisa growled, thinking that this genius might be making fun of her.
“No, really!” Tabatha replied earnestly. “I mean it! You can just look at something and know how it works. Not only that, but you can figure out things that no one has ever done before! Béla tells me that you are the one who discovered most of the mental abilities we Femmes take for granted. I checked with the Praetor, and between you, me and Jesus Christ, we discovered it all! And you discovered most of it yourself!”
“Well,” Lisa murmured, actually embarrassed and turning a bit red, “Hank showed Mom how to teleport, and that ability is what I base all the stuff I’ve learned on – that, and Mom’s telepathy.”
“All right, I’ll buy that,” Tabatha replied, grinning. “Anyway, if we’re finished buttering each other up… How do I find out the purpose of something just by looking at it?”