Share the learning, heartbreak, joys, and challenges as Ev Rykoff and his train engineer friends begin a lifelong journey with the Silicrys, symbiotic aliens. Hop on the train, come along for the ride, and become part of ‘Chimes of Light’.
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-876962-08-1 ASIN: B003XYEARE Word count: 146, 671
“You are everything that is, your thoughts, your life, your dreams come true. You are everything you choose to be. You are as unlimited as the endless universe.”
~~ Shad Helmstetter
A low-lying mist swirled around him but did not obscure the lightning that flickered and flashed in white-hot forks above him. For a moment he wondered how there could be lightning and bright stars together, but that thought was diverted by other things soon after. He stood enthralled as lightning illuminated the mist, streaking silently from the crisp, clear heavens to pattern the space around him.
I can feel it, he mused as the lightning changed from white to pastel greens, blues and lavender, caressing the surfaces of his body. His hair stood on end, crackling with electricity. The fascination drifted nearer to fear as the sensations of being touched grew more invasive, and the colors on the lightning-bits intensified into tendrils of pulsing light. He listened to his heart beating in time to the pulsing auroras, straining to discover why? and who? as glissades of ethereal sound–like glass chimes in the wind–reached him and seemed to whisper words he couldn’t decipher. He held out his hands and watched as the lights flowed around his fingers, then around his hands and up his arms. All the while, a voice whispered his name over and over. A cold dash of fear gripped him as her longing tore at his being. He struggled, his breaths coming with difficulty, but the lights held him. He screamed…
…and his choking scream merged into the ringing of the alarm clock. Ev Rykoff opened his eyes, his heart in his throat, sweat dampening his sheets. The mists from his dream dissipated as the echoes of the eerie music faded and his heart slowed. Just another nightmare… he thought, glad he was awake in reality. Nervously, he ran his hands through his sandy-blonde hair. It was one time he was glad to get up and go to work.
The screen door slammed shut loudly behind him. His arrival made no impression on the other men who milled about in the hallway of the Cameron yard office. He made his way to the register room where his crew was going on duty. At that particular early morning hour, the place was bustling with activity. Many yard jobs were changing shifts, and a few road crews were tying up after nightlong runs from out of town. The crew caller was busy in his Plexiglas walled office adjusting numbered tags on the many brass hooks of his call board, and some off duty trainmen were heatedly discussing the placement of their tags.
Ev, a locomotive engineer, read his callsheet, and then searched for his conductor. Spotting him, Ev came over and sat down at the table and waited as the conductor finished sorting out his waybills. The man looked up at him. “Good morning, Ev.”
“Morning, Pat. What kind of train do we have today?” he asked, still a tad distracted from his early-morning nightmare.
“Not a bad one. One hundred cars. Seventy-five to pick up on the Transfer to bring back from Beloit,” Pat Ryan replied with a smile.
Ev recorded the tonnage and car-count in his time book. “Who’s our crew today, Pat?”
“Kevin Thorson and Dan LaSalle. Kevin’ll be on the head end with you.”
“Okay.” Ev’s grin was momentary. “Sounds like a typical Monday.”
“Did you catch this off the extra board?”
“Nope. Got the vacation vacancy. I didn’t think I had enough seniority to get it. I guess I was lucky.” Ev knew the quirks of the railroad’s job assignment rules. He was properly grateful. The regularly assigned engineer was much older.
“Cool.” Pat grinned at him, understanding his engineer’s luck. “Now, go get the power…”
With guidance provided by Kevin Thorson, Ev coupled the four units of Great American locomotives onto their train on Seventy-Two track. After Kevin cut in the air, he proceeded to switch ends. Soon he was up on the lead engine with his feet comfortably placed on the heater box in front of the window. He closed his eyes for a moment to relax.
Ev’s mind wandered while he was waiting. For a few seconds, he thought about the recurring dream that had disturbed his rest that morning. He shivered. Consciously, he changed the subject. He focused on his conductor, picturing the man in his mind’s eye. Pat had graying red hair that was of an unruly nature. It accented his Irish temper. Luckily, Pat had a warm personality to balance it. Ev could easily see why his only sister Elizabeth was infatuated with Pat. He knew she was in love–but Pat seemed somewhat oblivious to her overtures of affection. Ev smiled for a mere moment. The radio interrupted his reverie.
“Caboose on seventy-two track calling the engines, over,” the radiophone crackled.
Picking up the handset, Ev replied. “Engines on seventy-two track.”
“We’ve got fifty-three pounds of air on the caboose.”
Kevin Thorson–called ‘Kat’ by his friends–squirmed uneasily in his chair opposite the engineer. Ev noticed his apparent unease and frowned.
“What’s bugging you?”
“I’m just pissed off. I don’t know. Forget it.”
“Could be the toadstool you’re on. Did you miss a West End trip or something?”
“Well, I did miss getting called for the Hotshot by five minutes.”
Ev laughed. “That explains it! What do you expect from the extra board?” He could understand Kat’s moodiness. The extra boards were there solely to give the railroad a pool of unassigned skilled labor to cover the jobs when assigned men were on vacation, got sick or just desired time off. Extra boards were maintained for each operating craft: brakeman, switchmen, conductors and engineers. Ev was on the later board. It was pure chance of the draw–unless a crewcaller favored you. The Hotshot was by far a better trip to catch than the Beloit Transfer–the job to which Thorson was currently assigned. Ev had fared better, receiving THIS long-term assignment.
“East Yard Airman calling the engines on seventy-two track.”
Ev answered, “Engines on seventy-two.”
“Set your air please,” came the request from the carman.
The engineer did as he was asked, making a set on the air, then listening to the deafening exhaust as the air vented into the cab. He watched the gauge as the air pressure dropped to the desired amount. After the air had stopped blowing, he turned the cutout cock. Pulling out his pocket watch, Ev timed the drop on the gauge for a minute. He smiled. The pressure didn’t drop more than a couple of pounds. He then cut the air back in after reducing the air pressure another couple of pounds.
After a few minutes, the car man running the air called back. “Release the air on seventy-two track.”
Ev did so, performing the ritual of the terminal air test that was a normal part of getting a train ready for the road.
Ev was only twenty-five. He was still one of the younger engineers working out of the terminal of Cameron, but he had good seniority for one so young. He had been lucky. However, he still lacked the complete confidence of an older engineer. He was a bit standoffish; his occasional bouts of anger and frustration at his own limitations garnered him few friends. He carried a lot of responsibility, and felt it. Knowing a sudden isolation, his thoughts became melancholy.
Echoes of his bizarre dreams flashed in his mind, reflecting that mood. What does it all mean? Struggling with conflicting emotions, he received permission to depart.
“Extra 1019 West on Seventy-Two, you should be getting signals. Have a good trip.”
Ev replied without thinking. “Roger. Thanks.” He pulled the train out of the Yard in a strange frame of mind, an ache in the pit of his stomach. What the hell am I doing here? Is this what I want to do the rest of my life? Will this ever get any easier?
He sighed, keeping the speed down to ten miles per hour as they pulled around the curves and through the Tower 127 turnouts. They had clear signals all the way to Trevanwood. Ev glanced at his pocket watch. It was twenty after eight o’clock in the morning. The sun was almost at their backs as they rounded the left-hand curves near the Tower. He stretched out the train slack as they passed north of the sprawling complex of the Great American Railroad Yard at Cameron, Illinois.
He watched the track ahead, his thoughts more than a bit preoccupied, as his hands rested on the engine controls; left hand on the automatic air lever, right hand on the throttle. He felt the throb of the three thousand horsepower diesel engine that worked together with three of its sister units. Something unconsciously familiar touched him, reaching into his thoughts, easing that empty ache. He felt an itch behind his eyes. For a moment, Ev was strangely at one with the locomotive. He felt a sense of rightness–of belonging–that he had never before experienced. It was oddly exhilarating, easily changing how he felt, and altered his mood. He smiled, gaining a certain perverse pleasure out of the sensation. If only you could talk to me. That would be something…
The engineer was totally unprepared for what he then heard, in his mind.
I can–if you wish me to. The reply was like glass chimes with a soft feminine voice.
Those sounds…that voice…were both annoyingly familiar. Ev jerked his hands off the controls as if he had been burned. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end. Suddenly his heart was loud in his ears, mimicking the pounding rhythm of the locomotive beneath his feet. The itch became an ache as his mind whirled.
Oh, my God…I’m not hearing this. I’m imagining that the engine is talking back to me. I’ve finally gone over the edge… Ev thought frantically, his mind spinning.
I AM speaking to you, but I am not exactly an engine, either.
Ev closed his eyes trying to deny what he undeniably heard. NO! This is impossible! This CAN’T happen! I’m losing my mind…
The ethereal voice in his mind, sighed. All things are possible. Why do you feel that hearing my voice is impossible? I am here, and you invited me to speak…
The engineer tried desperately to ignore her voice. Her words refused to go away, much like the memories of the recurring dreams he had been experiencing for years. As the train moved north-northwest through Christie Station on its way to Beloit, Wisconsin, Everett Rykoff came to the conclusion that the trip was no longer routine. The phrase, ‘be careful what you ask for, you might get it’ crossed his mind, as he pondered the situation. What have I done?
Pat Ryan, Ev’s conductor, made a visit to the head end of the train up in Beloit. The conductor opened the cab door on the brakeman’s side of 1019, and entered the blue lighted interior. It was early afternoon, and the four engines of their train were parked across from the Depot.
Kat Thorson sat eating his lunch. Ev was sitting with his arms crossed, his head down and his eyes shut, trying to figure out what was happening to him. After a few hours of listening to the voice, he had some not-too-savory ideas on what might be going on. The voice and my dreams are connected somehow. When Pat knocked on the metal top of the control stand, Ev jumped, startled.
“Damn it, Pat! You didn’t have to sneak up on me,” he said, looking up at him with a wild expression on his face. Pat frowned, suddenly uneasy. He shivered–and it wasn’t the temperature. It was over eighty in the shade.
“I didn’t sneak up on you, and you know it! What’s with you today, Ev?”
“Well, where should I begin? I know you’re bound t’have your off days, but Lordy, Ev–you’ve been beatin’ Dan and me to death on the hack on the way up!”
“I’m sorry. I’ve had something on my mind all day. I’ll try to pay more attention on the way back,” the engineer answered as his mind raced. Shit! I sure can’t tell him I’ve been hearing a voice in my head! What’s happening to me? Am I going insane?
The voice answered. Do you really want to know?
Ev closed his eyes again as he heard her reply, trying vainly to ignore the hauntingly familiar voice in his mind. If he was going nuts, at least the voice he was listening to was pleasant.
Pat frowned as he regarded his engineer. “You’re acting a little strange today,” he said carefully, considering Ev’s possible reactions. His engineer was known for his moods.
“What do you mean by that?” Ev’s eyes met those of Pat. The engineer’s pale blue eyes flashed white for a split second–like a bright reflection off a mirror.
“Well, you have an–err, hell, I can’t place it exactly,” Pat replied searching for the correct words to express what he wished to say. “Like your hair. It’s–it’s getting whiter–” he stammered, moving from one foot to the other nervously.
“What are you trying to say?” Ev whispered. His barely audible voice carried over the engine’s idle with a bizarre quality Pat had never heard before.
“Ev, your hair–it’s starting to turn white. Look in the mirror. You have white streaks all through–”
“What?” the engineer asked, doubt in his tone.
He is correct you know, the voice interjected. Your hair will be pure white in a few more days.
Ev swallowed hard as he alone perceived the thoughts of the engine in his mind.
“Hey, Kat,” the conductor said, turning to the head brakeman. “Isn’t his hair going white?”
Kevin ‘Kat’ Thorson quickly gulped the last of his ham and cheese sandwich. “Yup. This morning it was more sandy than it is now.”
“Come on, you guys. It’s not funny,” Ev argued.
“Go ahead and look for yourself, Ev,” Pat insisted.
Ev scowled at him, but did as he asked. He took a deep breath as he peered at his own reflection in the side mirror of the engine. Pat was right. Silvery-white streaks were evident, where this morning only sandy-blonde had been.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Kat continued. “You look better with whiter hair. It’s a lot more distinctive.”
Ev had heard about all he could stand concerning how he was changing. His eyes flashed white for a full second or two, the air around him snapping with static electricity. The effect lasted only a moment, but Pat stepped back surprised and a bit worried.
“Sorry to upset you, but things have been kind of weird around here today.”
“You’re telling me?” The engineer glared at him. Through his teeth, under his breath, he said, “You don’t know the half of it!”
Pat changed the subject hastily, not saying a word about what he saw. “Uh…by the way, do you want to go over to Nestor’s for lunch? The Fox Valley Road won’t have our train ready until after two thirty.”
Kat groaned. “Why didn’t you ask before I devoured my edible supplies?”
The engineer laughed in a low voice, glad the attention was no longer on him. Kat was not amused as he said, “You could just have coffee.”
Minutes later, Pat and Ev climbed down 1019’s forward ladder, followed by Kat who mumbled something about inconsiderate conductors. Kat was the first to notice the odd idiot light on the lead locomotive. “Hey Ev. Look at that…”
“What?” He said in reply, turning back to the brakeman. He was halfway across the depot platform when he looked back.
“The light…on top of the cab,” the brakeman pointed.
They both gazed at it, Ev feeling uneasy again. The standard cab-top warning light was not of the typical amber variety. Instead, it seemed to strobe with prismatic, rainbow light.
“Strange, isn’t it,” he replied softly, trying to keep his cool.
“I think it’s kind of pretty if you ask me,” Pat droned. “Let’s go to beans. Who cares what kind of idiot light that engine’s got? Maybe it’s just a new kind of warning light.”
Kat shrugged, following the conductor. Ev stayed a moment to stare at the engine for a long minute. He grew suddenly irritated, then angry. Why don’t you just leave me alone? Why do you have to keep on tormenting me?
The light on top the cab stopped its spinning and went dark. The rainbow lights faded.
Ev smiled, feeling a minor triumph. Then he heard her comment, like wind chimes in a light breeze: Do not believe you have won, engineer. I will win. You are mine! What we are beginning cannot be stopped.
Why are you doing this to me? What do you mean?
Be patient, engineer. All will be explained in good time.
Feeling a cold chill run down his spine, Ev turned and walked swiftly after his fellow crewmembers trying to forget the echo of her words. ‘I will win…you are mine…all will be explained…’ He was unaware, except in a very vague sense, of the nature of the voice in his mind. All he knew was that he believed he had heard the engine talk, and that the voice was eerily reminiscent of the one that whispered in his dreams. His life was taking on a new dimension–and he wasn’t sure if he liked it.
There was no apparent change in the situation for days, but Ev was, nevertheless, undergoing more changes under the influence of the voice as their joining progressed. That Friday, Pat Ryan invited Ev, his sister Elizabeth and Ev’s older roommate Rig out to a fish fry at the Golden Egg Restaurant.
That same engineer sat across from Rig in their two-bedroom apartment at Tolcek’s Apartment House, a modest establishment on West 10th Street in Cameron. They were playing Cribbage. Both were ready to go, but it was still early on that particular payday evening.
Rig Dawson dealt the cards out with practiced ease, six cards to each of them.
“You go first,” he said, concentrating on his hand and what to put in his crib. Dawson was six foot five, with wide shoulders and deep brown eyes. Bushy brows crowned his eyes, now together in a frown as he determined he had a lousy hand for Cribbage. His hair was also a deep chestnut brown and quite curly, though not too long. His mouth stretched into a grin as Ev turned over a card he could use. The two cards he had laid down for his crib had no points.
After a tough hand, Rig played his last card. “Ha! Fifteen for two.”
Ev shrugged, no readable expression on his face, as he rattled off his score. Pegging the points, Ev went out, winning the game.
Rig sighed. “At least I didn’t get skunked.”
Ev shuffled the cards as Rig moved all the pegs to starting holes on their board.
“Hey Rig, do you think I could ask you something?” Ev began, feeling the need to tell someone of the voice he had been hearing and of the things that were happening to him.
“Sure. What’s on your mind?” His friend replied as he looked over the cards Ev dealt.
“I know this is going to sound weird, but have you ever heard a locomotive talk?” Ev requested earnestly, waiting for a reply from the man who had taught him his trade.
Rig stopped and looked over at him pointedly. “No. What makes you ask such a silly question?”
Ev sighed, pushing his chair back on two legs.
“I’ve been working the Beloit Transfer on Andy Warden’s vacation vacancy. We’ve had the same engines all this week. The lead unit’s been 1019. Do you know which one I mean?”
Rig nodded. “If I remember right, that’s a GP-40. Sounds like they finally decided to put some good power on that train. What has that got to do with you thinking you heard a locomotive talk?”
“Rig, it’s that unit I heard talk,” Ev said, dead serious. “I know that sounds a bit weird, but I’m telling you the truth! It all started on Monday. We were just out of Tower 127 going into Trevanwood when I was kinda daydreaming. I had this eerie sensation…as if I was the train…for just a few seconds–then I thought of something really stupid: I wished the engine could talk.”
“Then what happened?”
“What?” Rig carefully laid his hand of cards down on the kitchen table. He stared hard at Rykoff, finally paying closer attention to the obvious changes that were being manifested in his roommate. Something very odd was going on with his friend. Maybe he DIDN’T just dye his hair when I wasn’t looking… Rig mused, feeling uneasy as he stared at his friend.
“The engine answered. I thought I was crazy–hearing things–but it’s been doing it every trip since.” Ev’s expression was haunted. “You know I wouldn’t make this up!”
“Are you sure you’re not just–”
“No.” Ev stood up and began to pace. “There are other things. My hair’s turned completely white–”
“I wondered about that. I take it it’s not dye then?” the other engineer asked. His chair creaked ominously as he balanced on the two back legs.
“No. It turned white over a few days. By Wednesday, it was completely white. Pat brought the change to my attention, and he’s right.”
“Maybe it’s a natural change. It’s been known to happen…”
“I don’t think so. There have been other things. Watch this,” Ev said as he slowly brought up his hand. He was standing a good five feet from the metal shade of the lamp over the table when a vivid arc of energy jumped from his hand, bridging the gap.
“WOW! How did you do that?” Rig breathed, almost falling off his chair.
“That’s the trouble. I don’t know. All I have to do is will it to happen and it does. I have a feeling it’s related to that engine…and her voice.”
“Her voice, huh. A female voice.”
“Yeah, and it scares me, Rig. What’s happening to me?” He gave Rig a stricken look, his features showing his stress. His pale blue eyes held a vague glimmer of something alien.
Rig noticed it. What did I just see in his eyes? “Well…I think we can safely say it’s not in your imagination,” Rig said carefully.
“That’s for sure. I’m scared, Rig,” Ev admitted softly, his expression a bit crazed.
“Maybe if you ignored the voice it would go away…” Rig suggested.
“I’ve tried that. So far that doesn’t work. Am I going crazy?”
“How do I know? Do you know what the voice is?”
Ev shrugged. “A demon…a spirit? I have no idea. Whatever it is, it’s doing something to me, and I’m not sure I like it.”
Rig shuddered. “That sounds like witchcraft or something.”
“I know. That’s what bothers me…and why me?”
At that moment, someone knocked on the door. Rig got up to answer it but not before Ev grabbed Rig’s arm, sending a shocking buzz through his muscles. Ev met his eyes. “Rig…I don’t want to talk about this with them.”
“Why?” he hissed, barely tolerating the stiff electrical charge humming through his cramping arm muscles.
“I’m just not ready. I’m having enough trouble keeping Pat off my case without involving my sister in this.” Ev’s desperate look made Rig reluctantly agree. Ev released him.
Rubbing his arm, Rig opened the door. Ev watched warily as Pat Ryan and Elizabeth came in. Elizabeth was eight years older. She had been married before, but had lost her first spouse in a tragic rear-ender two years before. She had been left with a six-year-old child and a broken heart. Ev imagined it took a lot of courage to fall for another conductor.
The two engineers watched Pat beam with pride at having the beautiful Elizabeth Joiner as his date. Elizabeth had long, strawberry blonde hair that flowed over her shoulders in a silken cascade. Anyone could see the family resemblance between Ev and his sister. Elizabeth’s features were a softer, feminine version of his, aged by experience. She stood at Pat’s shoulder, just topping five foot six. Her figure was spare. She was a bit long-legged in proportion to her height, which they knew suited Pat just fine.
“Well, are you two ready?” Pat inquired as Rig closed the door.
Rig replied for them both. “Sure. Been waiting since five. Just got beat at cards–again. If you two had gotten here sooner, I wouldn’t have lost so often.”
“What were you playing, poker?” Pat asked amused, picturing money lost in the process.
“Naw, just Cribbage,” Ev replied, arms crossed, standing near the kitchen table behind Rig. He kept his head down.
Everyone but Rig got a laugh out of it.
“Hey, he’s damn good at Cribbage!”
Ev tugged at Rig’s sleeve. “C’mon, Hoghead, let’s go to dinner.”
The Golden Egg Restaurant was a twenty-four hour establishment located at the Center Street, I-90 Interchange. Styled after a Medieval English home, it had a shingle-shake roof and stucco walls which were braced with oak beams. Inside, the cuisine of an Old English inn was executed. The place got its name from the story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’–and ‘The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.’ It had a real good fish fry each Friday for a low, crowd-attracting price.
The group of rails arrived at the joint soon after the dinner hour had started. A hectic scene greeted their eyes as they entered the foyer. As they waited, they watched rushing servers and customers enjoying their meals.
“How many, sir?” The hostess inquired politely.
“Four,” replied Pat.
“This way, please,” she confidently led them through the crowd to a booth near the paned windows that overlooked the Freeway. She dealt out the menus much as Rig dealt cards. Then they took their seats.
“Ah–we’re having the fish fry,” Pat said as the large laminated lists hit the table.
“Very good. I’ll send someone over to take your beverage orders. Help yourselves to the buffet.” In a second, she had gathered up the menus and had disappeared into the crowd.
Ev sat across from Elizabeth, next to the window. Distractedly, he stared out across the Freeway to the string of tall poles that held the Cameron Yard lights. His mind was on 1019. He was confused, yet curious. Part of him wanted to find out how and why the entity of that unit was doing whatever it was it was doing to him. Another part of him wanted to get as far away as possible, fearing what the engine’s voice portended. What are you? What do you want with me?
He got an instant reply, though part of him regretted the impulse that made him ask. What am I? I am Silicrys. What do I want with you? the voice asked in return. I only wish to be your siiur’kiirehn, your companion. It is not a good thing to be alone.
Ev did not quite grasp what she meant. He closed his eyes, trying to keep calm, and think coherently. Is–is your name Silicrys? he wondered, asking the first question his curiosity prompted. That act momentarily overcame his fear.
No. My name is Jehnaa’ehn. My race is very old.
He frowned. Your race?
Yes. We are Silicrys. ‘Star People’.
There are more of you? That piqued his interest. Why did you come here?
There are many more of my kind–beyond this world. Many fear to come here. Your race is technically forbidden to us, but the reasons behind that taboo have never been made clear to me. Therefore, I have come for the siivahnurah.
He was puzzled by her terminology. What is–siivahnurah? Ev asked, oblivious to the concerned looks of his tablemates.
It is the way by which I am making you mine. It is the Joining of our beings.
What do you mean? Ev’s apprehension returned in full force. He felt her distress at his fear. That bothered him. Why are you doing these things to me? Why me…out of all the engineers in Cameron?
We have touched many times, you and I.
Where? In his mind, the images of the repeating nightmares flashed brilliantly, much clearer than his hazy memories.
The images in your mind…
Yes. I have waited a long time for you to speak to me! If you did not desire the siivahnurah, then why did you call on me?
He blinked, his heart in his throat. I didn’t realize anyone would answer! What did you expect? You’re just an engine–a GP-40–a locomotive–that’s all!
Why do you fight me? I only wish the kiiyahkihn. Your thoughts are disturbing…
You hear my thoughts? Wait–of course. You couldn’t talk to me like this if you couldn’t, but–all my thoughts? Ev’s eyes opened very wide, though he really didn’t see his sister across the table or hear her inquiry as to what was wrong with him.
Well, not ALL your thoughts–yet. Soon, yes. When we complete the siivahnurah, you will know my thoughts and I will know yours. We will be united in the kiiyahkihn–
Kiiyahkihn…? The word had a strange sense-image with it.
If you would cease to fight me, this time of becoming ahnjehnur would be much easier for you–and for me. Why do you not understand? She broadcast her considerable frustration at his resistance. It was painful…and she did not hesitate to share it with him. Tears came to his eyes. His face held the emotional feedback like a mirror.
“EV!” Elizabeth reached across the table and shook him, breaking his concentration.
He blinked, a tear running down his cheek. He felt disorientated and very strange.
“I–I’m sorry. I was–ah–daydreaming.”
Rig watched him narrowly, having a good idea what was wrong, but not daring to say a word about it. He was very concerned for Ev, but felt powerless to do anything to stop it.
Ev trembled, a vague, almost imperceptible aura cloaking his entire body. He felt out of focus. His breathing became difficult, as if the wind had been knocked out of him.
“Ev, are you alright?” Rig asked in a conspiratorial whisper that only Ev heard.
The young engineer shrugged. “I don’t know.” He hesitated. “I think so,” he replied softly. He could feel his pulse in his temples–slow and loud.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re awfully pale,” his sister spoke in a concerned tone of voice, her hand on his arm. Her hair stood up a bit like a static electricity experiment. The effect was not as strong as Rig had experienced earlier.
“Yeah! I’m fine!” He pulled back his shoulders although he was shaking. His arms were tingling, and he felt like he was burning up. He knew Elizabeth was watching him, trying to understand his odd behavior. She hesitated, on the verge of questioning him, then, without a word, released his arm, turned and left for the buffet. Ev saw her go, knowing he had not heard the last from his sister.
What’s wrong with me–silicrys Jenine? He called out in his mind, can you hear me?
Yes, I can hear you, but I must tell you, my name is Jehnaa’ehn.
Jenine, he sent again, something definitely getting lost in the translation.
Ah, what does it matter? Jenine is close enough, she said, a very real affection in her voice. As to what is wrong—nothing is wrong. You are changing.
I figured that out. Why am I changing?
If you are not adapted to the kiiyahkihn, you will die from being in contact with me. I am energy. My touch can kill–if you are not prepared, so I am preparing you. This becoming need not take so long, but you must cooperate!
How I feel now is part of this–siivahnurah–this game of yours? Ev snapped silently. What’s in this for me? Why would I want to be your partner in this kiiyahkihn thing?
I am not sure how to answer you, Everett. Only the completion of siivahnurah can give you the answers you seek. Please believe me when I say this is no game, Everett Rykoff. We will both die if this growing bond is broken. I do not want to die. Do you?
Die? NO! That revelation put another stab of cold fear in his mind. You mean to say you can’t stop this joining thing…that what you do is irreversible?
Yes. As long as it takes, no matter how we both suffer–I must win in the end, or we both lose. Come to me and it can be finished.
Fear of the unknown bubbled up, threatening to overwhelm him, blocking the silicrys’ thoughts. As her presence in his mind evaporated, the aura faded from around him. Relieved, he deliberately put her out of his mind…for a while. Taking a deep breath, he began to feel more normal. The bizarre experience had passed.
His roommate, Rig, had been thoughtful enough to bring him a plateful of fish and sundries and set it down in front of him. “There you go. How do you feel?”
“Thanks, Rig.” The entire exchange with the being called Jenine had taken only a few minutes, though it seemed a much longer time to Ev. “I’m alright … now.” I think. What have I gotten myself into?
As the others returned to the table, Ev gave a surreptitious glance out the window in the direction of the Yard. He shook his head slowly and began to eat. I should’ve laid off Monday…