The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part I - The Golden Orb


Chapter 13


After climbing down the circular stairway that led to the crypt, I paused for a few seconds when I reached the antechamber – just long enough to recall the exact location of the urn I was seeking. Folding back my wings, I slowly squeezed my way past Charlie’s damaged sarcophagus (a CSU, or Cryo-Suspension Unit), my newly restored memories whispered in my mind), and paused a few seconds to stare into it. There were a few things still resting in it that would need to be retrieved, but for now I had much more personal business to attend.


Carefully I made my way into the crypt. The dust was thick, and I moved cautiously, holding my wings in tightly to stir up as little as possible. I was only partially successful, and the further into the crypt I passed, the more I sneezed at the small clouds my movements raised. At the wall opposite the doorway, I halted and began to examine the urns. Within seconds, I located the object of my search. Standing on my toes and reaching up at full stretch, I extracted the urn from its niche. A small puff of dust came along with it, settling onto my upturned face with the lightest of touches, but the urn itself was clean – exhibiting just one of the many amazing properties of the alloy, sarullium


Gently I wrapped both arms around the urn, clutched it to my breast and carefully retraced my steps out of the crypt. I felt a great heaviness in my chest as I thought about the contents of the urn, but I didn’t pause or allow myself the luxury of grief; instead, I quickly ascended the stairs to where the others awaited. The return journey was quick, and everyone turned to face me as I emerged from the stairwell into the Hall of Heroes. As soon as Charlie saw me and what I was carrying, he approached me and stretched out his arms. I knew what he desired, and as soon as I was in front of him I held out the urn. Just as I’d done in the crypt, he gently took the urn in his hands and cradled it to his chest. For a few seconds there was silence between us, but there were still things to discuss.


“When we’re together again, Charlie, after this is all over, we’ll carry out his wishes and the Emperor and the Empire be damned,” I said bitterly.


Charlie simply nodded as tears spilled from his eyes.


“Please don’t cry,” I said, speaking a bit more harshly and loudly than I’d intended, while fighting back my own tears. “We won’t give them the satisfaction, little brother,” I added, as the venom of hate colored the tone of my voice. “But I promise you with my blood and spirit, now that I have my memories back, there are grave debts owed to us that I plan to see paid back tenfold – every last one of them. The tears won't be ours in the end, Charlie.”


Charlie’s eyes grew large as he looked at me. For a second, it almost looked like he was afraid of me. Those large green eyes of his spoke volumes, and without even trying to read his thoughts I knew what he was thinking and feeling. But looking at him, seeing him alive – infinitely grateful that he’d survived – I pushed aside my anger and smiled at him. Taking the urn from him, I approached Ga’tann and handed it to him. It all but disappeared in his massive hands.


“Take this with you when you and Ga’dhat take Charlie to Ghröum. We’ll deal with it later.”


Ga’tann simple looked down at me without making a sound or communicating to me in thought.


Turning back to Charlie, I made a strong effort to compose myself. Looking him squarely in the face I smiled, trying to appear calm. “We must talk… just in case.”


Charlie nodded as he gave me a sober look of understanding – a look that told me how much our shared experiences had forced both of us to grow-up far sooner than we should have. But in an instant, his look suddenly changed and a wide smile came to his face.


“I agree, we should talk,” he said, his voice rising in excitement while at the same time sending me a strong and clear mental image. “But Jamie, if it’s possible, can we please do it at Angel's Gorge?”


For one brief second I paused, ready to protest, but as I intercepted his thoughts a smile also grew on my face as I recalled the memory he brought to my mind. Approaching him, I hugged him with all my might.


“I’ll check the gate to the gorge, and if it’s still operable, we’ll go there,” I said, releasing him but not the smile I was beaming at him. “But I think you’re right: there’s been enough sadness for such a long time. We need to feel happy, and celebrate our reunion.”


I turned and started back toward the mirror gate but, remembering something, stopped and turned to face Charles. “Go down to the crypt, Charles. There’s something in Charlie’s sarcophagus of great importance,” I said, giving him a level stare. “It will be obvious to you. Have it ready for me when we return.”


Charles said nothing, but nodded his head in agreement.


“Let him go into the crypt,” I said, looking to the two Ghröum. “Keep an eye on him, and retrieve the other objects the unit still holds.”


Turning away from Charles and the Ghröum, I crossed the great hall, back to the large mirror gate. After a quick check of the system, I turned around and was surprised to find Charlie standing directly behind me, watching me with great anticipation – his face filled with a look so full of hope and innocence that I quietly chuckled to myself when I realized that he was actually holding his breath, anxiously waiting to see if the gate to Angel’s Gorge was still in operation. I turned back to the mirror and continued to check the grid system that was the map to the vast mirror gate network.


“It works,” I finally said, smiling as I turned back to him.


Charlie let out the breath he’d been holding and returned my smile with a sweet one of his own.


Within seconds the gate was activated, and I motioned for him to pass through it. Walking up to it with Spinoza perched like an emperor on his shoulder, he strode through. As soon as he vanished I followed, and within seconds after passing through the gate, we found ourselves standing near the edge of one of the high cliffs of Angel’s Gorge.


Angel's George had been formed eons ago on Ajax. A spectacular natural wonder, the great gorge stretched before us for miles. The gorge was a vast canyon with towering cliffs and strange rock formations. Formed mostly of basalt, its cliffs were studded with mineral deposits that swirled through the rock they were part of, creating patterns of color and sparkling crystalline pockets of minerals that changed color, and sometimes even glowed – morphing before our eyes as the light falling directly from the sun, and indirectly reflecting from Argon, danced across them during the short lunar days.


“Remember?” Charlie said, turning to me with a look of eager anticipation – his joy and excitement so strong it was contagious.


“I’ll never forget it,” I said, as I felt my heart swell with love for him.


For every Icarian, regardless of their status, talents, intellect, or abilities, one singular moment usually stood out as one of the most important events in their life. That moment was the common bond, regardless of their genetic profile, cortical evaluation, house placement or training, that truly made them, above all else, Icarian: first flight.


At the physical age of ten, every Icarian child was allowed to experience his first flight. Up to that point, his body would still be too immature to risk the experience, but at ten - after months of exercises and training - he would be taken to a place of sufficient height – a cliff, or even very tall building - and allowed to push off, experiencing the exhilaration of first flight. Such a day was always marked by a celebration, whether grand or simple. It was what made us what we were – the primary difference that separated us from the human population.


Like every other Icarian, when I was ten years old I went on my first flight. I’d been practicing for weeks, and with each passing day, as the time grew nearer, I became so excited that I often found it hard to sleep at night. Finally First Flight Day arrived and it was everything I’d dreamed it would be, and more. I was taken by hov craft to the cliffs of Isewier and, with my family and friends looking on, I ran to the edge of the precipice, leapt off, and in an instant was soaring like a bird – happier than I’d ever been. And since our villa was only two miles from the cliffs, I’d even been allowed to fly home. It had been so much fun to watch the hov take everyone home while I glided next to it, laughing and waving.


Later that day, as the guest of honor at my First Flight celebration, I was fêted with gifts and a special meal of my choosing. But the most special gift of all had been a single eagle feather, given to me by Charlie. Clutching it tightly in his hand, my little brother approached me and proudly presented it to me with a huge smile on his face.


“I found it on the beach,” he said softly, looking up at me as if I was some great hero who’d just conquered the world. “I can’t wait for the day when I can fly with you.”


Father was standing behind him, and I saw the pride on his face as he watched us. Giving Charlie a hug and kiss, I took the feather and slid it into the sash I was wearing. Later that night, just before dawn, I climbed out of my bed and, snatching the feather from my bedside table, crept silently into Charlie’s room. Standing over him, I looked down at my younger brother as he slept peacefully. Recalling the exhilaration of my first flight the previous day, an idea suddenly blossomed in my mind and I knew what I had to do.


That morning, after Castor brought us our breakfast, Charlie and I went to our Father’s private study and told him we would be heading to the cliffs to play. Getting his approval, we left him to his reading, but instead of taking a hov to the cliffs, we snuck into Father’s hidden lab and approached the secret mirror gate he’d installed. Although father didn’t know it, I’d learned how to activate it without a card – something that I’d discovered during the special training I'd started.


Stepping up to the gate, I did what I’d come to call an “incantation” and it powered up for me. Charlie had been surprised I could do that, since up to that point I hadn’t shared that information with anyone. Making sure we weren’t seen, I pushed Charlie through the gate first and quickly followed him. When we emerged from the mirror gate, we were standing on one of the cliffs of Angel’s Gorge, on Ajax. The night before, when I’d awoken and gone to Charlie’s room, I was still so exhilarated by my first flight that I thought it was so unfair that Charlie would have to wait two more years before he was allowed to feel the joy I’d just experienced. From the time he was old enough to play with me, we’d always done things together, and I couldn’t imagine taking to the sky without him next to me.


I knew Angel’s Gorge was one of the few places on Ajax outside the sphere of the strong gravity wells, so I surmised that since the force of gravity was quite low there, despite Charlie being only eight, the decreased gravity would more than compensate for his lack of strength. In the end I was right, and when we leapt off the cliff my little brother soared like an eagle.


Now, over two and a half millennia later, we stood at the same spot on the same cliff. Spinoza was still perched on Charlie’s shoulder, his bugling cries breaking the stony silence of the gorge. Without a word between us we both turned and looked at each other, and then we turned back to the gorge and walked to the edge of the precipice. A wind gusted around us, causing our wings to flutter. I extended my arm and held out an open palm to Charlie. He, in turn, stretched out and took my hand in his, gripping it tightly. With a loud shout that echoed through the canyon, we unfurled our wings and leapt off the cliff together.


Just like that first day, so long ago, we dove toward the canyon floor at a terrifying speed. Spinoza shrieked and toppled off Charlie's shoulder, even his normally awkward flight rendered graceful in the reduced gravity. At the very last second, before our falling bodies hit the ground, we released our grip on each other’s hands and flared our wings, soaring like wind-driven leafs back up toward - and then high above - the lip of the cliffs of the gorge. Soaring and diving, the sound of our laugher rang through the canyon.


The decreased gravity of Ajax let us perform a wide range of aerial acrobatics, and after an hour of adrenalin pumping dives, rolls, turns, spins and somersaults, we glided back to the spot where we’d started. It was the best I’d felt since I’d awakened next to Nic in the coffin we’d shared. Part of it was being with Charlie; part of it was remembering my past and feeling whole again, and part of it was the knowledge that, so far, we’d both survived an incredible ordeal.


Although we were drenched in sweat and our hearts pounded wildly, the high-wattage smile Charlie was beaming was the greatest gift I could have been given at that moment. For the first time in a long time, my hearts actually felt lighter. Charlie, breathing heavily, sat down on a nearby boulder. I did the same on another rock next to him, so that we were facing each other. I laughed when Spinoza alighted on my shoulder, wrapped his scaly tail around my neck and gave a self-important akkk! as if protesting the lack of attention he'd suffered.


“That was brilliant!” Charlie said as the smile on his face grew even wider. “Do you remember how much trouble you got in for doing that?” he added, laughing while he conversed with me in both speech and pure thought.


“Unfortunately, I do,” I said, joining him in his laughter as I accessed my newly acquired memories. “Father was furious. I was locked in his study with him for over two hours while he lectured me on my lack of maturity and irresponsibility. The first words out of his mouth were an order for me to sit and not say one single word. Two hours later, he was still lecturing me. I was in the kitchen after every meal for a month, helping Aralane scrub pots.”


“And after that another month in the stables, mucking out the stalls,” Charlie giggled.


“Ugh, please don’t remind me of that,” I said, still grimacing over the memory. “Castor made sure I was assigned the dirtiest stalls. I often think he took some sort of perverse pleasure in that. I remember soaking in my bath every day for an hour as soon as I’d return to the villa. I thought I’d never get the smell from my wings. Maybe it would have been best not to have those memories.”


“But it was worth it,” Charlie said, grinning at me. “Jamie, it was the best first flight anyone ever had,” he added, his voice still filled with an almost giddy excitement over the memory.


“Yes, it was worth it,” I laughed. “Pots or no pots, horse dung or not, I’d do it again if I was given the choice.”


“Some of the best memories I have are with you, Jamie,” Charlie said smiling sweetly at me.


“It’s the same for me,” I said, returning his smile. “No matter what, Charlie, we’ve always had each other.”


I watched as the smile faded from his face, and his expression became grave and serious.


“I’m sorry, Jamie,” he said softly


“For what?”


“For everything. It wasn’t fair, not to you. I escaped – you made sure of that, but you…”


His voice trailed off, and we both sat silently with only the occasional shared thought between us.


“I always felt so lucky,” he said. “I had the best older brother in the world… I still do. But you…”


“It’s all right, Charlie, that’s just the way it happened,” I said, trying to sound philosophical.


“No, it’s not all right,” he said. "I can’t imagine what it’s like to have an older brother who hates, rather than loves, you. And not only hates you, but wants to kill you.”


“It’s not his fault,” I said, looking not at him, but down at my toes – something I usually did when I was self-conscious. “It was the Empire. Look what they did to him… to us… And remember, Charlie; he’s also your older brother. He just doesn’t know about you… yet. If he did, he’d hate you just as much – maybe more. And he might try to kill you too. That’s why your existence has to remain a secret.”


“I know, but…”


“Yes, it’s not fair, but I’ve learned lots of things aren’t fair, Charlie. Life’s often about what we choose to make out of the hand we’ve been dealt. That’s the best advice I can give you.”


He looked at me sadly and simply nodded his head.


“So, now I’m faced with two equally bad choices,” I said, looking intently at him. “Allow the germinus to kill me and surrender the orbs to Loran, or face him in the Circle of Ondra and carry out one of the most reprehensible crimes a person can commit – fratricide. The very thought of it fills my nostrils with stench and my mouth with bile. I can think of few things more despicable.”


“But your might work, no?” he said.


“Yes, and then again it might not,” I sighed.


“What they did to you at the Mondele,” he said softly, “I’m sorry. And your friend Cristophe? I know I have your memories, but…” he paused, and looked at me. “I’d like you tell me about him some day. Not in thought, but in speech. He seems wonderful.”


“He was wonderful, Charlie – too wonderful, and too good. But the Empire never cared much for kindness or gentleness, just as it never cared for honor and noble courage. But when this is over… if we survive… well, then I’ll tell you about Cristophe… and Damian… and Luc,” I added softly. It was only then I noticed my cheeks were wet – wet from the tears I’d been crying without even knowing it.


“James de Valèn,” Charlie said, his expressive eyes wide and searching. Reaching out to gently take my hand, he added, “Do you understand that you’re a great hero? You’ve always been a hero to me, but… really… you are.”


Giving him a sad smile, I squeezed his hand. “Pff… I’m no hero.  I’m just Charlie de Valèn’s older brother, and the mate of Niklas, the Baron von Agramos - who’s the real hero. Those are the only two things that really are important to me. Beyond that, I'm just a man doing what has to be done.”


“You’re so much more than that, Jamie,” he said, leaning over and giving me a kiss on the cheek.


For a while there was complete silence between us – not a word was spoken, or a thought broadcast between us. Spinoza used the silence to bite lightly at my ear, trying to get me to scratch his head. Reaching up and pulling the garga lizard from my shoulder, I placed him on my lap. He turned his head to the side, looking up and studying me with one eye, ready to protest in a series of loud akkks, but when my hand found his favorite spot on the top of his head, he started to purr like a cat.


“I remember when you first appeared at the villa,” I finally said softly as I turned my gaze from Spinoza to Charlie, and stared into his beautiful green eyes.


“When I was only five, one evening father asked me what I thought it would be like to have a little brother. We’d just finished dinner and as Castor was cleaning up, father surprised me by telling me to stay at the table and talk to him. Of course we always talked, but this time he seemed so serious – even stern. Not in an angry way – you remember how he used to get stern and serious with me every time I got into mischief?”


Charlie didn’t speak, but his soft melodic giggle told me he did remember.


“Well, it was nothing like that, but still he was very serious in a different sort of way. When I didn’t answer right away, he asked me again. I wasn’t sure what he meant. After all, I only was five. Father always had a way of speaking to me as if I was an adult. He always claimed that I… we… well, almost all Icarians, were far more cognitively advanced than our physical ages indicated. I guess he was right. But I could see that he was quite serious, so I answered him seriously. First I told him that any brother I had would absolutely have to have green eyes because I had blue eyes, and I’d wished I could have had green eyes. He laughed at that, and told me to be more serious, so I was – at least as serious as a five year old Icarian boy can be. So I told him, and he listened. I told him what a little brother would look like, how he would act and how happy I’d be if I had one. When I was finished, he thanked me and sent me off to play. Just as I was leaving I turned back to him, remembering something. When I called out to him he looked up, and I could tell I’d roused him from one of his deep thoughts.


“‘Father?’ I said.


“‘Yes, Jamie?’”


“‘If I had a brother, he’d have pointed ears like a Ghröum,’ I said. “It was strange how it came out like that. Mobley had been instructing me on the differences between species, and we’d recently been studying about the Ghröum and the story of how they’d become extinct. I’d pored over the pictures from my books and holo-screen images for hours, completely fascinated by creatures who once lived on our planet, but were now gone.


“My comment must have knocked Father out of his mental trance, because he suddenly looked up and stared at me."


“‘What did you say?’" he asked.


“I repeated my remark, and he got a strange look on my face.


“‘Why?’ he asked, suddenly standing up and walking over to me.


“‘Well, he just would,’ I said matter-of-factly. And in my child’s logic, as children are wont to do, the idea had affixed itself in my mind that if I had a little brother he would have pointed ears.”


Charlie laughed. “Jamie, I know this story. You’ve told it to me many times,” he said, lightly touching the tip of one of his ears and it’s very slight point.


“I know I have, Charlie, but now that I’m older, now that I’ve – we’ve – been through what we have, I’ve come to realize what that little chat was all about.” And I clutched his hand even tighter. “Father wanted to make sure that I’d love you.”


Charlie gave me a strange look.


“Father often thought strangely – you know that. You know how sad he was about Loran - that’s why he kept me hidden, and why he did the same with you. It’s why he lived on the coast, far away from all the cities. He asked me my opinion of what I thought the perfect brother would be. I think he wanted to ensure that we would be close. But he worried too much. It was something he never had to fear.”


“So he made me with some of the things you thought would be good to have in your younger brother?”


“Yes, but he didn’t ever have to worry about me loving you. When I was six he called me into one of the bedrooms of our villa and there you were, sleeping on the bed. You were all curled up. Your wings were still small for your body, but there you were – matured in the tanks to a four year-old Icarian. I couldn’t believe it, at first. Remember, up to that point I’d never been around another Icarian. Sure, I’d learned about Icarians from Mobley. I’d seen lots of pictures, paintings, and even statues. I was still too little to figure out how to sneak into father’s laboratory; had I gotten in, I would have had a real education!


“But there, in that bedroom – what became your bedroom – was a real, live Icarian. A little boy with dark wavy hair, the plumpest red lips, pale white skin, and ears that came to the slightest of points."


“‘He has green eyes,’ father said softly as he bid me closer to the bed. Then he simply left the room, and I stood there looking down at you.


“He’d used the plan from my child’s imagination to design you – to stack the odds in his favor so that I’d love you – or at least like you. But really,” I said, squeezing his hand harder, “it wasn’t necessary. No matter how he would have fashioned you, I would have loved you.”


“A few years later, when I was eight and you were six, I found myself in father’s study for another of his serious chats. As usual, I’d gotten in trouble.”


“Was that the time when you put that thought into Enoch’s mind and he mixed up a concoction that exploded and burned his eyebrows off?”


“Yes,” I said, smiling involuntarily.


“It took three full months for his eyebrows to grow back,” Charlie giggled.


“True. It’s not something I’m very proud of now. It was stupid and dangerous. I could have gotten him killed. Of course, at the time I thought it was funny and so very clever of me. Father was stern, but my mental powers were growing, and underneath I could tell he really wanted to laugh. But he sat me down and lectured me about being serious, and responsible. He wanted to impress upon me how much harm I could do if I left my powers unchecked and simply acted on impulse, like a foolish child. He also reminded me that I was an example to you, and asked me if I wanted that example to be a good one, or a bad one. You know how Father could make us feel guilty when he was disappointed in us.”


“Oh yes,” Charlie said, “I think I cried for a full day when I accidentally deprogrammed Mobley and he told me how very disappointed he was in me – I felt completely crushed.”


“Yes, so you know what I mean, then,” I said.


“Well Jamie, when it came to getting in trouble, causing mischief, losing one’s temper, being headstrong, moody and temperamental, you were a great example,” Charlie said, his mischievous laugher interrupting me.


Rolling my eyes at him while trying, without success, to look scandalized, I continued, “When Father finished scolding me and I was ready to leave, he said he had one more thing to tell me. I was surprised when his tone changed from the lecturing father to a loving one. He said that one day our lives might change, that we might have problems –serious problems – and that no matter what, you and I were to stick together. In fact, he made me stand in front of him and solemnly promise that I would always look out for you, and take care of you. I did, of course – promise, that is – but his insistence that I take that oath was very unnecessary, Charlie,” I said, looking lovingly into my brothers green eyes – the eyes I’d told my father he would have if I ever had a little brother.


“That first day, when I saw you sleeping in your bed after father left us alone, I knelt down and looked at you for a long time – a very long time. I watched you sleep. I watched how you breathed. I looked at your wings – small and immature, but white with a bluish iridescence, just like mine. I reached out and lightly touched one of the little bumps that form the points on your ears, and you stirred slightly. It was then – two years before father ever mentioned it – that I vowed I would love and protect you above all else. You were my brother, and we were going to be together. We were going to be friends, and have adventures and play and live and love. I looked down at your hands – the perfect tiny hands of a little child. I reached out and touched one of them, and you woke up and looked at me with those big green eyes of yours, and you smiled.”


For a long while Charlie sat quietly, holding my hand. “I know,” he finally said softly. “I’ve always known.”


“And now here we are, Charlie,” I said quietly, looking down at my toes, “and everything’s a big mess. Father is dead; our whole family is dead, except you and me, and Loran. The war that started is far from over. Two and a half millennia have passed. We have old enemies, and now new enemies. And those who are aligned with us have no idea of the past – even the Kalorians and the Vosh don’t realize they’re brothers like us, or at least cousins. We’ve come from a world of hovs, mirror gates, and advanced genetics, into a world of myth and superstition. Some are still in slavery, others believe in magic. There are people who call us demons, and those who believe we can place curses on them, or they on us. Then there’s Loran, and Hippolito, and… You know, Charlie,” I continued, once more looking down at my toes. "All I ever wanted to do was work next to Father in the laboratory, and to make some great discovery. Remember all the amazing stories he told us about the heroes of Altinestra – the ones whose ashes are in the Crypt of Honor? That’s who I wanted to be like.”


“I know, Jamie,” Charlie said, gently tapping his head.


“I’m sorry. I know you know, but I have to talk to someone about it. Someone who understands, someone like you – my brother.”


“I know, Jam,” he said, using his childhood nickname for me. “But you are one of the great heroes of Altinestra. And you have Niklas,” Charlie said, smiling at me. “Another great hero. He’s magnificent, you know.”


“Indeed he is,” I said, slowly nodding my head. “What ever would I have done if I hadn’t had Miro smuggle me into the barracks at Rood?”


“You would have done something,” Charlie said. “I know you too well... but you’re right: what a half he is! You and he truly form a whole.”


“As do you and Giovanni,” I added, but then felt badly for mentioning my Master of Ceremony's name the instant I noticed Charlie suddenly begin to frown. “Soon,” I quickly added. “Soon Charlie, I promise.”


He nodded his head in resignation. I quickly released his hand and jumped up.


“How could I have forgotten?” I said, bumping my forehead with the palm of my hand as Charlie gave me a puzzled look, but when he suddenly realized, his face relaxed – as the accomplished Talent he was, his abilities were at least five times the magnitude of mine, almost making speech irreverent.


“Don’t worry Jamie, I have Nic’s memories right here,” he said once more tapping the side of his head. “They're safe.”


“Can I give them to him?” I asked, a bit worried. “I can’t risk taking you to him, or him to you right now. Can I do it?”


“Of course,” Charlie said offhandedly, “It shouldn’t be any problem for someone of your abilities.”


“I’m glad you’re so confident,” I said. “I’m not.”


“It’s easy, Jam,” Charlie said. “Let me explain. When I took yours and Nic’s memories into my mind, I encapsulated them as I received them. When I gave them back to you, I simply unspooled them back into your brain – you’ll do the same with Nic.”


“Well, there you go,” I said, sounding as sarcastic as I could. “So simple and so easy! Now why didn’t I think of that?”


“Don’t get mad, Jamie. I’ll show you how. For Talents like us, it really is simple. Once you see how easy it is, you won’t have any problems.”


“Ok,” I said, trying to cool my temper, “Show me… please?”


And he did. Within minutes, I had a smile on my face again. I’d taken Nic’s memories from Charlie and encapsulated them without examination or scrutiny; after all, they were his private memories and not for me to muck around in. When we were reunited I would send them to him, ‘unspooling’ them as Charlie had taught me.


“That thing with the box is amazing,” I said. “You just make the box and put them in.”


“Well, it’s really not a box, but an intellectual construct that I give the appearance of a box. You’ll do the same thing when you unspool them to him,” he said. “I think of a Sh’arhan flower bud opening, and the box changes to a blooming flower as the memories unspool.”


“You would think of a Sh’arhan,” I said, grinning at him.


“It’s the first flower he ever gave me,” Charlie said, blushing.


“Well, I’ll think of a Isewierian Inlet Lilly,” I said.


“Why?” Charlie asked, “Were they the first flowers that Nic…?”


“No,” I said, quickly interrupting him. “A bouquet of them was thrown to me that first night at Mondele… after… well… it became my personal sigil. I was always receiving them, even when…” but I stopped, realizing it would be impossible to speak the words without crying. I was grateful that Charlie was able to read my thoughts.


“Oh,” he said quietly, clearly seeing the mental image in my mind. “Of course.” And once more, as he’d done earlier, he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.


“It seems so unfair, Jamie,” he added. “We’ve come together again only to be separated once more.”


“I know,” I said, “It hurts deep inside to have to say goodbye and smuggle you off to Ghröum just when I’d love to keep you by my side, but it’s just better that way – and safer for you.”


“I hope we’re together soon,” he said giving me a hopeful look. “And I hope I can see Giovanni soon.”


“I’ll do what I can,” I said then quickly added, “I guess we better go back now – I hope Ga’dhat and Ga’tann haven’t deconstructed Charles,” I said.


Charlie laughed, “Wait Jamie, before we go,” and I watched as he began to unwind the asp bracelet – my asp bracelet - from his wrist. Watching him, I began to do the same. We exchanged them and put our own bracelets on.


“Time to go, Charlieboy,” I said, stepping up to the gate.


“Ok, Jamieboy,” he said, laughing, and one after another we walked back into the curtain of light.