Lily sighed, settling down at the table in the little kitchenette. Langley fiddled with something at the counter, humming under his breath. He turned to the table and placed a cup in front of her with a smile. She stared into the cup with suspicion, noting the greenish color of the liquid which steamed gently. Whatever the drink was, though, it did smell good.
"Green mint tea," Langley said and sat down across from her. "It's quite refreshing."
"Hmm." Lily blew on the tea before taking a cautious sip. The mint exploded on her tongue even as the drink burned. Still, she decided that it was quite good.
After a few moments of silence, Lily looked up to see Langley studying her with interest. He smiled at her. "Emma said you were a looker," he noted.
"Ah…" Lily had no idea how to respond to that non sequitur. Instead, she asked the question upper most in her head. "Will Allen be all right?"
Langley blew out a breath, but went with the change. "He'll be fine, if a little off balance for a while. What he's doing is so dangerous; I'm surprised he's so willing to even attempt it. Of all the cousins he was the one who ducked out from training as much as possible. He's never been happy to be gifted – or cursed – with these abilities."
This news did nothing to reassure Lily and she fought a shiver trying to crawl down her back. Just as she opened her mouth to ask another question, the ship's systems sounded an alarm. Lily rose from the table and headed for the bridge, Langley on her heels. The sight out the front view screen made both of them stop in shocked awe.
Lily bent over the systems, scanning the data rolling up the screen while still flicking glances at the view screen. "The R. Reagan is breaking apart and apparently it's," she paused, not quite sure she trusted the evidence of the sensors, "spinning."
"It's doing more than that, look!" Langley spoke urgently. "Look."
Lily looked and gasped in surprise. "What's happening?" It looked like that thing Allen had brought back from the ship, she realized. "It looks like that thing in the cabinet in Allen's work room."
"What is that?" Langley asked curiously. His eyes were shinning with fascination.
In the work room, the skull and pumpkin were bouncing around like little kids excited by a present.
Allen gasped in his trance, the room chilling even further. Andres shivered, and leaned forward to check on his cousin. He was surprised to see frost coating Allen's face and hands.
R. Reagan, assuming it had a brain to think of such things, could not have chosen a better way to leave the universe. The nimbus of orange red light had reached its full circumference now; the light seemed to be drawn from the star it orbited. The ship itself was spinning in a way its designers never intended, obvious cracks beginning to appear along the hull and between the hull and the decorative wing. The yellow-gold areas of light were defined now, glowing bright in the orange nimbus, echoing the face on the pumpkin in the workroom.
Allen screamed silently as the ghosts rushed to their new sanctuary, the flashes of color growing ever more bright, yellows, greens, reds and blues. Flashes of memory shot across his brain, despite his walls against the strange intrusions. Memories of snowfall, hushed and white, there the feel of a rabbit's soft fur, the smell of wood smoke mixed with the salt of the sea, sunsets and rises, full moons, holidays and vacations mixed with the darker thoughts that all humans wrestled with, hate, love, hurt, a lover's touch turning to pain, a voice raised in abusive anger, words spoken out of ignorance, mixing with the mundane everyday things that everyone has to deal with. Allen caught the sense of excitement of the original departure from Earth when the R. Reagan set out for the Systic System and the subsequent horrified realization that the colony would never reach its destination … it was a confusing jumble, a jumble Allen could not spare the energy to sort right at the moment. He felt like he was being ripped from the inside out and it was all he could do to deal with the pain.
Coran Hernandez helped as he could, directing the others into some type of order, but there was only so much he could do against the rising tide of impatience. The R. Reagan captain, whose name Allen discovered to be Bess, came out of the gathered mass to help and things settled for a bit.
Allen gasped his first breath in what seemed like hours, trying unsuccessfully to not flop over onto his side. His concentration was wavering now, his body wracked by shudders as the chill began to finally become too much for him to fight off. With some effort, he sat up again and closed his eyes, trying to regain his focus. These people deserved to be remembered, deserved to be taken home where they could be remembered. He would not fail them. Not now, when he was so close to the end.
Taking a deep breath, Allen tried to relax back into the pose of his trance within a trance. He could feel the blankets around him in his bunk, sense the supportive presence of one of his cousins nearby, the sense that the other was offering strength if he needed it. Layers, he thought to himself. Allen found a tension he had not been aware of release and he breathed a little easier. He looked up a light touch on his head into the concerned face of Coran Hernandez. Allen managed a slight smile and settled back again.
"It's all right. I just needed a moment." Coran nodded and pulled back. He looked thin now as if the last of his energy was running low. Allen noted this worriedly, but there was little he could do about it right at the moment.
Time to finish what was started, Allen thought and pulled his thoughts together almost by force. Allen spoke softly, "Come," and they came. The last of the ghosts surrounded him, their chill flowing through him, even as he absorbed their essences, shunting them into his mental container. The memories threatened to overwhelm him again, but he persevered and triumphed. With a gasp this time, Allen watched as the last of the ghosts dissipated around him, their memories his to care for and preserve. Even Coran Hernandez was gone.
Focused as he was the task at hand, Allen almost missed what happen next, as a ball of light rolled toward him from up the ship corridor. Allen stared as he caught a blink of eyes, the bright ragged smile, wisps of smoke that surrounded the bright ball of orange. It rolled unevenly as it came toward him, rocking this way and that, literally forming as it came, before bouncing to a stop in front of him, accompanied by a giggle? Allen looked into the eyes of a young boy whose round, red face grinned back at him. He looked a little wispy himself, even as he laid his hands on top of the orange grinning monster. "A gift for ya," he whispered. Then he was gone, leaving his gift behind.
Allen reached out a hand to touch the pumpkin and the proper term for the monster finally placed itself in his mind, Jack O'Lantern. Warmth spread from his palm up his arm then throughout his body and for the first time in what seemed years, Allen felt like he could pull this off. The Jack O'Lantern dissipated as the warmth spread and the smell of spices surrounded him for a brief moment. Then those too were gone.
The ship was breaking apart as its spin continued. As Lily, Langley, and now Andres, watched, the bright orange light globe finalized itself into a grinning monster unlike any of them had seen before. A chill breeze blew through Elle Space, rattling cups in the kitchenette, ruffling hair, whistling through the corridors, a collective voice saying thank you, a low static buzzing that filled the ears and made everyone on board gasp and stare around searching for the source. It was quickly gone and the light surrounding the R. Reagan brightened for one brief instant, flaring like a bright candle flame before being blown out by unseen and impossible wind and dispersing quickly, the pieces of the old ship finally fragmenting and falling into the star around it which it had orbited for long centuries. The fragments flamed as they entered the star's influence, brief, bright sparks which glowed bright red and yellow.
"Incredible," a voice spoke behind the three. Lily turned to see Allen leaning heavily against the entryway, a blanket clutched close and tight around him. He looked very pale and incredibly sad, but at the same time he looked triumphant. "Did you manage to get all of that recorded?" He asked Lily.
Lily did a fast check. "Yes, it's all there."
"Oh good," Allen said right before his eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed.
In the work room storage cabinet, the skull and pumpkin, better known as a Jack O'Lantern now, ceased their jumping and rattling. Or they did for the moment anyway. Each did one last jump around, accompanied by a giggle. It seemed Elle Space had gained a new, unseen, crew member.
EPILOGUE – A year later
Allen stood on the bridge of Elle Space with Lily and stared in awe down at the planet which had birthed humanity in a past so distant, it was hard to comprehend.
Allen sighed and closed his eyes for a long moment, grateful that the journey of his passengers was nearly over. His part of the bargain was close to being complete; the final resting place of the R. Reagan was now marked on the historical maps which marked where the colony ships had ended up. Soon he would go to the surface of the planet and release his passengers back to the home they had left so long ago. Once released, they would scatter to the four winds and finally be home. Though a complete list of passengers was impossible, Allen got the impression that it was enough that people knew what had happened to the R. Reagan and its passengers.
The mysterious swarm which had killed the ship's passenger and crew had, as yet, been identified, even by the races whose travels were extensive in their journeys through the universe. Allen doubted that anyone would ever find out much more information about the creature/creatures. And that was fine too. He looked at Lily. "It's time."
Lily looked back and nodded. She smiled tremulously and followed Allen to the flitter. In the past year, she had watched her friend go through a lot of turmoil and shifting emotions, trying to deal with the ghosts and their memories being almost too much for him to bear. Somehow, however, he managed to bear up under the strain, even if he looked exhausted.
"When we get done here, I think we need to take a long, long vacation." Allen strapped into the co-pilot's chair, letting Lily take the helm.
"Where were you thinking?"
"I was thinking of Vamp's Hold."
"Really?" Lily did not bother to hide her excitement even as she prepared the flitter to enter atmosphere.
"Yes, really." Allen smiled back at her.