booksandstories.com

July 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

Unfortunately, my mind must be going in my old age. Why? Because I forgot to update a couple of web pages that were important to the operation of this site. The reason was simple, and I've already explained it to Sandra in the USA who you may remember emailed me last month. She had a problem with the credit/debit system and I now know why.

The system I use at Worldpay requires two web pages to be stored on their server. One page says thank you and all that when you decide not to go ahead with the purchase, while the other one says thank you and here is your password. Unfortunately, the second and more important of these two pages has a link back to my website. It was this link I forgot to update when my main host server, EwebCity, changed its name to Brinkster back in March (see March 2002 Review).

Ooops.

Fortunately, only Sandra fell foul of the broken link, and her second email to me explaining how the password never turned up sent me scurrying for the answer. It's amazing how the light bulb goes off in your head when the answer is already staring you in the face. Of course! That's why it's not working!

So, appologies to Sandra (for the second time) and its all fixed now. I have sent Sandra the missing passwords (I hope you got them okay) and I have also repaid the extra transactions she made trying to get the passwords she wanted.

I got an email from Alice in the USA this month saying that she had got the password but had trouble getting the chapters she wanted. I emailed her the password again and gave her the same instructions I laid out last month. As a reminder, here they are again.

When you get the passwords, write them down exactly. The words are sometimes funny, and so the spelling can throw you. The page with the password on should appear straight after the payment has been completed and there should be no delay or waiting period. Calmly copy the password down rather than just remembering it. Its easy to forget. I know, I have more than enough passwords to remember just keeping this website going. Anyway, go back to the Order Page and enter the password in the "Enter Password" box at the top. Click on "enter" and the pay chapters will then come up on your screen.

Finally, I know who buys access to the pay chapters. I know which book you choose and your name. So if you have made a purchase but didn't get your password, or forgot it, or you have any other problems, email me. I will have your original purchase details on record, so I can email you the password you need.

And finally, finally, if you do have problems, and if I do email you to put it right, please email me back to let me know everything is okay. Okay?

Writing Progress

"The Friendly Ambassador" is about ready for the first twenty chapters to be loaded on the List Page. I will probably do that next month. First I have to finish Chapter Twenty, and then I have to be sure that everything in the preceding chapters is finally how I like it to be. That's the hardest part, mainly because I might write something in Chapter Thirty-Nine that requires a change in Chapter Fifteen, but of course, I won't know that until then. But at least I'm fairly happy that I have crossed all my t's and dotted all my i's.

I think I have most people in the right place at the moment. But the story is a complicated one because of the number of characters. And the fact that they are all from different alien races makes it even harder. Not only am I trying to keep individuals in character, but I'm having to keep them in character for the races they are supposed to belong to as well. I think it's about right, and I will have another chance to check through it all when I convert it to HTML. This can be a straight forward or long winded process depending on how you go about it.

If I just let Word convert it I will get a very heavy web page with an extra directory with all the fancy stuff loaded into it. I don't want any of this because it increases the size of the file by almost ten-fold. I've had this problem before, read my June 2001 Review. This isn't a problem with a normal web page, which is a mixture of text, tables and graphics, but mine are all text, so it makes the problem much worse. So I can either convert it manually, going through it all adding the tags (which is what I did originally), or I can let Word convert it and then go through it deleting all the stuff I don't need. That's the way I have done it more recently. Like I said, it gives me another chance to check things over.

So, you will be able to cast your eye over the first twenty chapters of "The Friendly Ambassador" next month. I will also be updating the Trailer Page for the story to reflect the latest changes.

The Short Story Serial continues this month with the sixth instalment. The fifth part of the story entitled "The Dreamer: Part V" has been added to the List Page. By the way, if you have worked out where its going, can you please tell me?

July's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part VI

"The Massen'Acra," a voice behind her said.

Angela spun round, her back now pressed against the window behind her. She found herself staring at a man, a tall well built young man with fair hair and very soulful blue eyes. He was wearing a loose white shirt that hung nearly open. The exposed part of his tanned and lean chest had a faint covering of blonde. On his legs was a loose fitting pair of trousers. On his feet were sandals. He was only a short distance away from her.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

His voice was perfectly toned. It was very smooth and calming. He took another step forward. Angela pressed herself against the glass, staring into his eyes. They were so sad, so deep and, and...

"Is this a dream?"

He smiled. It was very pleasant. Very, very pleasant.

"No, this is not a dream. But you are confused. It is understandable. I should explain." He held out his hand, indicating one of the deep cusioned sofas. "Sit, relax, make yourself comfortable. You are quite safe here, Angela."

She stepped away from the window, staring at him closely. "Are you...?"

He smiled once more. It was even more pleasing and genuine.

"Yes," he replied, and bowing his head he added, "Permit me to reintroduce myself. I am Nac Tikmak, Captain of the Massen'Acra."

Angela collapsed onto one of the deep red sofas. "You're Nack Tickmack?" she asked increduously.

He smiled. It was like a weapon. Everytime he did it she wanted to jump him. And the worst thing about it was that his eyes seemed to know. He sat down gracefully on the sofa opposite to her.

"I know this is confusing for you," he began as he sat back and crossed his legs. "But all will become clear in a very short time. Please, relax. You are safe here."

"Where is 'here'?" she asked far too quickly, and instantly felt embarrassed. Why did she feel like that? Why did she feel like a school-girl again? Was it the absence of her all winning stick body? It was true that her 'new' body seemed to act differently. She couldn't get used to the way things bounced when she sat down. Well, two things in particular. Why did they suddenly feel out of control? Every time she took a breath they kept moving up and down in her field of view. They were like two mountains suffering a dual earthquake. At any moment things were going to get pointy and she was going to die. She had to fight the urge to grab them both and hold them down.

Nac Tikmak seemed totally oblivious to the turmoil in her heart and the confusion in her head. "Here," he said glancing around, "is Peleonika. A very agreeable world as I'm sure you will find. The people are friendly, the technology is advanced, the food good, in fact there is everything here that you could possibly wish for."

She leaned forward suddenly, the movement causing further perturbations in her anatomy. "Will you stop it! You're like the rest of them! Every one of them treats me as if I should know where I am, or what's going to happen! They all act as if they were all expecting me! This room, my own artifacts! Even the decor! It's all too perfect, too pre-arranged, and too damn comfortable! I want to know what's going on! Tell me!"

He smiled that beautiful, marvellous and oh, so attractive smile again. Even his eyes seemed to smile. They smiled and cried all at the same time. How could he be so attractive? How could he be so exactly what her heart wanted, all rolled up in such a tight, fair-haired, blue-eyed and perfectly proportioned body? Angela couldn't stand it. She wanted to have his babies. She wanted to have his babies babies.

He spoke calmly. "I'm sorry. You're perfectly right. I'm not as good at this as you are. So, you want answers. Well, ask and I will answer truthfully."

She sat back again, calming herself and trying not to picture them both at it like rabbits on the thick carpet. "How did I get here, to Peleonika?"

"Through the Rift Gate."

"The what?"

"The Rift Gate." He placed his hands together delicately. "Consider it to be a fragile part of the space continuum, a place where the very fabric of space is weaker than anywhere else. Here, at the weakest spot, it can be possible to," he paused, "to punch through, to creat a small rift that would allow one to pass through to the other side. Of course its much more complicated than that. And to get through would require a very special device. The Hexogenic Intensifier," he paused again, looking at her with that smile on his lips, "the machine you thought was a cryogenic chamber, is just such a device."

He seemed to be mocking her. She got angry anyway, for different reasons. "So it is a transportation system?"

"Yes."

"And you knew all the time?"

"Of course."

She leaned forward and slapped his leg. "Then why didn't you tell me? Why did you frighten me to- " Another thought came into her head as she felt his leg. "Wait a minute! How come you look like the way you do now when you looked different on the Intrepid?"

He held up his finger. "Ah! Good point! Firstly, it would have been rather difficult to explain everything about the Rift Gate and all this by just doodling. And secondly, I never looked any differently. In fact, I look the same now as I did then. It's just that you see me differently."

Angela leaned further forward. "I see you more than differently! There's no way you look the same! There's no way you could have been the same! You're a man now, you feel like a man!"

He smiled at her as she held on to his leg. She felt herself beginning to flush and quickly let go and sat back, bouncing as before. She suddenly felt angry. Angry and embarrassed.

"Why do I feel so uncomfortable? Why have I changed?" She pulled up her tee-shirt and exposed even more of her midriff. "And why is there no sign of the laser? I felt it, Nack Tikmack! I felt it burn me! Why am I not even scratched? Tell me the truth! You promised!"

He nodded, his amusement at her emotional state clear on his extremely attractive face. "I promised, and I will keep that promise. The Hexogenic Intensifier alters our molecular structure when we pass through the rift. It has to do that because of the differences in the very fabric of space on either side of the rift. For example, if you travel through the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic you travel through several locks which take the canal on to different levels. Thats because the Atlantic and the Pacific are on different levels on either side. But if you went all the way round South America you wouldn't notice."

Angela knew exactly what he meant. She had travelled through the Panama Canal. Why did she have the feeling he knew that? And why did his eyes always seem to be talking to her? To be urging her to ask more questions, to seek answers to, to- Oh, why couldn't she just jump him and get it over with!

"Not having a hole through my middle has to be a little bit more complicated than the difference in sea levels due to the moon and geography."

"True, but the idea is the same. For you to be here instead of there, you had to change slightly. The Intensifier altered you just a little bit to let you be here. And in doing that it fixed your wound. Among other things."

His obvious reference to her larger curves made Angela blush. It was very annoying. She had never felt as uncomfortable as this for years. And the feeling clouded her mind. There were things here she wanted to know, and instead his presence was turning her into a girly jelly. She decided to grasp the over large nettle by the thorns.

She looked down at her body. "So why am I like this? Why am I....bigger?"

He smiled again. "It was always you, the genes just dormant or passive. The device simply activated those genes. It brought them out, it made you as you should have been."

She looked up at him. "And how did it turn you from an alien into a man, a very perfect and handsome man?"

His smile grew even wider, and her urge to pounce on him like a wild animal almost broke her control. In contrast he answered her question calmly.

"Yes, I am very different from you, or I was. But I have passed through the Intensifier many, many times. And each time the device has altered and improved me, until this is what you see."

"I'm sorry, but that's far big a difference to be explained away by the activation of a few dormant genes! You were an alien, now you're a man! In one transition! Explain!"

She was being hard on him, and somehow it felt hard for her to do it. He didn't seem to mind.

"Yes, you saw me how I was, but that was because we were back on the Massen'Acra."

Angela hooked her thumb over her shoulder. "The Massen'Acra is outside the window."

He nodded. "That Massen'Acra is outside the window. But the one on the other side of the rift, the one where you came from, is the one where I originally came from. When I went back there to retrieve you, I returned to my original state. That was how you saw me. But inside, I was still the same. Think of my form then as a shell. Inside the shell, I was always as you see me now."

Angela was thinking about something else he had said. "You said you came to retrieve me?"

"Yes, to retrieve you. Of course, I didn't know it would be you or only you at the time. But I soon realised that only you would wish to come back with me. Why, you will probably ask. Because I could sense the need within you to seek out new places, new worlds. You have a craving for new societies and civilisations, new people and new beliefs. You like to travel, Angela. As soon as I saw your eyes, when you took off your helmet, I knew that you would be the one."

Angela couldn't stand it. She was going to explode. "You have an unfair advantage," she owned up. "If you still looked the way you did on the Intrepid I could ask my questions much easier. But now, well, you distract me. You're too attractive, too...too damned perfect!"

She blurted out the last words, and the expected broadside from his smile duely followed. As usual, it turned her will power to goo. But more was to follow. This time he wasn't content just to smile.

"Yes, I am perfection in a way, as you are too. And believe me, you are very beautiful, Angela. I doubt if there are any women on your world who could have such beauty, such warmth. Everything about you stirs the need I have for you. The long dark hair that frames your head and perfect face like a main, those brown eyes, so warm and inviting, your bronzed skin, so perfect in every way, all of it suggests a warmth, a fire within you that begs to be quenched."

He stopped, his eyes expectant. Angela just stared at him, her eyes wide and her mouth open as she sat perched on the edge of her seat.

"Do you want me to jump you?" she said finally.

He laughed. It was beautiful. He suddenly sat up, moving closer to her now. They both now sat on the edge of their seats facing one another, nose to nose.

"You are straight forward! I like that! And I will answer in turn. Yes, I do want you to, 'jump me'! But I would like to do it more slow and sensually. I would like us to spend all day and night here becoming acutely familiar with one another. I want to explore you as I would explore an entire world, inch by luxurious inch. And I want you to know me equally well. I want us both to know exactly what makes the other so deliciously aroused and excited. I want you to reach a peak of excitement and stay there on a plateau of ecstasy for hours until you collapse exhausted. I want you to experience every delight it is humanly possible to experience. I want you to have exactly what you want and could dream for in every way. All you have to do is say the word and we can begin."

Angela was on fire. All she could see were those soft blue eyes, they were right in her face, like two enormous planets. She was breathing hard and she felt all heated. Hot and ready. In her mind they were already at it like rabbits. But what he envisaged for her rabbits would never understand. Everything had gone pointy and she didn't care. But at the very last second, just before her mind shouted Geronimo! and dived right in, a thought came to her.

"Can I go home?"

It was a tiny, whispered question, but it changed something. The room cooled.

Nac Tikmak sat back in his sofa. He didn't smile. "Do you worry about them?"

Angela felt suddenly alone and cold. It was as if she had been having sex, but her partner had finished before her, got up and left. She knew that feeling well, far too well. She felt deprived, disappointed, let down, deflated. It had been a beautifully decorated present, but the box was empty. Hollow.

She looked at him sadly. "You shouldn't be angry with me. I did spend a long time with them. I know them, and yes, I care about them." She glanced around the room. "While I'm here among all this, they could be dead."

He nodded. "Yes, forgive me. You are right, Angela. You need to know, and you shall know. But it will be hard for you. I must warn you that going back to the Massen'Acra will be dangerous for you, for us both."

Angela instinctively placed a hand on her midriff. "You said going back there returned you to your original state. Does that mean that I'll be shot?"

He sat forward again, and reaching out he took her hand in his. It was a warm hand, and his grip was comforting. Even the room seemed warmer again "Do not worry, Angela. When you return you will be as you were, with your preferred stick body. But you will not be wounded. The device merely alters your structure according to your genes, not your present state. The injury has been cured and will remain so. The danger I refer to is being in the Massen'Acra itself. The ship is very damaged on that side of the rift, and the atmosphere is poor. You will have to wear your space suit, and you will be enclosed and heavy again."

Angela had forgotten about that space suit. "I don't even know where my suit is," she said worriedly.

"I know," he said reassuringly. "And I will come with you. I will pass through before you and I will retrieve your suit so that you can wear it straight away." He saw her protests begin and dismissed them. "Do not worry. I have done this before. I told you, I am the Captain of the Massen'Acra, I know the ship well. Now, it is all decided. I will call Humbolt and make the arrangements."

She looked into those sad blue eyes. "Humbolt?"

"The Peleonikan who rescued you in the lake."

"There were two of them."

"The one who drove you here?"

Angela's expression changed. "Oh, the Grand Prix racer! I know. He's called Humbolt?"

He smiled that smile again, and the temperature of the room seemed to go up another level. "Yes, he is Humbolt. He is a member of my crew on the Massen'Acra. You can trust him, Angela. Now, come with me."

He stood up, her hand still gripped in his. She looked up at him in surprise.

"We're going now?"

"You don't want to miss them, do you? Scott has a timetable you know? Or have you forgotten already?"

Angela stood up. Her head was suddenly in a whirl. She had been here such a short time and now she was going. She looked back at the room as he led her to the elevator. She looked out the window at the glorious view. She was actually on another world with other people and she was going to leave it all behind. And she had hardly seen any of it.

Nac Tikmak pressed the call button for the elevator, and as they both waited he suddenly took her in his arms. It was a fluid movement that surprised Angela as she was still staring back at the room. She didn't resist, she just settled in his arms like a soft jelly and stared at him, waiting for him to say what he was going to say, or do what he was going to do. In a way she was disappointed when he spoke. But not for long.

"I want you to come back, Angela. I am a man on an alien world. I am surrounded by people and yet I am totally alone. I need you. You spoke of perfection, and yet the perfection only exists in our duallity. We are perfect contrasts, male, female, fair and dark. Everything about you delights me, and I know by the look in your eyes that what you see delights you. The one thing we share in common is the urge to travel and see new worlds. I tell you now, Angela, that I have seen many wonders. But they all pale to nothing compared to the sight that my eyes now feast on. Return to your friends, see that they are safe. But come back to me. There are worlds I want to show you, civilisations I want to share with you, lost cities we can explore together. Even the places I have seen before will be filled with new excitement when I visit them with you. Please, Angela, come back to me, stay with me here, share my life."

Angela could hardly see or feel anything. There was just him and his words.

"Kiss me, will you, or I'll die," she whispered.

He smiled, leaned forward, and kissed her.

The world exploded in fire and colour. Angela's body was overcome by the intense force of the stimulation that suddenly engulfed her senses. As their mouths met, Angela wanted to devour him. She wanted to suck him right inside, and he seemed to want to do the same, because the kiss became a wild, twisting, hand searching, groping, wrestling entanglement of bodies and limbs as they slid slowly to the floor. Angela had gratefully lost control at last. She no longer cared about anything or anyone. She wanted to die in his arms, she wanted to feel the thrust and power of his love within her, she wanted to be nailed to the floor, transfixed to the ceiling, impaled, ripped apart, her legs torn off at the hip. She wanted to get down to it all, the sweat, the smell, the hot, sticky, tremendous feel of skin on skin in wild urgency.And above all she wanted the rippling, quivering ecstacy of ultimate release right then, right there, right now.

There was a 'ding' and the elevator doors slid open. Humbolt, the walnut shaped Humpty-Dumpty leaned his body forward and stared down at them both writhing about on the floor. They didn't notice or reduce their efforts and so he finally spoke.

"If to Missy mouth to mouth you give, Captain, why struggle does she so?"

Angela and Nac Tikmak became aware of his presence and their wrestling embrace subsided. They fell apart and Angela just collapsed on the floor with her arms flung out, her chest heaving as she panted for breath. Nac Tikmak propped himself up on one hand. He was also breatheless and overheated as he turned to Humbolt. Humbolt quickly spoke again.

"Is there problem with air in room, Captain?"

"No, Humbolt...there's no problem....and I wasn't giving her mouth to mouth....We weren't....actually we were getting to know each other better...."

"Ah! Copulation process I interrupt. Beg pardon for intrusion I must. Not aware relationship so quickly reach such level of familiarity. I go and return at better moment. Will hour suffice? Or two, or three? State requirement and I will oblige."

Angela pulled down her tee-shirt which for some reason was much too high. "Don't bother, Humbolt...," she gasped. "I think the moment has passed...."

Nac Tikmak laughed and got to his feet pulling Angela up with him. She was still exhausted, and still not really sure if the moment had passed, but she was surprised by his strength. He seemed to pull her up so easily.

"Remember Scott's deadline," he reminded her. "And maybe stopping now is oppertune. It gives you an incentive for coming back!"

He was smiling at her again, breatheless but intensely happy. She was more than happy. Angela reached out to cup his face in her hands.

"You're my dream, my angel," she whispered to him. "I have to come back, even as I have to go." She suddenly smiled. "I think you're beginning to rub off on me. I'm beginning to sound like you."

"That's because you're learning to trust me and you're feeling comfortable with me. In time, it will get even better. Now, come." He took her hand in his again. "We have far to go." He turned to the patiently waiting Humpty-Dumpty. "Humbolt! Angela is taking a brief trip! Prepare the Intensifier!"

Humbolt's large and comical face brightened up. "Yes, Captain! Car is ready for quickly to take, and boat at jetty ready awaits! Where to will Missy go visit? Splendour of Garat LeParn? Or Tomb of Unlur'Tamak? Sea of Spice, or Forest of Gold?"

Nac Tikmak broke into his list as they all bundled into the elevator. "The Massen'Acra. My point of origin."

Humbolt twisted his body to look at them both. He seemed deflated. "Oh? Dark and dismal choice this is. Danger there be and not much to see. Missy sure the destination is best?"

Angela answered for herself. "I need to see if my friends are alright. I have to know."

"Going to stay, or depart and return will you do?"

Angela looked at Nac Tikmak. "I'm coming back."

Nac Tikmak stared into her eyes, and then the elevator went 'ding' and the floor dropped beneath them.

-o-

Silence.

Darkness.

Cold.

Angela was conscious and aware, but completely cut off from everything. She didn't even have any thoughts, no fears, nothing. She felt aware of only one thing. She felt aware of, of....being totally alone.

Light, noise, feelings, all of it came back to sudden life and intensity with a pop and a hiss.

The lid of the container slid slowly upwards revealing a crouched form.

Angela's heart missed a beat. She sat up, gasped and clutched at her midriff. There had been a brief but intense pain, but now there was nothing. Nothing except her heart beating so fast and her breath coming in gasps, her chest heaving.

The air was horrible, it made her eyes water and her throat tighten.

"Oh, God!" she rasped. "I'd forgotten how bad it was!"

She looked round in the dim light and saw the familiar hexagonal central piller with the seven, egg-shaped containers. There was only one other container that was closed. She felt cold and damp. She rubbed her bare arms and then remembered. She quickly looked down and saw the burn mark and the red patch on her tee-shirt. She quickly pulled it up and rubbed at her skin. There was nothing. But there was also another welcome change.

"My stick body!" she announced.

She began to feel and examine herself. Yes, it was all there. How she had missed it, how she had missed the neatness and firmness of it all.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and she jumped, startled. She didn't even know she had screamed. She looked up in surprise. It was Nac Tikmak, the alien Nac Tikmak, wearing his tattered uniform and face mask. He was looking down at her, her space suit in his arms.

"We must hurry Angela!" he said in a muffled voice. "Decompression will occur at any moment!"

She looked up at him in even more surprise. "I can understand you!"

"You have been through the Intensifier twice, our minds speak the same now even if our tongues are different!" He held out the suit. "Hurry! Carl will cut through the bulkhead at any moment!"

Angela stood up and reached out to him. He grabbed her and lifted her out of the container effortlessly. He was a giant again and she was a nymph. She smiled as she climbed into her suit.

"I'd forgotten how much bigger you were."

"And I had forgot how small you were."

Angela was excited as she put on her space suit. It was strange, she had never been as excited as this before about the suit. But it was different now. She was going to see Scott and Carl and Lucy again. And Jonathan and Luigi. How surprised they would be! It was going to be fun, it was going to be emotional, it was going to be sad. She was going to say hello and goodbye.

She clipped the final latches on her suit and looked up. He held out her helmet. Her spirits dropped.

"I hate that," she said. "I won't be able to hear you once I put that on."

"No, but they will."

Angela thought about that. And then the floor vibrated and there was a distant rumble.

A wind blew through the room. It started as a stiff breeze, but then it turned quickly into a howling gale. It grew and grew and grew, and the power of it became unbearable. Bits flew passed them. It took a moment to recognise them. Bits of bone and dried skin. A whole ribcage, they all flew passed.

Nac Tikmak stumbled and staggered against the wall, her helmet knocked from his hand. It immediately shot out the door like a baloon. Angela didn't see anymore. She toppled over, unable to keep her feet in the cumbersome space suit. She fell on her face, or she would have done if the bulk of the suit hadn't kept her away from the floor. When she fell, Angela saw the floor rushing towards her and squeezed her eyes shut for the impact. Instead of a bloody nose, the fall winded her and she opened her eyes to see the mouldy floor just inches away. Her joy was shortlived because now she couldn't breathe. The air had been knocked out of her by the fall, and the howling wind blew all the air away before she could breathe anymore of it in. She gasped and gasped, but the howling wind just blew it all away.

The wind grew even stronger and Angela began to slide. She slid across the floor towards the door, the wind dragging her along. Nac Tikmak wasn't fairing any better. He was already at the door, hanging on with his hands, his legs and whole body flying in the wind behind him.

There was a distant clang and the wind stopped.

Nac Tikmak dropped to the floor with a thud. Angela looked up, gasping and panting in the stinging air.

"What happened?"

Nac Tikmak began climbing to his feet. "Another bulkhead must have sealed the corridor. We are safe now."

Angela propped herself up on her arms but couldn't get up. She waited for him to come and help her. "But how do I get to them now?" she asked him as he came towards her.

"We cannot," he told her as he picked her up and carried her under his arm.

"But how can I talk to them? How can I tell them that I'm alright?"

"We must find your helmet, it is the only way."

Nac Tikmak carried Angela out of the room and hurried down the darkened corridor. She craned her head, looking forward as he ran with her. Her view of the darkened corridor bobbed up and down, but she couldn't see her helmet.

"What if it got sucked out?"

"Then there is nothing more we can do."

Damn! She hated that helmet, and now, on the one occasion that she really needed it, she couldn't find it. "We have to find it, Nack! We have to! There was no point in coming if not!"

Angela saw the closed bulkhead door even before Nac Tikmak began to slow his pace. He walked the last few steps and carefully put Angela down on her feet in front of it. Angela just raised her hands and smacked it with her gloved fists.

"Oh, damn!"

Nac Tikmak was looking around on the floor. "It must be on the other side. I am sorry, Angela. I couldn't hold it."

"It's not your fault," she said. "You did your best. You brought me here. I should have moved quicker. But I was looking forward so much to seeing them again, I didn't concentrate."

He looked around for a moment. "There may still be a way you can see them." He held out his hand. "Come, this way!"

She took his hand and let him lead her back down the corridor. He walked at her cumbersome pace, pausing by each darkened doorway to glance inside.

"What are you looking for?" she asked him.

"These cabins are the crew's quarters. Many of them on the rim had windows from which you could see the stars. They were very pleasant."

A window.

It was so simple. Angela's heart began beating faster. She felt silly, but eager. A window, they had to find one. At least she could see them, at least she would know they were safe.

Nac Tikmak led her passed door after door, until finally, he stopped.

"Here! This one!"

He dragged her inside, passed the ruined furniture, the broken fittings, the ripped wall hangings. He took her through another doorway, and there, on the far side was a dim light.

Nac Tikmak pushed her forward and she moved closer to the window. It was badly marked and stained, all of it greenish. She rubbed at the thick glass with her gloved hand. It was thick, like a large weed filled fishtank, but she could see through it, just. There were more marks and blemishes on the far side, years of impacts from tiny meteors. She peered in between the marks and scratches, dirt and grime, moving her head back and forth. Then her heart leapt.

"I can see them!"

Nac Tikmak bent lower. "Where?"

She pointed a gloved finger. "There! Do you see? With the long wire trailing out?"

"Yes." Nac Tikmak sounded puzzled. "What is that thing on the end of the wire?"

"It's the EPD! Carl's riding on it, do you see?"

"Ah, yes, now I see his suit. Is this method not dangerous?"

Angela smiled. "Not half! But it's so logical! How else could he get the extra time to get back? They left the EPD hanging on a tether so that he could get to it from the Massen'Acra."

"And now they reel him in like a fish?"

Angela laughed. "Yes! He just has to hang on!"

Now Nac Tikmak pointed. "I see someone in the doorway. He waves."

Angela squinted at the distant airlock on the side of the Intrepid. It seemed far away and yet so close. The waving figure was quite clear, as was Carl's return wave.

"He's going to make it!"

They watched as the EPD with Carl riding it floated towards the airlock and disappeared inside. There was a pause and then the excess tether was hauled in. Angela saw Carl unhook it and then the airlock slid silently shut.

"He made it! They all made it! They must have!"

Nac Tikmak said nothing. He just waited.

Angela waited too. She waited and watched. It wasn't long before the Intrepid's engine came to life. The burn was a bright and intense white light. It seemed to go on forever, bright and silent, but then it went out. By then the Intrepid had already moved further away. Further away and higher. Angela watched it curve upwards and away until it disappeared beyond the edge of the window. She didn't realise how long she stood there pressed to the dirty window, or that she was crying, until she felt Nac Tikmak stroking her hair with his claw. It was such a delicate touch. She turned and looked up at him.

"I'm sorry, I can't help it."

"You wanted to go with them," he said sadly. "Truthfully now, tell me."

She looked away. "Part of me does. I'm giving up home, people I know, my parents, everything. And the worst part of it is that they will all think I'm dead, and there's no way I can tell them differently. I just wanted them to know, that was all. I just wanted a few minutes to talk to them."

Nac Tikmak took her hand. "Come, we must go. You have breathed this foul air enough. It will begin to fog your mind."

Angela took one last look at the window as she was led away. Once they were back in the corridor, Nac Tikmak picked her up and carried her back to the room with the Hexogenic Intensifier. He carried her under his arm as before, like a doll. By the time they got back to the device, Angela was indeed feeling groggy.

"You're right about this air," she told him as he sat her down and began to unclip her suit. "I feel very light-headed."

"The longer you stay here, the worse it will get."

Slowly and methodically, Nac Tikmak undressed her and sat her back in the open egg-shaped container. He gently put her legs and arms in the apertures, and as he was about to push her head down on the cup, she suddenly turned to him.

"Why do you love me, Nack?" she asked in a distant and detached voice.

He paused and gently stroked her short hair. "Because your mind is rich and beautiful."

She looked back at him, her eyes unfocussed. He gently turned her head and pushed her down on the cup.

-o-

Silence.

Darkness.

Cold.

Angela was conscious and aware, but completely cut off from everything. She didn't even have any thoughts, no fears, nothing. She felt aware of only one thing. She felt aware of, of....being totally alone.

Light, noise, feelings, all of it came back to sudden life and intensity with a pop and a hiss.

The lid of the container slid slowly upwards revealing a crouched form.

Angela's heart missed a beat. She sat up, gasped and clutched at her midriff. There had been a brief but intense pain, but now there was nothing. Nothing except her heart beating so fast and her breath coming in gasps, her chest heaving.

The air was horrible, it made her eyes water and her throat tighten.

"Oh, God!" she rasped. "I'd forgotten how bad it was!"

She looked round in the dim light and saw the familiar hexagonal central piller with the seven, egg-shaped containers. There was only one other container that was closed. She felt cold and damp. She rubbed her bare arms and then remembered. She quickly looked down and saw the burn mark and the red patch on her tee-shirt. She quickly pulled it up and rubbed at her skin. There was nothing. But there was also another welcome change.

"My stick body!" she announced.

She began to feel and examine herself. Yes, it was all there. How she had missed it, how she had missed the neatness and firmness of it all.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and she jumped, startled. She didn't even know she had screamed. She looked up in surprise. It was Nac Tikmak, the alien Nac Tikmak, wearing his tattered uniform and face mask. He was looking down at her, her space suit in his arms.

"We must hurry Angela!" he said in a muffled voice. "Decompression will occur at any moment!"

She looked up at him in even more surprise. "I can understand you!"

"You have been through the Intensifier twice, our minds speak the same now even if our tongues are different!" He held out the suit. "Hurry! Carl will cut through the bulkhead at any moment!"

Angela stood up and reached out to him. He grabbed her and lifted her out of the container effortlessly. He was a giant again and she was a nymph. She smiled as she climbed into her suit.

"I'd forgotten how much bigger you were."

"And I had forgot how small you were."

Angela was excited as she put on her space suit. It was strange, she had never been as excited as this before about the suit. But it was different now. She was going to see Scott and Carl and Lucy again. And Jonathan and Luigi. How surprised they would be! It was going to be fun, it was going to be emotional, it was going to be sad. She was going to say hello and goodbye. Why did that feel familiar?

She clipped the final latches on her suit and looked up. He held out her helmet. Her spirits dropped.

"I hate that," she said. "I won't be able to hear you once I put that on."

"No, but they will."

Angela thought about that. And then the floor vibrated and there was a distant rumble.

A wind blew through the room. It started as a stiff breeze, but then it turned quickly into a howling gale. It grew and grew and grew, and the power of it became unbearable. Bits flew passed them. It took a moment to recognise them. Bits of bone and dried skin. A whole ribcage, they all flew passed.

Nac Tikmak stumbled and staggered against the wall, her helmet knocked from his hand. It immediately shot out the door like a baloon. Angela didn't see anymore. She toppled over, unable to keep her feet in the cumbersome space suit. She fell on her face, or she would have done if the bulk of the suit hadn't kept her away from the floor. When she fell, Angela saw the floor rushing towards her and squeezed her eyes shut for the impact. Instead of a bloody nose, the fall winded her and she opened her eyes to see the mouldy floor just inches away. Her joy was shortlived because now she couldn't breathe. The air had been knocked out of her by the fall, and the howling wind blew all the air away before she could breathe anymore of it in. She gasped and gasped, but the howling wind just blew it all away.

The wind grew even stronger and Angela began to slide. She slid across the floor towards the door, the wind dragging her along. Nac Tikmak wasn't fairing any better. He was already at the door, hanging on with his hands, his legs and whole body flying in the wind behind him.

There was a distant clang and the wind stopped.

Nac Tikmak dropped to the floor with a thud. Angela looked up, gasping and panting in the stinging air.

"What happened?"

Nac Tikmak began climbing to his feet. "Another bulkhead must have sealed the corridor. We are safe now."

Angela propped herself up on her arms but couldn't get up. She waited for him to come and help her. "But how do I get to them now?" she asked him as he came towards her.

"We cannot," he told her as he picked her up and carried her under his arm.

"But how can I talk to them? How can I tell them that I'm alright?"

"We must find your helmet, it is the only way."

Nac Tikmak carried Angela out of the room and hurried down the darkened corridor. She craned her head, looking forward as he ran with her. Her view of the darkened corridor bobbed up and down, but she couldn't see her helmet.

"What if it got sucked out?"

"Then there is nothing more we can do."

Damn! She hated that helmet, and now, on the one occasion that she really needed it, she couldn't find it. "We have to find it, Nack! We have to! There was no point in coming if not!"

Angela saw the closed bulkhead door even before Nac Tikmak began to slow his pace. And there, wedged up against it, was her helmet. Angela screamed out in delight.

"It's there, Nack! It's there!"

"Yes, we are fortunate." He carefully put Angela down on her feet in front of it. Angela held out her hands eagerly as Nac Tikmak picked up her helmet. It seemed to be stuck, and he tugged on it. When he held it to her she could already see the damage on one side of it.

"Oh, damn!" she exclaimed. "It's broken!"

"It may not pressurise, but the radio is all you need. Put it on."

Angela glanced up at him. "Here goes!"

She put on the helmet.

Why did she always feel like a goldfish?

Voices burst into her ears, familiar voices, talking urgently, irritatedly. It was Scott's voice first.

"Keep a grip of the hand rail and pull him in slow and even! If you yank on it you'll just throw yourself out!"

"I know!" Jonathan replied.

Angela took a breath to say something but Scott just kept talking and she missed her chance.

"The tether is anchored to the left of the hatch, just reach around the door and pull it gently towards you!"

"I know!" Jonathan repeated.

"And don't keep pulling or the EPD will hit you like a railway train!"

"I know! I know!" Jonathan almost exploded. "Will you shut up and let me do this?"

"Yes! Shut up and let me get a word in!" Angela added.

"Who the fuck?"

"What?"

"Angela!"

It was Lucy who spoke last. She almost screamed her name. "It's Angela! Angela's alive! Oh, glory! We've left her behind! Scott! Do something!"

Luigi shouted, "Carl! Can you see her?"

"No! She wasn't with me!"

Scott took a deep breath and bawled at everyone. "Shaddapp!"

Silence reigned. In command again, Scott spoke.

"Okay, Jonathan. Go get Carl as planned. Carl? You stick on that EPD, do you hear me?"

"Yes, Scott."

"Good. Angela? Where are you? What happened? Talk to me."

Angela smiled. She had been smiling since she heard their voices. "It's a long story, Scott."

"Give us the fast version."

"I got shot. The cryogenic chamber fixed me, but it's not a cryogenic chamber at all. It's a transportation device. I've been to another world, Scott, with Nack Tickmack. That was why he wanted to put me in there, why he kidknapped me, and why he didn't want to come with us. He always knew he could escape."

"Is there any way you can get back here? Can you see the torch?"

"No, Scott. I'm on the wrong side of the bulkhead. But don't worry about me. I can get away with Nack Tickmack. I'm going back to that other world. I'll be safe there, don't worry."

There was a pause and then Lucy said in a subdued voice, "This other world, did it have aliens and things?"

"Yes, plenty of them, all like the one in the picture, the Humpty-Dumpty aliens."

Luigi said, "Did they have books?"

"Millions of them."

Luigi gasped. "My heart breaks! Wait! I will come and join you!"

Angela laughed, the tears runninng down her cheeks.

Carl's voice came over the radio. "In case anybody's interested, it's damned lonely out here!"

Jonathan quickly said, "It's okay, Carl. The hatch is open and I'm waiting for you. Can you see me?"

"Yes!"

Angela could almost imagine them waving. Why was that? She took off her helmet and looked up at Nac Tikmak. "Is there a window near here?"

He looked around for a moment. "Yes!" He held out his hand. "Come, this way!"

She took his hand and let him lead her back down the corridor. He walked at her cumbersome pace, pausing by each darkened doorway to glance inside. Angela put her helmet back on, listening to the voices as she walked along with Nac Tikmak. It was still Jonathan who was speaking, his voice clear and methodical.

"I'm holding onto the hand rail and reaching for the tether. I've got it. I'm pulling now, slow and even," his voice strained, "just once. There, its moving! The tether has gone slack. I'm reeling it in, its coming quite fast."

Carl agreed with him. "Yeah, I can feel that I'm moving! Don't pull anymore."

Scott said, "Keep hold of that hand rail, Jonathan!"

"Don't worry," Jonathan told him. "It's going to be okay. I can see him on the EPD. It won't be long now."

Luigi said, "I can't see him anymore! He must be getting close!"

Nac Tikmak led Angela passed door after door, until finally, he stopped and dragged her inside. They passed the ruined furniture, the broken fittings, the ripped wall hangings. He took her through another doorway, and there, on the far side was a dim light.

Nac Tikmak pushed her forward and she moved closer to the window, pressing her visor against the thick glass. It was badly marked and stained, all of it greenish. She rubbed at the surface with her gloved hand. It was like looking through a large weed filled fishtank, but she could see through it, just. There were more marks and blemishes on the far side, years of impacts from tiny meteors. She peered in between the marks and scratches, dirt and grime, moving her head back and forth. And all the time she could hear what was going on. Then her heart leapt.

"I can see you!" she said.

Scott said, "Okay, Angela! Jonathan! Watch yourself!"

"It's okay! Carl's nearly here! Now all I have to do is stop him!"

Angela took off her helmet. "Can you see them, Nack?"

"Yes." Nac Tikmak sounded puzzled. "What is that thing on the end of the wire?"

"It's the EPD! Carl's riding on it, do you see?"

"Ah, yes, now I see his suit. Is this method not dangerous?"

Angela smiled. "Not half! But it's so logical! How else could he get the extra time to get back? They left the EPD hanging on a tether so that he could get to it from the Massen'Acra."

"And now they reel him in like a fish?"

Angela laughed. "Yes! He just has to hang on!"

She put her helmet on again, and the voices sprang back into life.

"Use your foot as a brake when the EPD gets close," Scott was saying.

"Yes, that's it!"

Lucy said, "I can see him! I can see Carl!"

And Carl said, "Here I come!"

Angela and Nac Tikmak watched as the EPD with Carl riding it floated towards the airlock and disappeared inside. There was a pause and then the excess tether was hauled in. Angela saw Carl unhook it and then the airlock slid silently shut.

There were whoops of joy over the radio, and someone shouted, "Welcome home!"

Scott shouted above them all. "Luigi! Get Jonathan and Carl back in their seats pronto! Lucy! Come with me! We've got the main burn in two minutes!"

"But what about Angela?" Lucy replied.

"You heard her! She's not coming! Now move it!"

Angela quickly added, "It's alright, Lucy! Scott's right, you have to think about yourselves! I'm going to be fine!"

Carl said, "Say again, Angela! You're breaking up a bit!"

And Scott added, "The suit radio's don't have much range- hiss -must be much further out- hiss, pop -now."

Angela repeated what she had said. "Lucy! Scott's right, you have to think about yourselves! I'm going to be fine!"

She heard Lucy reply. "But we can't- hiss -leave you!"

"I'm leaving you!" Angela told her. "Anyway, isn't this better than thinking that I'm dead?"

Lucy didn't sound convinced. "Oh, I suppose so- hiss, pop."

Scott sounded urgent. "Come on, people! Or we'll- hiss -be trying the space- pop -back there to join Angela!"

There was a clamour of voices, Luigi and Lucy among them. But the static seemed to get worse, confusing all the words. Then Scott shouted them all down.

"Angela's made her choice! Maybe it wasn't much of a choice, but- hiss, pop, hiss -one she had! Now nobody, not anybody on this mission- hiss -more equipped than her for living- hiss, pop -alien planet! Now will you all pull yourselves- hiss, pop -and get with it!"

Angela knew what he was trying to do. He had four of his crew to worry about and there was nothing he could do now about her. She swallowed.

"Listen to Scott. Get home safely. Love you."

Lucy said, "Oh, glory..."

Angela could hear her cry. She could hear herself crying.

Nac Tikmak said nothing as he stood beside her. He just waited.

Angela waited too. She waited, watched and listened. She could hear Scott and the others talking as they prepared for the burn, and it wasn't long before the Intrepid's engine came to life. The burn was a bright and intense white light. It seemed to go on forever, bright and silent, but then it went out. By then the Intrepid had already moved further away. Further away and higher.

"Good luck!"

"Hiss, pop -love you, Angela- hiss."

"Good -hiss- luck!"

The static overtook everything until Angela was weeping into silence. She stared up at the Intrepid, her helmet pressed against the stained glass. Angela watched it curve upwards and away until it disappeared beyond the edge of the window. She didn't realise how long she stood there pressed to the dirty window, or that she was still crying, until she felt Nac Tikmak stroking her hair with his claw. It was such a delicate touch. She turned and looked up at him. He had taken her helmet off and she hadn't even noticed.

"I'm sorry, I can't help it."

"You wanted to go with them," he said sadly. "Truthfully now, tell me."

She looked away. "Part of me did. I'm giving up home, people I know, my parents, everything. But at least now they will know that I'm alive, that I'm just somewhere else. It makes me feel better, it makes me feel content about it all. I'm glad I spoke to them. Thank you, Nack Tickmack."

Nac Tikmak took her hand. "Come, we must go. You have breathed this foul air enough. It will begin to fog your mind."

Angela took one last look at the window as she was led away. Once they were back in the corridor, Nac Tikmak picked her up and carried her back to the room with the Hexogenic Intensifier. He carried her under his arm as before, like a doll. By the time they got back to the device, Angela was indeed feeling groggy.

"You're right about this air," she told him as he sat her down and began to unclip her suit. "I feel very light-headed."

"The longer you stay here, the worse it will get."

Slowly and methodically, Nac Tikmak undressed her and sat her back in the open egg-shaped container. He gently put her legs and arms in the apertures, and as he was about to push her head down on the cup, she suddenly turned to him.

"Why do you love me, Nack?" she asked in a distant and detached voice.

He paused and gently stroked her short hair. "Because your mind is rich and beautiful. Because you excite me so much."

She looked back at him, her eyes unfocussed. He gently turned her head and pushed her down on the cup.

-o-

The twin suns were high in the sky. It was hot in the valley, but not too hot. Across the peaceful lake the city still lay, glinting in the light from the suns. On this side of the lake, a group of small and elegant four-footed creatures grazed on the grass by the shore, their hides a delicate brown. On top of a flat mound of rocks, the upper section of two of the egg-shaped containers around the hexagonal central piller of the Hexogenic Intensifier hissed and slowly opened.

Angela raised her head from the cup and blinked. She looked around, completely dazed. She felt the breeze on her face and suddenly sat up, pulling her hands from the appertures. She was instantly awake, instantly alert. Her head spun round, and she saw Nac Tikmak sitting up in the next container. He smiled at her. It was a beautiful smile, very pleasant and warm. Angela's eyes narrowed.

"Liar!"

End of Part VI. Part VII next month.

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