Martha da Selene du Sissy Crystal Temple checked the sleeping harness of her two cabinmates. “We’ve done this before,” she reassured the younger girls as they wiggled into more comfortable positions on their bunks. “Put your hand in the glove. Just before the ship enters hyperspace the machine will automatically inject you with sleepy drugs. When you wake up we will be in orbit around Harmony. Home. We’re going home.” That didn’t come out as joyful as she wanted.
“But . . . but First Contact Café is home,” Sharan, the littlest of the holy acolytes, protested. Her blond curls tumbled over her forehead where she usually insisted they be held back by a band or cap.
“Maybe. We’ll miss General Jake, but for now our duty is to Laudae Sissy and she needs to be on Harmony, the center of the universe and where we were born,” Martha said firmly. She took hold of Sharan’s wrist and thrust it into the rigid glove meant for a much bigger hand.
She needn’t have worried about Sarah, her other charge during the flight. The dark-haired girl meekly tightened her own harness and slipped her hand into her glove, anxious to prove that she was nearly as old and senior as Martha. But her eyes squinted and her brow furrowed with worry. Travel through hyperspace was dangerous. One ship out of a thousand disappeared. Forever. Sarah always over-thought the consequences and never took a chance on her own volition.
Martha retreated to her own bunk and made a show of strapping herself in and putting her hand into the waiting glove. She knew that next door, Mary, the oldest of the six girls who attended Laudae Sissy, performed the same chore for Suzie, the youngest yet taller and sturdier than Sharan, and Bella, the middle child in size and age, and the peacemaker of the bunch. But Mary was obedient to a fault. She would not dare stay awake through the mysterious and dangerous passage through hyperspace between the trade station known as The First Contact Café, which orbited a young planet not yet evolving life in a burgeoning solar system, and Harmony.
She presumed that Laudae Sissy in the cabin on the other side of this one performed her own rituals. She would have her youngest brother and sister with her—all that remained of her family—and her last two pets, Monster and Dog. The canines didn’t like hyperspace at all. Laudae Sissy had had to drug them before the crew could carry them aboard. But only Sissy could coax the dogs into taking pills or injecting sleeping drugs. They trusted no one else.
Martha had reasons for staying awake on this trip, even if it broke several rules. General Jake had taught her to look at rules carefully and understand them, then make up her own mind about obedience.
She counted off the minutes as the space ship undocked and slid seamlessly through vacuum toward the jump point.
An alarm bell chimed delicately over the comms. “Warning, two minutes to hyperspace. Sleep drugs available now.”
Surreptitiously Martha removed her hand from the glove.
“Is it time yet?” Bella whispered.
“Yes. Touch the middle finger of the glove with your free hand. You’ll hardly feel the needle and be asleep in seconds.”
Strident bells sounded over the comms, louder than before. “Warning, one minute to hyperspace. Sleep drugs ready and required.” The computerized voice sounded more insistent. This time the bells elevated to an annoying klaxon.
“This is it, girls. Before you know it we’ll be home and we can watch our approach to Harmony in the viewscreen,” Martha said with false cheer.
Neither Bella nor Sarah answered her. A quick peek showed them curled into sleep, eyes closed, locks of curly blonde and straight dark brown hair drifting over their faces in the breeze generated by the ventilation system.
Martha unlatched her harness and sat up, back pressed against the bulkhead, legs bent with her feet crossed under her knees.
A loud bong startled Martha more upright but did not disturb the girls. “Warning, hyperspace imminent. Hyperspace imminent.”
Then, without warning, the metal walls thinned to transparency. The bunk beneath her lost coherence. For a few heartbeats Martha hung suspended in the blackness between the stars. Alone.
She gasped, not certain her lungs and heart truly worked anymore.
Oh, don’t be such a scaredy cat. Jilly giggled from somewhere in the region of what should be the ceiling of the cabin.
“You’re dead, Jilly. You died in the fire that nearly destroyed the Crystal Temple. You died and took your gift of prophesy with you,” Martha stated, as much to reassure herself as the wraith drifting across her vision.
I know! Isn’t it deliciously funny? I’m dead and I’m the only thing real in hyperspace. As Jilly spoke, outlines and shadows began to form around the two sleeping girls, giving them form but not solidity. The bunks, and maybe the bulkheads and deck, became discernible, but not the ceiling or Jilly.
“Jilly, there’s something I need to know. You’re the only person I trust to tell me true.” Martha’s chin trembled in uncertainty. This was why she’d risked wakefulness through hyperspace.
I’m not a person anymore. The ghost sank to sit cross-legged in front of Martha, elbow on knee, chin in hand, an exact copy of Martha’s position. Her soft brown curls swirled into a cloud, or an aura of gold, around her head. The free hand gestured in a big arc to indicate the otherworldly surroundings.
“You will always live in our hearts, Jilly. You were the glue that kept us all working as a team when the world fell apart and everything we’d been taught about the Goddess Harmony and her family was proven false.”
Laudae Sissy resurrected the covenant tablets from beneath the high altar after I died and discovered how our religion had been corrupted for the convenience of our High Priests.
“Before that. When we went to the funeral caves and discovered them so full of unsorted bones there was no room for the newly dead. The priests had buried our families in the desert in unmarked places rather than admit they couldn’t keep them in the womb of the goddess anymore.”
Yes, there was that. But we fixed it. Laudae Sissy fixed it.
“And then you died and nothing has been totally right since.”
How so? The room grew more solid, but Jilly faded as a frown replaced her perpetual smile and good humor.
“It’s like . . . it’s like a part of you invaded me.”
The ghost wavered into and out of view. When she didn’t respond, Martha plunged ahead with her questions. “I think I can hear people thinking. Especially when they lie. I know it. I hear what they really think.”
Oooooh, that sounds fun! I could never do that.
“But . . . the Goddess used you to speak words about the future.”
Rhymes and riddles that meant nothing and everything. What you do is different. It’s even more special than prophesy.
“It’s dangerous, and no one will believe me.”
Rhymes and riddles that mean everything and nothing. Nothing and everything.
“Warning, coming out of hyperspace. Antidotes to sleep drugs available upon command.”
“That’s stupid. If people are supposed to be asleep, how can they give themselves the antidote?”
Not everyone sleeps in hyperspace. Some of us never sleep anymore. We continue to haunt you so that you’ll respect us. That’s the joke. I’m supposed to keep you laughing so you won’t cry yourself into emptiness.