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Shaman

In the morning, we got the ship going and headed back to the docking bay, keeping it low and slow. Danel had decided we should go see his father. As a noble, Gervaso Remmington Falkenberg didnít have a whole lot of power. What he did have were connections. And once he found out what his son had been plotting, he was sure to use those connections to hand out the proper punishment. I was nervous about it, but Danel promised me he wouldnít tell Gervaso that I was his kidnapped son.

But that wasnít what really worried me. There was still plenty of time for something to happen. It was a long ride to the Falkenberg home planet of Teatree. There were still bounty hunters looking for us. There was still a demon that wanted me dead. And I donít remember the last time things went as planned.

I found it difficult to sleep for any length of time. I would get tired, lie down and wake up ten minutes later, a little less tired but not well-rested. I would lay awake and stare at the ceiling. I wondered if I was sick, but I didnít feel sick. After a few days, I realized why I couldnít sleep. I hadnít heard from Regan in a while. Something had to be wrong.

Dylan was asleep in the navigatorís chair when I went to the bridge to change course for Brandenburg. He opened one eye. "Changing course?" he asked.

"Go back to sleep," I said.

"Whatís wrong?"

"I donít know."

Dylan opened his other eye and scratched his head. He watched me silently. "Brandenburg," he said when I had finished setting the course.

"You got a problem with that?"

"No. She needs you."

"Sheís dying."

"Ika could help her."

"I might not have time for that."

Dylan looked around at the controls. "How fast can you make this thing go?"

"Safely? Not fast enough."

"Iíll go get him."

"What?"

"Iíll take the escape shuttle and go back to Pilon. We can meet you halfway. Regan doesnít need to be on any long journey right now."

"No, thatís too dangerous. I donít want you getting caught by the bounty hunters."

"Donít worry about me."

I didnít want to agree with his idea. It was a good idea, but if he got caught or was delayed for any reason, I didnít know what I would do.

He stood up. "Weíll meet at the Wheel on Parable. Itís about halfway."

"All right. Be careful. Please."

"I wonít let you down. I wonít let Regan down either."

"Thanks."

I didnít want to worry, but I couldnít help it.

As soon as the shuttle detached and darted away, I got all the engines revved up and started a slow acceleration towards Brandenburg. Nova class ships arenít the fastest ships available. Theyíre too big for that, but with the weight of the shuttle gone and the largest passenger gone with it, I figured I could push it just a bit. Nothing tears a ship up like sudden stops and starts, so I had to take it slow. And that almost guaranteed that no one else would notice. Even at top speed or more than top speed, it was going to take a few days to get to Brandenburg.

We had been moving along for several hours when Shane suddenly ran up to the bridge and shouted, "Weíre off course! What the hell is going on?"

"Change of plans," I said.

"Whereís Dylan?"

"He went back to Pilon."

"What for? Whatís going on? Is it bounty hunters?"

"Shane, sit down and shut up or better yet, just go the fuck away."

Grumbling, Shane sat down in the navigatorís chair. He glanced at the control panel. "Holy shit! Do you know how fast weíre going?"

"Yes, and itís not fast enough."

"Where are we going?"

"Did I not just tell you to shut the hell up?"

"Youíre cranky. Itís got to have something to do with Regan."

"Shane Ė "

"Sorry."

Shane stared quietly out the window for about ten minutes. "I know you told me to shut up, but I thought you might like to know that thereís a very creepy looking ship off port. And itís keeping pace with us," he said.

I looked down at the radar. "Thereís nothing on radar," I said.

"I can see it just fine. Itís not cloaked."

I looked out in the direction Shane was looking. The ship was small, though a little larger than average shuttle size. It was hard to tell if the ship itself was black or if there was something covering it that was black. Even in the vacuum of space, it seemed to flutter on a breeze, and tendrils of pale mist rolled off of it. If I had been able to smell it, I knew what it would smell like. "Fuck," I said.

"Friends of yours?"

"No, itís a bounty hunter. A demon bounty hunter."

"A demon? Right. Now youíve really lost your mind."

"Do you remember that transport I crashed about seven years ago?"

"Yeah, the one that almost killed you."

"It did kill me. I didnít crash it because I lost control. I did it on purpose. The cargo was five coffins. We never asked what was inside. We assumed the things were either empty or had dead bodies inside. It didnít matter to us. What was inside got out. They were bodies all right. Possessed bodies. They killed the rest of the crew. They were bad with locked doors, so I locked myself on the bridge. I had to crash the ship. That was the only way to kill them. If they made it to wherever they were supposed to go or out in the universe anywhere, theyíd kill everyone. Now, big brother demon is pissed off at me and put a bounty out on me."

"I didnít know you could be so noble."

"I didnít have a choice."

"Why did it wait seven years?"

"I donít know."

"What are we gonna do about it?"

"Nothing. I donít have time to worry about it."

"Iíll worry about it for you then."

Despite the fact that Shane despised fighting of any kind, especially the kind that involved big guns, he was a decent gunner. I think the only reason he didnít like that job was because I was better at it. Weíd always been competitive with each other in an indirect way. I never tried to be better; I just was. He seemed to think that people would only like him if he could excel at something.

"Didnít you say this ship has a cloaking device?" he asked as he readied the plasma cannon.

"Yeah."

"Use it."

"I need all the power I can get."

"Do you want that thing shooting back at us?"

"Not really."

I turned on the cloaking device. At first, it seemed like nothing happened. Then I could see the faint lines of some kind of field moving over the hull of the ship. Shane fired the plasma cannon at the demon ship. The shot zinged across the bow. It slowed down just a little. The pilot was confused. Shane fired again, this time hitting it dead on. Most ships explode when hit with a weapon like that. The demon ship imploded, leaving behind a small spot where no stars could be seen. I left the cloaking device on and accelerated a little more. The cloaking device didnít seem to be draining the power the way I had expected it to, so I left it on a while longer. Shane remained in the navigatorís seat, watching intently for anything else that might slow us down, but with the cloaking device on, it didnít seem that any other bounty hunter ship knew where we were. Besides, we were supposed to be going to Teatree, not Brandenburg. Normal bounty hunters would probably look for us there.

When we were a little more than halfway there, I couldnít keep my eyes open any more. I let Shane take over and went to get some sleep. He seemed surprised that I would trust him with that kind of responsibility, but I knew he didnít want to get caught any more than I did.

As soon as I closed my eyes, I found myself standing in front of a bonfire again. Above me, I could see the three stars. Firefly was very faint. Yuusei had drifted a little further away. Shaman was as bright and steady as ever. If Firefly got any fainter and Yuusei drifted any further, I was going to be completely alone.

"Yuusei will always return to its beginning. It is the wandering one. But it has roots." The speaker was a little man sitting very close to the fire. In his left hand, he held a long staff with a gnarled top. It seemed to sparkle a little. He flung colored sand into the fire and watched the smoke it made. I moved closer to him. He flung blue sand at the fire. In the smoke, I saw an image of a ship. The smoke of yellow sand showed a sword coming down towards the back of someoneís head.

"Who are you?" I asked as I sat down.

"I have no name. Iím merely an advisor."

"I donít need advice. I need to get to my daughter."

"You will. And I didnít say you needed advice."

"Then why are you in my head?"

"Our paths are crossing. Yuusei is in need of advising."

"Shouldnít you be in his head, then?"

"Presently. Itís a difficult place to reach. He has taught himself to keep things out."

"Heís going to assassinate the new emperor, isnít he?"

"He thinks so. And that might be a wise decision."

"Iím very tired. I need to sleep now."

The little man scooped up a handful of black sand and blew it in my face. I slept without dreams or visions.

When I woke up, we were less than an hour away from Brandenburg. Dylan had radioed in to let me know he was already on his way to Parable with Ika. Danel had contacted Loretta to let her know we were coming. Fortunately, the Wallace estate on Brandenburg was large enough to have its own private docking bay, which eliminated any concern about the military catching us as we landed.

The hardest thing I ever had to do was be calm as Loretta led me through the house to Reganís room. I wanted to smash the walls in. I wanted to punch someone, as if anyone could take the blame for Reganís illness. I wanted to cry or scream or something. But none of that was going to help Regan. I wasnít sure that anything was going to help her at all.

Anala was sitting at Reganís bedside, looking tired and disheveled. She stood up when I walked in, and her eyes filled with tears. "Iíve tried everything," she said. "Nothing I do can help her."

I sat down beside Regan and put my hand on her forehead. She was so hot that I expected my fingers to blister. "Regan, can you hear me?" I whispered.

Regan moaned a little but didnít open her eyes. I was pretty sure she could hear me. I hoped that me just being there with her would help somehow, but if it was helping, I couldnít tell.

"How long has she been like this?" I asked.

"Almost five days," Anala said. "How did you know something was wrong?"

"I hadnít talked to her in a while."

"Iím sorry, Talon. I donít know what to do."

"I have to take her to Parable. We found a doctor on Gehgal who might be able to help her."

"Are you sure thatís safe?"

"I donít have a choice."

I lifted Regan out of the bed and held her against my chest. She wrapped her arms weakly around my neck. "Daddyís home," she mumbled. I felt tears in my eyes and blinked them back. Anala picked up the plastic dragon as we left the room.

The ride to Parable felt like it took longer than it actually did. I let Shane fly the entire time. I didnít feel like I could leave Regan for even a minute. Cherry and Anala tried to convince me to get some rest or to eat something, but I refused. I couldnít sleep or eat until I knew Regan would be okay. After a while, they stopped trying and left me alone.

I blamed myself for Reganís condition. It was my fault she had psychic powers. She certainly didnít get it from her mother. Of course, I didnít take into consideration that it had nothing to do with genetics. When Petrine was killed, I should have either tried to find her family and left Regan with them or left Regan with my family. She wasnít even a year old then. The last thing she needed was to be flying around space with me while I did things that were less than legal. Then when she started to get sick, I really should have gotten a clue. But I never knew when I would find a doctor who could help her, and I didnít trust anyone else to take care of her. Even if I did all the wrong things, I loved her. I wasnít trying to corrupt her or hurt her. And really, no one ever told me I was doing the wrong things. I still couldnít help thinking that if I had done something differently, Regan wouldnít be as sick as she was.

When we landed on Parable, I didnít wait for the others. I took Regan and headed for the Wheel. In the two days we had been traveling, she hadnít gotten any worse, but she hadnít improved either. Dylan was sitting at the bar when I walked in. He stood up and pointed at the door. "Hotel across the street," he said.

Andrea Journey had been sitting with Dylan. "Good luck, fellas!" she called.

Regan lifted her head a little when she heard Andreaís voice. "AJ," she said, trying to lift her arm to wave.

Andrea bit her lip and drained her beer.

I followed Dylan up to a room on the third floor of the hotel. Ika was waiting. I put Regan down on the bed. Ika told us to leave.

"Leave? Are you kidding me? Iím not going anywhere until sheís better," I said.

"You are full of negative energy," Ika said. "You will disrupt the flow of good energy and make it harder for me to help her. Please, wait outside."

"Iím not leaving!"

"Do you want her to get better or not?"

Dylan put his hands on my shoulders and shoved me back out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him with one of his stunted arms. "Take it easy," he said. "Ika can help her. But you have to be patient."

"Dylan, my daughter is dying. I donít want to just stand out here and take it easy."

"Thereís nothing you can do right now."

"I can be with her. I havenít been doing that right lately."

"This is not your fault."

"Yes it is. I should have left her with someone who could take better care of her years ago. I should have at least tried to get a real job. I was stupid and irresponsible and now itís gonna cost Regan her life."

"Talon, itís not your fault."

"I should die in her place. Can he do that? Is there some way for me to die instead?"

"And then who would take care of her?"

"You could. And Cherry and Anala. Thatíd be a hell of a lot better than just me."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Of course, Iím sure. Why wouldnít I be sure?"

"You need to just get some rest now."

"I canít."

"You have to."

"No, I mean, I literally canít. Itís impossible."

"I figured it would be. Here. Drink this." Dylan opened one of his stunted hands. He was holding a little phial of blue-green liquid.

"What is it?"

"Itíll help you sleep. Drink it."

I took the phial from his hand and opened it. It didnít smell very good.

"Ika made it for you. I told him youíd be all wound up when you got here. Iím going to be here the whole time. Thereís nothing for you to worry about. Trust me."

"I hate it when you say that."

"Why?"

"Because I do trust you. So I canít say no now."

"Drink the stuff."

"It smells like shit."

"You should have smelled it when he was making it."

I drained the phial. It didnít taste nearly as bad as it smelled. In fact, it was mildly sweet and tasted sort of like blueberries and honeysuckle. It knocked me out instantly. I felt myself collapse against Dylanís chest. I could hear his heart beating. It beat a little faster than my own. His body temperature was several degrees higher than normal human body temperature, so he was warm, and his fur was soft. I was so comfortable that I didnít notice the cold spiders starting to creep up my spine.

The visions came rapid fire like they had back on Saint Dominic. Leysa had avoided her mother since Anala came on board, and now she had left the ship, unable to face Anala. But I knew weíd see Leysa again at some point. I saw myself sitting next to a freshly dug grave. I couldnít read the name on the headstone. I saw the three stars shining bright and strong in a tight triangle. I saw Cherry, about five years older, holding a newborn baby in her arms. The baby was hers, but I didnít see who the father was. I saw a planet completely covered in sand and engulfed in an endless night. I saw Senator Blackstone being crowned empress while Irial skulked in the shadows and plotted his revenge. I knew enough that I turned away before it happened, but I still heard the sounds. And it wasnít Irial who stepped up to take Blackstoneís place.

I drifted in nothingness for a while after that, but it was a pleasant nothingness.

I donít know how long I was asleep. I woke up feeling more refreshed than I had been in quite some time. But it didnít take me long to remember why I was there. I sat up and looked around. I was alone in the room. Outside, it was raining. I didnít know if I should go check on Regan or not. I waited, watching the rain as it slowly turned to sleet.

Dylan opened the door and slipped in silently. "Did you sleep okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. Howís Regan?"

"I donít know. Ika hasnít come out yet. Itís too quiet in there."

"What if sheís dead already?"

"Sheís not dead."

"What if theyíre both dead?"

"Theyíre not dead. I think weíd know if something was wrong."

"But you said itís too quiet."

"That doesnít mean itís bad quiet. I just donít like it. Itís unnerving quiet."

"I donít think I can wait a whole lot longer."

"Letís go over to the Wheel and get something to eat."

"I canít eat. And I canít leave."

"When was the last time you ate?"

"I donít know. It was before you left to get Ika."

"You need to eat. Come on."

"But what if something happens?"

"All right. Stay here, then. Iíll bring you something."

It didn't take long for me to get numb to the waiting, but I hated feeling so helpless. I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn't to blame, though I still felt like I could have done something to keep things from getting worse. But maybe it was supposed to be that way. I didn't really believe in fate or destiny. I liked the ideas of free will and making your own mark on the universe. History didn't teach us about people who did great things because they were supposed to according to some vague, annoying prophecy. They felt the need to do something and they did it. I guess that could be due to some vague, annoying prophecy, but I didn't think so. These are the mad ramblings of a man beaten down by days of anxious waiting. Ignore me, please.

In three days of waiting, I managed to chew two fingers on my left hand raw. I was working on a third when Ika came in and said, "You can see her now." I wasn't sure if I should be happy or afraid. I was relived. At least the waiting was over.

Regan was sitting up in the bed staring out the window. She looked tiny and fragile, but she also looked healthier than she had in a while. "Daddy!" she shouted when she turned away from the window and saw me. She scrambled out of the bed and jumped into my arms. A week ago, she wouldn't have had the strength to do that.

I didn't want to let her go. Ever. I promised myself I would never leave her alone like that again. Until she wanted me to. Even then, I wouldn't let myself be too far away to be at her side the instant she needed me.

"How do you feel, kiddo?" I asked her.

"Good. Icky made the fevers stop," she said. "Iím hungry. Can I have ice cream?"

"No, you need something else first. You can have ice cream later."

"Okay. Are Dylan and Cherry and everyone else here, too?"

"Dylanís across the street at the Wheel. Everyone else is waiting for us on the ship."

"You got a ship?"

"Yep, my very own ship. I hope."

"Wow. Thatís neat. Can we go see Dylan? I had a dream about invisible sock-eating gophers I wanna tell him about because he was in the dream and he turned all the invisible sock-eating gophers into shoes."

"Okay. Letís get your clothes on. Itís cold outside."

She squirmed out of her nightclothes and squirmed into the warmer clothes Ika had left for her. She bounded down the stairs ahead of me and practically danced across the street to the Wheel. She was as energetic as any normal five-year-old, and that almost worried me.

After we had eaten, I left Regan in the Wheel with Dylan and went back to the hotel to talk to Ika. He was waiting for me in the room I had been staying in.

"You worry too much," he said.

"I canít help it," I said.

He smiled. "Most parents donít worry enough."

"What about her powers?"

"Her powers are unaffected. She might still get the fevers, but Iíve given her the means to recover much faster. And they wonít be nearly as severe. She should never be as ill as she was ever again."

"How did she get that way?"

"Her powers. Nothing more. It wasnít something you did or didnít do."

"Are you sure about that?"

"If anything, you have helped her. Without the care youíve given her, she might have died long ago."

"I feel like Iíve been a bad father."

"Whoís to say whatís bad or good for a child? You love her. You take care of her. Thatís the most anyone can ask for."

"There was something else I wanted to ask you. I forgot to ask before we left Pilon. That month I was out, I got to a point where I could tell who was there by sounds and smells, and there was one person I never figured out."

"It would have been mostly Dylan and Cherry. Danel was there a few times. And myself. That was all."

"There was someone else. There had to be."

"No one was there without my knowing about it."

"No invisible people got in?"

"It may have been in your visions."

"The third star?"

Ika smiled. "I know very little about that. But possibly. Iím sorry I canít give you a better answer than that."

"No, I had a feeling thatís what youíd say. Thanks for everything. Is there anything I can do to repay you?"

"Take care of your little girl. Take care of yourself. And drop me back on Gehgal when you get a chance. I feel there is a sickness here that I can cure. When youíve finished what youíve started, I will be waiting here for you."