Be careful what you take with you…
Citlally could not have been more joyful to be back aboard Space Station Eta Scorpii. She could hardly contain her urge to skip down the hall or run in circles around Endan. Sitting in security for hours had not helped in the matter; she was now ready to shout of that’s what it took to find Manniarius and her other friends.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to, and Xingfei found her not far down the path leading out of security, he dashed into her arms and clung to her and he spoke at light speed.
“Oh Citlally I’m so glad you’re here! We’ve really really really really really missed you –especially me — and Mannarius should be here soon but Jalingan is already waiting in the garden!”
“Slow down, laddie,” Endan told him with a chuckle.
After a few more hugs, Xingfei let go of Citlally and clung to Endan instead. Eventually, the blue-skinned alien calmed down enough to speak at a reasonable pace. He showed his friends the way to the space station’s garden, trying not to run too far ahead of them in his excitement. He reminded them of a wallaby the way he ran, which Citlally found quite charming. He was a happy fellow, considering that he was the only one of his kind in that arm of the spiral galaxy.
Xingfei paused longer at one particular intersection of hallways. They were not too far from a hall that would have led them to one of the lower levels of the marketplace. His long ears perked up, then twitched. He turned back to Citlally and Endan.
“Did you hear where that came from?”
“Hear where what came from?” Citlally asked him.
Sighing, Xingfei looked around again, his ears still searching. “I thought somebody was calling my name.”
“Maybe it was Mannarius?” Citlally suggested.
Xingfei shook his head. “He cannot pronounce my name in the same way…” Then he straightened and gave her a smile. “It must be all this excitement. I know Endan was calling out to me. I suppose I should slow down after all.”
They walked on together for a bit, but once the Garden doors were in sight, Xingfei became excite and hurried ahead once more.
Jalingan could hear them coming; Xingfei was still talking at light speed and encouraging them to keep up. Once he could see them approaching the gazebo where he was waiting, he braced himself and pushed against his chair. Xingfei gasped and was at his side in an instant, letting him lean on him.
“You’re supposed to let me help you up,” Xingfei reminded him. “Don’t go showing off for them!”
Jalingan sighed. “You don’t have to dote on me so much. It’s the least I can do for my friends.”
Citlally stepped over to the gazebo and smiled up at him. “You look worlds better than you did last time I saw you!”
Jalingan chuckled, remembering how he’d still been in multiple casts when they’d left for Earth the year before. “I’ll take whatever compliment I can get,” he replied with a smirk.
“Oh, would you listen to yourself! Come here,” she ordered him, and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace. “It’s so good to see you again, Jalingan.”
She held onto him for a long time, and he returned the hug. Then she moved aside and let Endan embrace him.
“It’s always good to see the man to save my wife,” Endan said with a grin. “Ye look good, lad. Come on, sit back down. I would use a rest meself after chasing Xingfei here.”
He gave Xingfei a wink, then took a seat at the table. Xingfei helped Jalingan ease back into his chair, then pulled up one beside him, brushing a lock of bone-white hair out of his eyes.
“I’m glad you both decided to come back out,” Jalingan told them after taking another drink from his mug. “After what you’ve been through, most Terrans would have just stayed home.”
“I couldn’t!” Citlally replied. “I love space too much to stay on Earth. Besides, I’ve made so many friends out here.”
Endan nodded and picked up the service tablet from the middle of the table. He let Citlally order food and drinks as he said, “She’s a resilient one, if anythin’. What about the two o’ ye?”
“What did he say?” Xingfei whispered to Jalingan.
“You’re accent’s a lot thicker after all that time back home, isn’t it?” Jalingan said to Endan. Then he gave Xingfei a sideways smile. “I told you to update your universal translator to activate localized variations and accents.”
Xingfei gave him a look and pulled a palm-sized device from a pouch on his belt, As he busied himself with the settings, Jalingan explained, “A’untoren language doesn’t have nearly as much variability as Terran languages.”
“I would rather learn Leomnian than English,” Xingfei commented as he went on tapping through the menus in his device. After a few minutes, he could better understand Endan’s thick Irish accent.
“You look so pretty with long hair,” Xingfei told Citlally.
“Thank you,” she replied, handing him the ordering tablet. Her hair had grown out a little past her shoulders, but she missed the way it had been the first time she’s left Earth. “I used to have a long braid, like yours, but black. Thankfully, It’s been growing back pretty fast. But what’s more important is that you seem to have taken good care of Jalingan.”
“I couldn’t have made it this far without him,” Jalingan admitted. He watched Xinfei punch in several more food items before taking the tablet from him and submitting the order. “I would have missed a lot of physical therapy sessions without him around.”
Xingfei grinned at him as though he had a witty reply in mind, but that he was holding back because of present company. They went on chatting until the robotic serving cart arrived with their food and drinks. Xinfei seemed thrilled to have gotten hold of two flavors of nectar and several pastries, and nearly climbed onto Jalingan when he moved some away and insisted that he save some for later. Citlally chuckled as she watched the interaction.
“You two are really good for each other,” she noted.
“He’d eat sugar all day if I didn’t stop him,” Jalingan told her. “A’untorens make and use energy at quite the rate, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
“How else is he tae keep up wit’ ye, though?” Endan asked with a wink.
Xingfei looked over at him and raised a brow. “Jalingan is the one who can’t keep up with me.”
Endan chuckled and set to work on his lunch. Not long after they were done eating, Endan suggested that they go for a walk together. He was eager to visit the marketplace, and Xingfei was quick to agree, stating that walking was good for Jalingan’s physical therapy. He helped him out of his chair, reminding him not to rush himself, then picked up a can from where it had been leaning against the frame of the gazebo.
“That’s a fine cane ye’ve got there,” Endan said as they began walking down the garden path. “I didn’t even notice it when we got here.”
“It’s not much,” Jalingan replied, “especially considering that I thought I’d never need one, but it serves its purpose.”
“You don’t have to say it like that,” Xingfei told him. Then to Endan, “It’s made from a piece of the tower that had fallen on him back on Vaharrish the Glorious. I don’t know who gave it to Doctor Linnaeus, but he put in a commission right away to have it re-forged into something useful. They added some beautiful details to it, like the polished Leomian oak and the engravings. The gold inlay was by idea.”
“It’s quite a piece of work,” Endan noted.
Citlally smiled over at Xingfei. “The gold is a great addition,” she told him. “It’s like the uniform that he wore…” She stopped herself from saying too much, lest she pull up too many painful memories.
In the marketplace, Jalingan was greeted by a great many vendors and passerby, and he he had to stop Xingfei from accepting dessert from everyone who wanted to give him something for free. Endan and Citlally quickly got a sense of just how popular Jalingan was for his role in liberating Vaharrish the Glorious from the Dark Apostates and making the Orion arm of the galaxy that much safer.
When they came across a mineral shop, an idea popped into Citlally’s mind right away.
“Let’s go in here, Jalingan,” she said, grabbing his arm. “I know just the thing for you!”
Jalingan agreed, and he and the others followed her inside. She shop reminded her of the type back on Earth that sold all sorts of crystals, jewels, and minerals, except that this one had the benefit of being able to carry stock from all over the galaxy. A tone beeped on the shop as the sensor detected their entry, and the shop-keeper emerged from behind a door a moment later.
“Hello and welcome to Space Age Minerals,” he greeted them. Citlally recognized him as a member of the Lixfelian species. “Have a look around, ask me anythi– Well, if it isn’t Jal Sevenmoon!”
A wide grin crossed the shop-keeper’s face and he stepped forward to clasp Jalingan’s arm and pat his back. “It’s an honor to have you in here, my good man.”
“Thank Citlally,” Jalingan told him, laying an arm around her shoulders. “She wanted to come in here. So this is what you’re doing instead of mining asteroids?”
“It’s a much better business,” the shop-keeper replied.
“You know each other?” Citlally asked.
As Jalingan set about introducing the shop-keeper to Endan and Citlally, Xingfei decided to wander around. His long blue ears pricked up, and his eyes shot around as though he was looking for something. The he scurried over to another aisle of crystals. After a few minutes, he came back with a couple of stones.
“Look, he has tiger’s eye!” Xingfei said as he dropped then into Jalingan’s hand. He was off again to another part of the store, still acting as though he heard something that he couldn’t place.
“He has a lot of energy,” the shop-keeper noted.
“He sure does, Geolourdis,” Jalingan replied. “It think it’s part of what allows him to help me so much.”
“He has the right idea, though,” Citlally told them, picking up one of the pieces of tiger’s eye. “Do you do commissions?”
“For Sevenmoon and his friends?” the shop-keeper replied. “Of course! What did you have in mind, young lady?”
Jalingan seemed curious to hear her answer.
Citlally looked up at him and explained, “I think you should customize the handle on your cane.”
“Oh, do you?” Jalingan replied, giving her a coy smile.
She nodded. “I do. The one it has now is too plain to do it justice.”
Jalingan glanced down at the handle it had now. The Leomian oak was strong and smooth, but he had to agree that it was very simple. “What do you have in mind?” he asked her.
Citlally looked to Geolourdis. “Can you make an L-type handle like he has now, but carve it in the shape of a lion?”
“My dear,” Geolourdis repliued, “I have carved and polished ever worked stone you see in here. Your wish is my command.”
Endan grinned at him. “Now that is the right away to talk to my Aztec princess.”
Geolourdis chuckled. “Go ahead and look around the shop,” he told them. “Bring me whatever you choose for your design.”
With a nod, Citlally took Endan’s hand and led him down the aisles of crystals, minerals, and precious metals. By the time she came up to the main counter with her selections, Xingfei had be everywhere in the shop twice– some areas three times– ears twitching as he scurried around. Now his face was pressed against the glass of a locked case that stood next to the counter.
“Did you find something you like?” Geolourdis asked him. “You’ve been searching pretty hard.”
Xingfei looked up at him as though in awe. “Where did you get this one?”
Geolourdis peered into the case to too what Xingfei was pointing at. “You have an eye for special things, I see,” he said as he swiped a small key card to unlock the case. He pulled out a mass of crystal lager than his fist and laid it on the thin velvet pillow resting on the counter.
Xingfei’s black and green eyes never left the crystal. Citlally watched the way he stared at it, completely transfixed. The crystal reminded her of a cluster of amethyst, except that it was cobalt blue at the tips, then faded to cerulean, then gray shade of quartz, and then aetherial black. the closer Xignfei got to it, the more it seemed to glow with a ghostly light at the center. He let out a soft whimper of a sigh, his ears descending.
“Is this the only one like it you have, Geolourdis?” Xingfei asked him in a defeated tone.
“‘Geo’ will do just fine, my friend,” he replied. “If I remember correctly, this was the last one my supplier had.”
“Do you know where he got it?”
Geo shook his head. “I’ll try asking him next time he’s here.” Then we turns to Citlally. “Now then, what have you found, young lady?”
Citlally showed his the blue opal that she’d found, bright and sparkling, followed by a black opal that seemed to contain its very own nebula. “Can you use the blue for the body, and carve the lion like it’s leaping? Then black opal for the mane, and tiger’s eye–“
“For the eyes?” Geo finished for her with a chuckle. “I like the way you think.”
Citlally nodded, grinning back at him. “I also found some obsidian for the end of its tail, and jade for the teeth.”
“I have to say, young lady, I’m looking forward to making this design of yours,” Geo said and he inspected each stone. “You’ve chosen some good specimens, too.”
Geo spent a few minutes measuring Jalingan’s cane and taking down several notes as they chatted. “Give me one week,” he eventually told Jalingan. “I’ll have the handle ready to be fitted.”
“I love forward to seeing what you come up with,” Jalingan told him.
Then Geo looked back to Xinfei, who was still watching the crystal as the glow inside of it writhed. “You’re welcome to take that with you.”
Xingfei’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Are you sure about that, Geo?” Jalingan asked. “You could make a lot of money off of something like that.”
“Consider a gift for everything you’ve done the man who helped end the K’zzyrch’s reign of terror,” Geo replied, “not to mention your own role in bringing them down.”
“Thank you!” Xingfei cried as he leaped over the counter. He wrapped Geo in a tight hug. “I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for this!”
“You’ve made a fast friend,” Jalingan told him once Xingfei let him go. “Hey, if you end up getting any more of like this one, I will pay you for them,”
“Your money is no good here,” Geo told him as he slid the crystal into into a velvet drawstring bag. He handed it to Xingfei, saying, “If it’s that important to you, I’ll do my best to make sure you get it.”
They exchanged thanks again before they left the shop, then made their way up to the residential levels. Citlally suggested that they meet up after a little quiet time and visit some of the station’s pools. There was one where the ceiling had been transformed into something akin to a planetarium that she was eager to see.
Knowing that swimming gave his healing bones a lot of relief, Jalingan was quick to agree. They parted way after several hugs, then Xingfei walked with Jalingan back to their room, doing his best to contain his excitement.
“So,” Jalingan said as he sank into an armchair and laid his feet across an ottoman, “are you going to tell me what’s so special about that crystal?”
Xingfei brought him over his medicine and a glass of water, then sat down across from him. “You know how your father likes to study me and ask me all sorts of questions?” he asked as he pulled the cluster back out of its bag.
He waited for Jalingan to nod before going on. “I never told him about this. Even though he knows my whole family was killed by the K’zzyrch, he never asked about what happens to my species when we die.”
Jalingan swallowed hard, watching him carefully. “But what has that got to do with…” He stopped when he saw the way Xingfei’s eyes looked ready to tear up.
“A’untorens…” Xingfei said, trying not to choke on his words. “When we die, our bodies condense and crystallize. I know Geo didn’t know any better, but what he had in his shop– what he gave me– is my species’ equivalent of a corpse.”
“Xingfei…” Jalingan whispered, beckoning him over. “I had no idea.”
“The universal translator probably won’t do justice to our word for it,” Xingfei said as he climbed onto Jalingan’s lap and laid his head on his chest, “but we call them ghost crystals. I think this one might be my father’s.”
Jalingan gazed down at the crystal with him, completely at a loss for words. Of all things that occupied the aetherial void of outer space, had had never stopped to consider how many ghosts might be out there.