Anger became panic. Annie turned to leave, to run from this containment. In her way stood–. She stopped. It can’t be. Her mouth fell open. In the same robe covering as the two who led her here, Annie looked into her own face. One difference, instead of short cut red-golden hair this young woman had dark curls that draped softly over her shoulders. It sparkled red from soft lighting that flowed around her.
“Who? Who are you?” Annie gasped.
Laughter sounding like her own floated in the room, joining what was already there.
“Annie, you need to calm down.” Grandmere’s voice came from the female’s lips.
“Gra…Grandmere?” Annie stammered.
“No Dear.” The soft response comforted Annie. “My name is Briton, Briton LaMandu. I’m your cousin. We share the same destiny.”
“I don’t want to.” Tears grew in Annie’s eyes. She didn’t try to keep the frustration from her voice.
“It’s a choice you can make, but first you must understand.” Briton held her hand out.
Grandmere had always done that to persuade Annie to acquiesce with her wishes. Annie looked into this cousin’s eyes. They’re hazel, just like mine, she thought. Complimenting the brown of her robe, the oval embers reflected the darkness around them. In the middle of each a spark burned.
“Come on Annie.” Briton continued to reach out to her. “Just listen. We’re family. If this truly is not what you want, I will make sure you leave safely.”
Annie wanted to believe in Briton’s sincerity. “Does it hurt?” She asked, then forced herself to take Briton’s hand.
More laughter that carried the joy Anne could vaguely remember experiencing, reached out to hug her.
“We are too much alike.” Briton squeezed Annie’s hand. “Well mainly because sometimes the truth hurts. And we feel it more.” Briton turned to the golden eyes Annie had noticed on entering. “We are ready. May I stay with her?”
The eyes blinked. “It is what it is.”
“What’s that all about?” Annie asked.
“I’ve never been totally sure,” Briton responded. “From what I’ve been able to determine those are the only words in our language the Master can say out loud.”
“The Master?” Annie pulled her hand back, but Briton kept her grip.
“Don’t worry. It’s just a short term for who he is. You’ll understand soon. Come. First you must change.” Briton pulled her into the dark. Without explanation a door appeared. Briton stopped. “Inside you’ll find,” she motioned to the robe she wore, “one of these. You need to be comfortable. Take off your outer clothing, and anything else that will accomplish this.” She pulled Annie forward, releasing her hand. “I’ll be right here when you’re ready.”
Once Annie stepped inside, the door closed behind her. Lights brightened, exposing soft green walls. Not much bigger than her closet back home, the space was sparsely furnished. A bench on one side held the waiting robe.
Comfortable? Annie thought. “Well, I guess that means….” The sound of her words made her feel better. She took off her too tight slacks and wadded them, with the short sleeved blue blouse she wore. What about? She felt the heat of a flush race up her neck onto her face.
“Comfortable.” Briton’s voice repeated in her mind.
Annie slipped the robe on and tightened the belt. She sat down on the bench, next to her discarded clothing.
“Annie?” Briton called. “Are you ready?”
“No, not yet.” She continued to sit, trying to think of a way out. There was none. She stood and walked to join her cousin. Taking a deep breath, to bring some strength to her actions, she opened the door. “Well, show me what I need to know. It better be good, or I’m going home.” She tried to sound braver than she felt.
Briton laughed. “Oh it is, but it’s still your choice.”
The outer room had changed. A soft glow removed the darker shadows.
It’s not as big as I thought. Annie let Briton pull her to the center of a circle consisting of five tall pillars. On top of each, a robed figure sat on soft cushions.
Annie sat in a chair that reclined, leaving her in a semi-upright position.
“I’ll be close,” said Briton.
“Thank you.” Annie drew the intended comfort close. On the pillar before her, the golden eyes blinked.
Light cascaded over each of the forms. The one to Annie’s far right took on greater lumination, drawing her attention to it. “The coin?” A voice with a strong z-twang that began and ended the sentence asked
“Yes, but it’s stuck.” Annie held her hand out. Even though she tried to steady it, it shook
A long metal appendage extended from the floor in front of her. Pincers picked up the metal and placed it face down on an indentation in the chair arm. Vibration rumbled through Annie.
“Sit back and close your eyes,” the same voice instructed.
Annie obeyed. Swirls of light flooded into her mind. One vision after another of battles imposed themselves. Screams of pain, anguish and frustration accompanied each changing panorama. A common factor from one scene to the next were lights that moved along the edges, sometimes purple, sometimes green. The settings changed to more intimate surroundings. Groups of beings from various cultures gathered on either side of oval table tops. The lights from the battlefields passed from one side to the other. Where the previous cries had been loud and unforgiving, here voices were soft and considerate. The visions faded.
To Annie’s left a smooth voice with an unfamiliar accent, she knew to be terran, spoke up. “These are extreme examples. Sometimes the gift we offer is much more subtle.”
Rumbles of agreement filtered around her.
A feeling of change and good flooded into Annie. A stronger emotion came from the direction of the golden eyes.
“You can help many, if you are willing to accept,” the terran voice drew her attention. “We ask that you remain for three of your sleepcycles and experience some of the benefits others have brought to humanity. After that you will make a choice to accept or walk away.”
Annie sighed. With her eyes closed, the visions continued. “What’s in it for me?” With the flipant remark, she tried to control the fear that grew with each situation. She failed
“I told you.” A laugh came from behind her.
She felt agreement from the other beings.
“There are benefits to you as well as others.” Disapointment echoed in the terran voice. He continued, “All will be explained in time.”
“Well.” Annie’s nose crinkled with regret at her flippant remark. With fear obvious in her voice, she continued. “If I don’t want to accept it, I really don’t have to?”
“If you can walk away, then you will.” The answer filtered from all.
Silence wrapped a cloak over the room. Annie fell into a deep sleep. Visions that were more than dreams grew and expanded in her mind. She felt the pain of limbs ripped from bodies when explosions landed too close. From sentient beings the light of life faded, leaving empty husks that littered the battlefields.
All through the dreams and visions a soft voice carried. “It is what it is.” The power of how her destiny could make a difference in these and less hostile situations, played out.
After what must have been a significant passage of time, the lights brightened. Annie opened her eyes. The pillars were gone, as were all the beings. Loud breathing came from behind her.
“Who?” Annie’s body stiffened.
“It’s just me.” Briton’s familiar voice brought reassurance. “When you’re ready, I’ll take you to your quarters where you can refresh, then return to the visions.”
It was hard to gather in all she had seen and heard so far. The weight of it flooded in to overwhelm her. “Briton?” she called.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Regret came from the voice that answered. “Sorry. You have to experience it all and make your own decision in your own way. I am forbidden from saying more.”
“Oh, well then,” Annie stood. “I guess I’m ready. That’s not the right word, but let’s go.” She stomped ahead of Briton to the exit. Light waited to enfold her in its warm embrace. My destiny? My choice? I can’t do this, she wanted to shout. Instead she stepped aside to let Briton lead her to more visions and nightmares that would haunt her, no matter what she ended up choosing.