Home > Starlight Child (The Light-Years Trilogy #3)

Starlight Child (The Light-Years Trilogy #3)
Author: Nancy J. Cohen

Chapter One

 


A woman’s high-pitched screams of anguish tore through the night. The piercing cries lanced into Mara’s sleep-numbed mind and awakened her.

Sitting up abruptly in bed, she listened acutely. Dead silence filled the room.

Her gaze swept the bedchamber, resting upon her modern built-in shelving unit with its holovid array, the chest of carved wooden drawers from her home planet Tyberia, and the display case with her collection of sculptures. The room’s illumination had brightened automatically when she sat up, but still her heart raced and her spine chilled with fear.

Could the awful sounds have come from Hedy? An urgent need to check on her roommate propelled her out of bed, but a glimpse of the petite brunette sleeping next door reassured her that all was well.

After a hasty search of the rest of the apartment, Mara concluded she’d been dreaming. Letting out a breath of relief, she grabbed a wrap from her chamber and told herself to calm down. But the agonized cries kept reverberating in her mind as though they were real, and she couldn’t dismiss the uneasy feeling that something was wrong.

Trying to shake off the remnants of her nightmare, she strode to the fabricator in the living area to conjure a warm drink, hoping it would soothe her sensitized nerves. She stood watching the alcove in the wall as her beverage materialized in a large ceramic mug. Drinking a cup of wagmint tea always calmed her when she felt tense, and it had been a particularly aggravating day at work. Maybe that was why her sleep had been disturbed.

As soon as the notion came to her, she dismissed it. She hadn’t awakened because of insomnia. A woman’s screams had torn her from the fabric of slumber. They had sounded as real to her as the mug in her hand. Although it had been synthesized from a molecular matrix, the mug was solid. She believed the sounds she’d heard were just as substantial. It couldn’t have been a dream. And if not, then whose distress was so great that it had touched her while asleep?

She was just raising the cup to her lips when a loud chime shattered the heavy silence.

“Computer, open channel,” she said, her voice trembling. “Hello? Who is it, please?” Holding her breath, she waited for the response.

“It’s Sarina,” said her friend in a tense tone. The video was off, so Mara couldn’t see her face. “Can you come over?”

Her throat constricted. “It’s two-thirty in the morning. What’s wrong?”

“I... can’t explain over the commlink. Oh God, Mara, what am I going to do?” Sarina’s voice cracked. “Please, come quickly!”

“I’ll be there.” Mara terminated the link, set her mug down, and obtained a set of lace underwear and a plum stretch jumpsuit from the fabricator. As she pulled them on, she wondered what could have happened.

Her imagination ran wild with all sorts of ominous possibilities, making her fingers quake so badly that fastening her jumpsuit required a major effort.

After sparing a brief glance at the reflector to straighten her long hair, she strode into the foyer. Her shiny black boots were where she’d left them beside the door. As she shoved her feet inside, she composed a voice message for Hedy. Normally her roommate slept as soundly as a hibernating bear, but Mara didn’t want Hedy to worry should she awaken alone.

Outside, the dark sky above the biosphere’s crystal domed ceiling was studded with stars. Breathing in the cool, crisp air, she focused on determining the quickest route to Sarina’s. They lived some distance from each other even though Bimordus Central was relatively compact.

Taking an airbus or a people mover meant she’d have to change vehicles along the way. It might be more expedient to walk three blocks to the transport terminal and requisition a speeder.

Making her decision, she strode at a fast pace along a paved walking path dimly lit by low footlights. Her surroundings faded into the background of her preoccupied mind. Wrinkling her brow, she wondered what could have happened to cause Sarina such anxiety.

Was her daughter ill? Seven months old, the pretty blond-haired, blue-eyed babe already showed signs of her exceptional heritage. Jallyn Diana bore the sacred sign of the circle on her palm in the same manner as her gifted mother.

Although Sarina was the legendary Great Healer, Mara knew that her healing power was limited. She hoped Jallyn hadn’t been stricken with a disease Sarina couldn’t cure. As the child’s godmother, she felt very close to her.

Moisture pricked her eyes and she sought to divert her concern by examining different possibilities. Perhaps Jallyn was not the cause of Sarina’s trouble. Could Sarina herself have been attacked? She’d made her share of enemies while becoming the Great Healer. Briefly, Mara reviewed the story that had become nearly as familiar to her as her own history.

Sarina had been abducted from Earth by Captain Teir Reylock of the Coalition Defense League. As ordered, Teir had delivered her to the High Council on Bimordus Two for her marriage to Lord Rolf Cam’brii. Through this union, it was believed Sarina would fulfill an ancient prophecy and become the Great Healer.

Mara could hardly believe that a mere two annums had passed since the horrible plague called the Farg had swept through Coalition space, followed by the dreaded Morgot conquerors. The Morgots had sought to stop the prophecy’s fulfillment. They’d hired Cerrus Bdan, a Souk slave trader, to eliminate Sarina and Teir, who was acting as her bodyguard. Bdan failed to meet his objective. When Sarina fell in love with Teir, her power activated and she became the Great Healer. She eradicated the Farg and chased the Morgots from Coalition territory.

Beside the Souks and the Morgots, who else would have reason to resent Sarina’s interference in their affairs? Mara supposed former councillor Daimon could be considered a contender. The powerful statesman had been a leader of the Return to Origins faction, a secessionist movement that had gained favor during previous crises.

Daimon tried to have Sarina and Lord Cam’brii assassinated to prevent their marriage from taking place, fearing the legend’s fulfillment would strengthen Coalition unity. When Sarina became the Great Healer, Daimon was forced to resign. But Mara had heard his followers were active on other worlds.

As she mulled over the alternatives, her gut feeling told her that none of these pertained to Sarina’s current distress. Something else was involved here.

She’d just have to wait to learn the answers.

Twenty minutes later, she stood at the entrance to Sarina’s residential tower, a cylindrical structure made from glittery pink stone and white marbelite. An unusual number of security personnel patrolled the well-lit perimeter.

A middle-aged man with a stern visage stepped in her path as she neared the entrance.

“Can I help you, mistress?” The man wore a nondescript khaki jacket but his stiff military posture and firm voice proclaimed his authority.

“I’m Mara Hendricks, here to see Sarina Reylock.” Her heart thumped in her chest. She’d been here before at night and had never encountered any resistance. This couldn’t signify anything good.

The man examined a file on his hand-held datalink. After a moment, his face brightened, and he offered her a smile. “The Great Healer expects you. I’ll let you in.”

Her feeling of dread deepening, she entered the lift from the atrium lobby.

“Fourteen,” she spoke aloud, and the door slid shut. The different levels passed by in a blur as the lift sped upward. By the time it reached the fourteenth floor, her knees were shaking.

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