The skipper landed on the lawn outside of Charlie’s office. It was a school day so most of the residents of Gates were in classes, but one small woman witnessed the return of Meiki and Phel.
“Meikaya, Phelliam. Welcome home. Charles will be pleased to learn you are safe.” said Soosa as the kids stepped off of the small vessel. They were both fairly certain those were the only words the woman had ever said to either of them.
“Oh man,” said Phel, “I forgot all about Charlie and Tyson.”
“They did not forget about you.” Soosa said to him. “Your stewards will be returning from Newbright soon. In the meantime I have granted you both one day of recuperation followed by three weeks of kitchen duty.” That was a relatively light sentence but Meiki had no intention of serving it all. She would talk to Charlie and discuss Amara’s plan to bring her to Earth, but kept silent about it for now.
“Is Charlie ok, then?” asked Meiki, “What about Tyson and that Marie lady?”
“Charlie has remained in communication with me.” said Soosa. “For now you are to return to your dorms.”
“Yes Ma’am”, said Phel.
Soosa turned to Amara and said, “It is such a pity that our visitors must leave so soon.”
“But-”, started Meiki.
“I’m sorry, child,” said Amara, “but Agent Sakai and I will be leaving now. She is very broken up about it. I’m afraid she’s so distraught that she won’t even leave the skipper to come say farewell.”
Meiki stared at her blankly until Amara gave her an almost imperceptible wink.
“Oh.” said Meiki in what she hoped was a tone of sincerity, “That is too bad. I will miss her. Tell her I said goodbye.”
“I’m sure we’ll visit again one day.” said Amara as she disappeared into the skipper.
“What was that all about?” asked Phel.
“I’ll tell you later.” whispered Meiki as she put her arm around his shoulder and shuffled him toward the dorms.
After stepping thirty meters or so from Charlie’s office the two turned and waved at the skipper as it flew off.
“You’re acting weird.” said Phel, shrugging her arm off him.
“Just keep walking.” she told him, “Act casual. We’re headed back to the dorm like Soosa said to.”
“That IS what we’re doing.”
They cut through the orchards. Meiki stopped to pick an apple as she had the last time.
“I thought you hated those.” said Phel. “They’re too mushy, you say.”
“It’s for you.” said Meiki as she tossed him the soft red fruit.
When he caught it his sleeve slipped to reveal the ghost still wrapped around his wrist.
“I see you still have your little friend.” Meiki teased him. “Are you going to name him?”
“Sure.” joked Phel. “I’ll call him Fido.” They both chuckled.
“Holy crap.” said Phel, breaking the laughter and stopping in his tracks.
“He’s speaking to me. In my mind.”
“He says he likes the name Fido. He wants to be called that.”
“I’m serious. He’s communicating with me with whatchamacallit.”
“Telepathy?” asked Meiki.
“Yeah.” said Phel. “That’s it.”
Meiki looked around as if she were afraid the trees had eyes.
“Phel,” she said, “that actually makes sense. These...ghosts, or whatever we should call them...they’ve been absorbing the tech that Rashmi and friends brought with them. This suit I’m wearing, and the skipper too, they’re thought controlled. I just think of something and it happens.”
“So,” he said, “you reckon the ghosts, like little Fido here are like, psychic now?”
“Sort of. I mean, they can interface with your mind at least. I wonder why I can’t hear him, though.”
She touched Fido with the tip of her finger. His eye brightened for a millisecond. Meiki felt as if she were standing on the edge of a cliff surrounded by an infinite void. Words and images crashed into her mind. A jumble of concepts and shapes careened at once through her brain. Complex structures composed of what looked like pure light rose and fell around her. The galaxy spread out before her, each star somehow visible in spite of the impossible distance between them. Her head began to spin from the overwhelming sensations. Then came blackness.
Phel prodded Meiki and she opened her eyes to find herself on the ground.
“What was that all about?” he asked her.
“I-I don’t know.” Meiki said, “I think Fido was trying to talk to me, but it didn’t make any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense when he speaks to me,” Phel said, “It’s just like a voice in my head. Clear as a bell.”
Meiki sat up and said, “Well, maybe it’s for the best if no one else pets Fido. It was like I was looking at...the universe. I can’t even explain it.”
Phel eyed her curiously. “Maybe it’s that suit you’re still wearing. It’s full of Earth tech. Who knows what they got going out there.”
“Maybe.” said Meiki, grabbing Phel’s hand and pulling herself to her feet.
They walked silently back to the dorms.
“What now?” asked Phel as they entered the foyer to the building they called home. The midday sun peeked briefly through the clouds before disappearing again.
“What do you mean?” replied Meiki.
“You’re going with them ain’t you?” he looked at the apple she had thrown him.
“What makes you-”
“I’m not stupid, Meiki. I know that Junko lady is a mean cuss. No way she’d be too depressed to say goodbye to you. If anything she’d be kicking you out the door.”
“Yeah. I picked up on that too.”
“And the white lady said she was going to take you with her to Earth. I was there, remember?”
“Yeah. but I don’t think Charlie will let me go.” said Meiki.
“I wasn’t planning on asking him.” came a voice from outside the doorway. The two turned to see Captain Amara Kramer standing in the dim sunlight.
“Amara!” said Meiki, “You came back.”
“We still need you back in the solar system.”
Phel glanced back and forth between them. “You’re leaving aren’t you? Again?”
“Phel.” said Meiki, “You’ve been the best friend I could imagine. But this is what I always wanted.”
“I know.” He said. “I have so much to do here too. I need to talk to Charlie when he gets back. Sort things out. The way he’s been running the show. It can’t go on like that. Gates needs to be open to Newbright. To the rest of the world even. Maybe beyond. And the ghosts. We are going to have to figure out where we stand with them. We share this planet.”
“I think you’ll make a good ambassador, Phelliam.” said Amara.
“Here,” said Phel, handing Meiki the apple, “take this with you.”
“They have apples on Earth...probably.” said Meiki, “This one will probably be rotten before I get there anyway.”
“Don’t be such a...such a Meiki, Meiki.” said Phel. “It’s a memento. Dry it out. Just keep the seeds maybe, I don’t know. I don’t really have anything else for you to remember me by.”
“Thank you.” she said, embarrassed for being such a jerk.
“C’mon. Enough with the goodbyes already.” grunted Junko who must have been standing outside the door the whole time. “We need to get back to the starship before our window closes. If we wait too long we’ll have to wait another day before we can get to warp speed. Unless you want to fly through the sun.”
“Starship?” said Phel and Meiki in unison.
“Yeah,” said Junko, “you think we flew here in the skippers?”
“But,” said Meiki, “I’m not packed. I don’t have nearly enough clothes for a five year trip. That’s how long Rashmi said it takes.”
“Five years?” asked Phel.
“Five relative years.” corrected Amara. “For you it will only feel like a few weeks. And don’t worry about packing. We can make anything you need. We always travel light.”
“Oh wow.” said Phel, “I’m actually gonna miss your complaining.”
“And I’m going to miss your dumb face.” said Meiki. Phel hugged her.
“I’ll plant the appleseeds.” she told him. “That way a little bit of Naya will be on Earth.”
“That’s great. You better go before crabby pants flies you through the sun.”
“Goodbye for now, Phel. I’ll look you up if I’m ever in town again.” said Meiki.
Meiki and the aliens walked out the door. Phel heard the soft woosh of the skipper shooting off into space.
“What just happened?” said a voice from the stairwell.
Phel looked up to see Ker in slippers and a nightgown. She had a severe case of bedhead and a nose red and raw with what looked to be a bad cold.
“Oh, hi Ker.” said Phel sheepishly. “I guess you skipped classes today?”
“Who were those people? Where are they taking your friend?”
“Well,” Phel said, “that’s a long story.”
“I got all day, Phelliam Glebe. Why don’t you tell me what you two have been up to the past few days.”
Flush with confidence Phel sat down on the top step and gestured for Ker to do the same.
“It all started the night of the storm.” he said.Phel told Ker everything.