Chapter 12

By: Nevermore

Author's Note: I just want to say a few things really quickly. First, a 'thank you' needs to be said to Jaimi, for not only giving me the opportunity to finish this wonderful story of hers, but for also giving me (mostly) free rein in taking it in almost any direction I wanted to go (until the end, which was a wonderful conclusion she had in mind all along), and also pretty much leaving all my writing alone before posting. I could never have made this story as good as I think it is without her constant support and encouragement. And speaking of support and encouragement, I also want to thank all the people that gave such positive feedback in their reviews during the course of this story. The comments were all appreciated, and made me strive harder to make each chapter better than the one before it. So if you like how this ended, let Jaimi and me know with a wonderful review. And if, perchance, you did not like it, then let us know why, so that we'll do that much better next time.

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"I don't want to see you," Trance muttered as her father walked into her room, unbidden.

"We didn't give you a choice, daughter," the king replied. "We would speak with you."

"I'm not interested in anything you have to say," she answered, her voice holding a small taste of venom. "You lied to me. You said I could choose who I would marry, and then when Harper showed up, you changed your mind. I can't believe I ever trusted you."

"I hope you don't think I'm completely dim," he said softly in reply, once again refraining from using the royal plural in his speech. "I don't doubt that you're upset with my actions, but that isn't what's had you in here for the last hour, trying to hold back your tears."

"What tears?" Trance shot back, though she knew that her puffy eyes would give her away. "I'm not crying."

"Not at present," the king agreed, "but you have been recently."

"So?" Trance asked.

"So you've finally realized why it is that I never wanted you to get too close to a human."

"Because you hate them?" Trance asked. "I realized that years ago… no news there."

"I don't hate them," her father replied. "Don't get me wrong, it's not like I particularly like them, but I don't hate them. "True, they kicked us off Earth, but the fact of the matter is that Earth is their world - they were the indigenous species, not us. They became strong enough to take back what was rightfully theirs, so they did. I think most of our people were more upset by the fact that they were beaten down by a back of backward savages than they were about being forced to leave the planet. It's a matter of pride more than anything else."

"So then why don't you like them if it has nothing to do with us leaving Earth?"

"Because they're dangerous," the king replied. "They live for such a short time, Trance, that they don't give much thought to the consequences of their actions. How many worlds have they destroyed in their endless pursuit of resources? How many times did they almost destroy their own world? They think nothing of taking actions that could have disastrous consequences a hundred years down the line, because the ones that make the decision won't be around to have to deal with its results. Everywhere they go, they make a mess of the universe, and it's long-lived species like us that are made to suffer for it."

"But they're not all like that," Trance countered.

"And I would assume you are next going to tell me that your Harper is one of the exceptional ones," the king said.

"Would you expect me to fall for someone that was primitive, destructive, and shortsighted?" Trance asked indignantly. "Of course he's one of the good ones. Don't forget that you're the one that raised me - you surely can't be willing to admit to the possibility that I was never taught good judgment."

"And let's not forget how clever you can be, either, child," the king replied. "You don't plan on backing down an inch on this, do you?"

"I'm as persistent as I am clever," Trance said with a thin smile, sensing a major shift in her father's mood. She was certain he was going to allow her to be with Harper.

"I know I cannot oppose you forever, Trance," her father grumbled, "so I guess I have little choice but to allow you to marry your human, if that is what you wish."

"Really?!"

"Yes," the king affirmed with a reluctant nod.

"Thank you," Trance said, lunging toward her father and wrapping him up in a tight hug. It was something she had never done, and the entire situation seemed somewhat surreal to her.

"However," her father added, "I would ask that you reconsider your own decision."

"What?" Trance asked. "Why?"

"Because while I would allow you to do this if you wish, there is, as I warned you before, a price."

"What price?" Trance asked nervously.

"Death," her father said evenly, his face completely devoid of any emotion. For the briefest of moments Trance thought she saw something akin to grief in her father's eyes, but it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

"Death?" Trance asked. "Whose death?"

"Yours," Oberon replied. "You will have to die. You will have to become mortal."

"What?" Trance asked. "How?"

"The Druids of Dana can make it so," the king said. "They alone have the power over the very forces of life and death. It is through their power that our people first became immortal, and through them that you will lose that most precious of gifts."

"You would make me mortal?" Trance asked.

"No, you would make you mortal," the king corrected. "The choice is yours, daughter. I'm simply letting you know the price of your actions."

"Why?"

"Because I feel you have a right to know what will befall you," the king said simply.

"No, not that," Trance said quickly. "Why are you going to take away my immortality?"

"Because it's the only way our people will accept it," Oberon explained. "If you were to marry a human as an immortal, our people would be most displeased. However, if you make a sacrifice worthy of some of our greatest epics, all in the name of love, there are those that will accept your decision. In the eyes of many, you may be esteemed even more highly."

"So you're going to make me mortal so that you can hold onto your throne," Trance surmised.

"No," Oberon objected. "At least, not exactly. While it's true that this part of the price of your wedding will likely make it possible for me to hold the throne, it's not the only reason I'm forcing this upon you."

"This part of the price?" Trance asked. "Are you telling me there's more?"

"Yes, there is one more thing," the king replied. "Should you and Harper ever have any offspring, the first will be sent here when it turns thirteen years old, to complete its growth among us."

"No," Trance said emphatically. "There's no way in hell that's going to happen."

"It has to," Oberon answered.

"Why?" Trance challenged. "Give me one good reason."

"Because our people are dying," the king shot back. "We've been alone on this world for millennia, becoming stagnant and complacent. There's a reason many of our people look back on our time on Earth as a Golden Age. We were constantly faced with new challenges and ideas while we were among the humans, and we were made better because of it. Time has been passing us by while we've been on Avalon. We must go forth once again, to become part of the universe around us. Our people are not ready for that, though. We'll need someone that can speak for us, who can understand us while still being at home among the people that have become so alien to us. Our people have become an island apart from the galaxy, and we now need a bridge. Your child will be that bridge."

Trance could only gaze at her father, utterly in shock at his explanation. She had had no idea her father had been planning on bringing their people once more among the outlanders. And for my child to be involved…

"I need this of you, daughter," the king said. "Our people need it. Surely you understand."

"I do," Trance admitted. "But I don't know how Harper is going to feel about this."

"He must not know," the king said quickly. "Well, he at least must not know about our plans for your offspring. He might treat the child differently somehow… Trance, your child must truly be a product of the civilization that exists out there. It can't be sheltered or protected overly much, and it must not have any idea of its role until the time has come. Surely you understand."

"I do," Trance admitted, "but I don't know that I can keep this secret from Harper."

"You may tell him when the time is right," Oberon responded, a hint of sadness in his eyes. Trance knew her father was all too aware of what he was asking. "Tell your human that your are being required to be mortal. I think it's only fair that he know that much, at the least."

"Okay," Trance mumbled, her head swimming with the possible ways she would even broach the subject. Oh, hi Harper, she imagined herself saying over dinner. Guess what, my father said we could get married, and the only price he could think of was to make me die in a few decades. Isn't that wonderful? Please pass the salt. She shook her head in frustration, unable to plan the conversation she knew she would have to take place very, very soon.

"Oh, there's something else," the king added, after he had only half-turned toward the door.

"Nothing else," Trance growled. "I think you've laid enough conditions upon me."

"I would ask that you invite your friend, Captain Hunt, down here to the palace," the king said, shocking his daughter. "I would speak with him."

"About what?"

"This Commonwealth he's planning on building…" her father replied, "it sounds like a very good idea."

"It is," Trance said.

"Yes, if our people are to leave Avalon, we will need friends," the king mused aloud. "We think it would be a very good thing to have friends in the Commonwealth."

"I'll invite him down immediately," Trance said.

"And then send Normaf up to get him," Oberon added. "That would certainly be preferable to one of their spaceships coming down here." He opened the door and was almost completely through the threshold when he stopped yet again. "Oh, and one other thing," he added.

"What?!" Trance asked.

"Should you decide to marry Harper, and should he still be willing, the wedding will take place tomorrow, as planned."

"I know."

"Well, should you decide that you would like to invite some guests of your own, feel free to extend an invitation to the rest of your friends aboard Captain Hunt's starship," the king said with a warm smile. "We can consider it a necessary first step in the development of foreign relations." Trance's only response was shocked silence.

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"How does that song go?" Harper muttered as he stumbled along the roof of King Oberon's castle, using the crenellations to balance himself with his right hand, as he took long swigs out of a bottle held in his left. "Farewell and adieu to you fair Martian ladies," he sang slowly. "Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Mars. For we've received orders, for to set off for…" his voice trailed off as he looked around. "Where the hell am I, anyway?"

"Avalon," a voice called out from the black night. "The planet is called Avalon." Harper looked quickly to his left, almost throwing his inebriated body off-balance with the speed of his movement.

"Who's there?"

"Just me," the voice replied as a figure strolled into view, seeming to emerge from out of a shadow created at the edge of a low-burning torch's light. It took a few moments for Harper to focus his eyes, but eventually he recognized Puck. "You seem rather drunk, Mr. Harper," the faerie commented offhandedly.

"So what if I am?" Harper asked. "The big fuzzy orange guy in the kitchen said this stuff wouldn't give me a bit of a hangover tomorrow. He said it's magical."

"Then I guess it is," Puck commented, "at least, I would expect so if that's what Timmeron told you."

"He didn't tell me his name," Harper said.

"Well, he is big and orange, and he does work in the kitchen, but he's not at all fuzzy, from what I remember, although I guess it's possible someone decided to punish him for something by making him work in the kitchen with a fur coat. Or is it that you were drinking even before you met old Timmeron?"

"Well, a little," Harper admitted. "I asked the guards for something to drink, and they brought me mead. Never had that before…"

"Wonderful stuff, it is," Puck said, "though I suspect that the pixie dew you're drinking now will indeed cause you far less pain tomorrow."

"What, is mead bad?" Harper asked.

"There's little in heaven and earth that is worse than a mead hangover," Puck said. "With all luck, the pixie dew will help cleanse the mead from your system."

"Great."

"So I presume by your current self-destructive mood that you have spoken with Princess Trance," Puck guessed.

"Don't call her a princess," Harper said, almost wincing at the word. He hated to be reminded that she was royalty, that there was even more than the obvious that made her way out of his league.

"But she is a princess," the faerie pointed out.

"Not to me she isn't," Harper retorted. "To me she's just the most amazing woman that ever lived, and the closest friend I ever had."

"She is amazing, at that," Puck agreed, "and you're truly a lucky man if you can count a woman such as her as a friend."

"Yeah, I guess," Harper replied, "but being my friend is getting her nothing but problems. I think she'd probably be better off if I just disappear and she never sees me again."

"Oh really?" Puck asked curiously. "I certainly hope we're not heading for an 'It's a Wonderful Life' moment here."

"What?" the human asked, unfamiliar with the movie that had been made millennia earlier.

"Oh, sorry, I guess that was a bit before your time, wasn't it?" Puck said with a smirk. "All I mean, Mr. Harper, is that you've had a wondrous impact on Trance. She's a better person for having known you, of that much I can guarantee."

"Oh really?" the engineer asked. "How was she back in the day?"

"She was… different," Puck responded, obviously doing his best to avoid giving a direct answer. "Let's just say her personality was a bit darker when she initially left Avalon."

"Darker?" Harper asked nervously, remembering the faint images he had seen while accessing the files a Perseid had downloaded into him. 'Darker' was certainly a word that could describe that image of Trance.

"I'm not saying she was sinister or anything," Puck explained quickly. "Don't get the wrong idea or anything. I'm just saying she was a bit less concerned with the fate of those around her. She was far more like the rest of her people. I think being around humans was good for her."

"But now she's gonna have to stay here for the rest of her life," Harper muttered. "She won't be around us anymore."

"Why do you say that?" Puck asked. "I've heard the king gave Trance his blessing to marry you. Already the courtiers have been whipped up into a frenzy of gossip. The word 'scandal' is getting more use this night than it has in the previous century; and let me assure you, my friend, that's quite a feat in this palace." Harper cracked a thin smile at the comment. "So, Mr. Harper, I ask again - why do you say that Trance is going to stay amongst us?"

"Because I can't marry her," he said miserably, fighting to control the emotions that the alcohol seemed to be enhancing. "Do you know the price that her father asked? He said she would have to give up immortality. For me. The whole idea is so asinine I can hardly even consider it."

"Asinine?" Puck asked, obviously amused. "I would hardly say that. The king has bestowed a great gift on you, Mr. Harper. You just don't realize it, and I'll bet Trance doesn't, either, though I'm absolutely certain Oberon knew what he was doing, even if he explained it away somehow."

"A gift?" Harper asked dubiously. "Are you crazy? She's giving up immortality."

"And you only feel immortality's worth something because you're mortal," Puck shot back, his voice containing a hint of venom that surprised the human. "You have a limited lifespan, and as humans do with everything that's limited, you want more. You cannot even fathom that anyone could ever want less."

"Less?" Harper asked, confused. "His inebriated mind was suddenly having trouble keeping up with the conversation.

"I'm immortal," Puck replied, "and let me assure you that it isn't everything it's cracked up to be, especially where love is concerned."

"Yeah, right," Harper said. "You expect me to believe that?"

"Let me tell you a couple of stories, Mr. Harper," Puck commented, hopping up onto a crenellation with the greatest of ease, seemingly unconcerned that he sat precariously at the edge of a several hundred foot drop. "All I ask is that you never, ever, repeat what I'm about to tell you."

"Fine," Harper responded, leaning back against the stone wall of the tower and taking a long gulp of the pixie dew. The liquid immediately sent a wave of warmth through his entire body, banishing the cold in his fingertips, replacing the numbing chill with a completely different lack of sensation altogether.

"In my long lifetime, Mr. Harper, I have been in love only twice," Puck said. "Now, when I say 'in love,' I mean actually being in an intimate relationship where I care deeply about the other individual. I'm not referring to the casual two- or three-year dalliance."

"And I'm sure there have been many of them," Harper said with a thin smile.

"Actually, there have," Puck said quickly. "I have a way with women, Harper. It's almost too bad that you've already found someone. Otherwise, I could teach you some things that would make you one of the most wanted men in the known galaxies."

"I bet," Harper replied, his smile growing broader as he imagined being the object of millions of women's desires.

"Fine, doubt me if you must," Puck answered, "but you won't distract me from my tale. As I was saying, I've been in love twice. The first time was on Earth, when I fell in love with a human princess named Boadicea. She was a Celt in the British Isles, a woman with an absolute inferno that raged within her soul. Her will was so strong that she rose up against the Roman army that was occupying her ancestral lands, and others were inspired to follow her into battle. She was wonderful…" Puck's voice trailed off as he got a faraway gaze in his eyes, and Harper could only guess that the faerie was remembering some of the events for the first time in years. For several minutes absolute silence existed between the two men, with only the occasional zephyr to remind Harper that the world was still moving along around them.

"So what happened?" Harper asked.

"Eventually her insurrection was put down," Puck continued. "As strong as the Celts were, they were no match for the Roman legions. Boadicea's army was finally forced into a great battle, and her forces were crushed. She was captured and killed, and I could do nothing."

"Why?"

"There was an agreement between faeries that went back centuries, to the earliest days of the Mesopotamian city-states," Puck explained. "For several years two feuding clans of faeries used human armies to wage war against one another, until we all finally agreed to leave humans to their own devices when it came to warfare. Had I intervened in Boadicea's war, my people would have banished me from Earth, and I would have lost my love. As it turned out, I suffered that fate, anyway."

"I'm sorry," Harper muttered.

"I dwelt in misery for a long time," Puck admitted, "until one day I realized that thirty years had gone by since my love's death. It occurred to me that even had she not fallen in her defiance against Rome so many years earlier, by that time she still would likely have been dead."

"And that made you feel better?" Harper asked.

"Strangely enough, it did," Puck admitted. "At least a little, anyway. I realized that my relationship with a mortal was destined to end with her death, and that the date of her demise, whether it had been thirty years earlier or later, meant very little to one that would likely live for millennia. You see, Harper, she would have grown old and died soon enough, anyway. I would never have been allowed the eternity of bliss that I had wanted so badly. By stripping Trance of her immortality, the king has freed her of the curse of being powerless against the ravages of time that will doubtlessly beset your mortal shell. Rather than watch you waste away and finally cease to be, Trance will be able to share the experience with you."

"And you think that's a good thing?" Harper asked.

"Would you have her left alone once you're gone, to have an eternity to dwell upon what she's lost?" Puck asked. "That seems far crueler than simply allowing her to grow old and die with the man she loves."

"Well why not just make me immortal, too?" Harper asked. "If you guys can make Trance mortal, there has to be some way to me immortal."

"Of course there is," Puck said, "but that would be the worst punishment of all."

"How do you figure?" Harper asked quizzically.

"Mortality is such a wondrous thing, Mr. Harper," Puck said. "Because you die, you have the freedom to dream that love can last forever. This brings me to my second tale, the story of my love with another of my own people. Her name was Tamina, and she had the smoothest pink skin, the brightest blue eyes, and the perkiest… oh, sorry," Puck muttered, as if he was suddenly surprised that Harper standing before him, listening to him reminisce. "Anyway, Tamina was beautiful, and intelligent, and funny, and passionate…"

"I get the point," Harper said. "She was pretty much perfect."

"No, she had one great flaw," Puck admitted. "She was immortal. I met Tamina maybe a century or so after Boadicea died, and she and I were together for over a thousand wondrous years. Then something curious happened."

"What?" Harper asked.

"We visited Earth again," Puck explained. "See, we had both been among the last to leave Earth, hanging around until humans were well into the Inquisition. We came here to Avalon for awhile, and then went back to Earth for a few years. We visited a country called the United States, which was on a continent that most humans didn't even know existed when I had left so many years before. There was a huge war going on, the biggest one the world had ever known. Cultures were clashing all across the globe, struggling for dominance, and then the United States dropped a nuclear device on one of its enemies. Displaying traditional human stubbornness, the United States' enemy continued to resist until a second bomb was dropped. After that, the war ended."

"And?"

"And Tamina was aghast at it all," Puck explained. "She loved life with a passion I don't have the words to describe. To have seen humans behave with such a callous disregard for each other and their world, well… she insisted on leaving immediately. I couldn't understand it. From my point of view, humans had finally grown up. They had learned to split the atom, and finally had the power to completely erase their species' existence if they weren't careful. For the first time in their history, humans were forced to be responsible with their destructive abilities. They were forced into developing the maturity that they would need to one day walk amongst the stars. I wished to stay, to see how it all worked out. Tamina insisted on leaving."

"So what did you do?" Harper asked eagerly.

"We went our separate ways, Mr. Harper," Puck said. "I still cared for Tamina, in fact I care for her even now, though we rarely see each other, but the true love that we had felt had faded away over the years. Eventually, our desire to follow our own hearts elsewhere outweighed our desire to stay together. So I ask you, Mr. Harper, which do think is worse - allowing two lovers to die while still in the heat of their passion, or to allow them to outlive their feelings, and eventually go their separate ways because their love perished, while they yet lived?"

"I never thought about it like that," Harper admitted.

"Of course you didn't," Puck responded evenly. "Why contemplate matters that could never apply to you? I know you may not believe me now, but one day you will. What you see as a punishment from the king is actually a wondrous boon; he realizes that, even if you and Trance do not."

"So you're saying I should be grateful that Trance is going to be made mortal?" Harper asked dubiously.

"Precisely," Puck assured him. "Trance wants to marry you, and you want to marry her. Such feelings do not develop often. In fact, I would doubt you'll ever see true love cross your path again. It seems foolish to turn your back now, just because of a little detail like mortality."

"Maybe," Harper said, considering the faerie's words carefully. "So you think I should marry Trance, even with the price she'll be forced to pay?"

"I think you should allow her to make this decision herself," Puck replied. "I can understand your position, Mr. Harper, but the fact is that it's Trance's immortality to surrender if she wishes. Has she expressed her intentions?"

"She wants to do it," Harper said.

"Then let her," Puck said. "Be there for her, both now and in the years to come, and don't ever look back, Mr. Harper. You've been offered a lifetime of happiness, even if that lifetime is only to last for a few decades. I don't see how you, or she, could ever refuse such a gift."

"I guess," Harper said hesitantly.

"Let me suggest you go back to your quarters," Puck said suddenly. "It seems you'll be getting married tomorrow, Mr. Harper, and I'm sure you don't want to look bleary-eyed in front of your friends."

"My friends?"

"The people from Andromeda were invited down here for the wedding," Puck said. "They'll be there, as will at least a thousand of my own people. Looking at you right now, I can only guess at the amount of beauty sleep you'll require to look presentable tomorrow morning."

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Make sure you go to your quarters early, Tyr remembered Dylan advising him. And once you're there, don't start wandering about, he had added. We don't want to make ourselves more unwelcome here than we already are. Tyr could only grin at Dylan's words. The Nietzschean had rarely been welcome anywhere, and saw no reason why he should start behaving any differently now.

He stood completely silently in the dark alcove, allowing the shadows to conceal his body while he concentrated on slowing his breathing as much as he could. He focused his mind on his sense of hearing, listening for the slightest sound even as his eyes continually scanned the hallway outside Harper's room. He did not find it surprising that on this world where humans were obviously so unwelcome that there wasn't a single guard within thirty meters of Harper's quarters, despite the fact that it was all too foreseeable that someone would be desperate to stop the princess from marrying a human.

For hours Tyr stood impassively. Then, finally, he heard the slow, muffled sound of footsteps. Someone's trying to be as quiet as possible, Tyr knew. He had heard the sound far too many times not to know that someone was up to something. The footfalls grew slightly louder as they approached, though Tyr noted that whoever was approaching was being silent enough to have avoided detection by any normal human. Then a slightly built figure concealed beneath a dark brown cloak moved into view and stopped outside Harper's door.

Slender red fingers appeared from within the sleeve and reached into a pocket, withdrawing a small vial.

"I hope you aren't about to do something regrettable," Tyr growled as he stepped menacingly from the shadows. The cloaked figure, obviously startled, whirled in his direction, replacing the vial back within the folds of his cloak as he moved.

"Leave here, mortal," a raspy voice ordered. "This has absolutely nothing to do with you."

"I beg to differ," Tyr snapped back.

"Beg all you want," the cloaked figure replied, "but it will change nothing."

"You intend Harper some harm," Tyr concluded, crossing his arms over his chest, scowling as he flexed the muscles in his arms. He knew he was imposing that way.

"And there are those that say humans are stupid," the man shot back mockingly.

"You're the man Trance was supposed to marry," Tyr presumed.

"Yes," Randex said, pulling back his cowl, trying to unsettle Tyr with his lifeless stare. It didn't work. His hand went to his neck, and he produced a silver necklace with a large amber pendent. He muttered words that were unintelligible to Tyr, and the amber began to glow slightly. "This will make certain we can talk without disturbing anyone," the faerie assured him, only causing Tyr to become more wary than he had already been. If it'll cover the noise of our voices, I wonder if it will also cover whatever other noise he plans to make, Tyr mused, suddenly realizing that he might find out just how dangerous Trance's people could be.

"You've come to eliminate the competition," the Nietzschean added.

"And what if I am?" Randex replied.

"Then it's probably no concern of mine," Tyr answered. "I'm a Nietzschean. I assume you've never heard of my people."

"You look human to me," Randex spat.

"The Nietzscheans are genetically engineered offshoots of humanity," Tyr explained. "We're about as perfect as human genetics can get."

"That's not really saying a whole hell of a lot," Randex responded, a sarcastic sneer set well in place. "Thoroughbreds are the greatest horses in the galaxies, the product of millennia of selective breeding, but at the end of the day they're still only horses. Just like you're still only human, a sub-standard species that's only one evolutionary step up from monkeys. To be honest, I can only wonder that you can speak and manage to walk without dragging your knuckles on the floor."

"Are you trying to provoke me?" Tyr asked, unable to believe that Randex actually seemed to be picking a fight with him. It had been years since he had encountered anyone that had been so foolish. "I was going to let you proceed, but you're seriously beginning to try my patience."

"You would let me proceed?" Randex asked dubiously. "Why would you do that?"

"Because I'm Nietzschean," Tyr explained simply. "My people feel that only the strongest should have the right to mate. If you can defeat Harper, then more power to you. I see no reason to stand in the way of natural selection."

"Some friend you are," Randex commented.

"I don't remember ever saying that I'm Harper's friend," Tyr replied. He relaxed his shoulders and took a half-step away down the hall.

"So then I'll just go into his room and take care of business," Randex said, taking the vial out of his pocket once again.

"If you don't mind my asking, what is that?" Tyr asked, turning back slightly with a passive, curious look on his face.

"It's poison," Randex said impatiently, "not that it's any of your business."

"You plan to poison Harper?" Tyr asked incredulously. "You come from a species that uses magic on a daily basis, and is apparently all but immortal, and you're going to use poison?"

"Yes," Randex replied. "What is it to you?"

"You're a coward," Tyr growled, once again setting his posture threateningly.

"Really?" Randex asked. "Does that mean you're back to protecting your non-friend again?"

"It means I have no use for weaklings who use chemicals to do their dirty work for them," Tyr said. "If you don't even have the strength to face a human, then you have no right to someone like Trance."

"Do I detect a hint of jealousy?" Randex asked. Tyr's immediate response was to land a thunderous punch on the faerie's jaw.

"No," Tyr snarled, glaring down at his shocked adversary. Randex's head darted slightly side to side as he appeared to struggle to gain his bearings. "You're pathetic," Tyr taunted, kicking Randex in the chest.

"And you're a dead man," Randex hissed. He lunged at Tyr, only managing to grab the Nietzschean's thigh as he struggled to rise halfway to his feet. Tyr stifled a cry of pain as he felt the faerie's hand burn into his flesh, searing through his breaches and immediately blistering the skin as Tyr stumbled back, out of Randex's reach. The faerie then stood to his feet and flashed a menacing smile at his foe.

"I may have planned to use poison, but that doesn't mean I'm weak," he muttered. "It just means that I'm smart, which is something you are obviously not." He raised a hand, producing a small ball of flame that he then hurled in Tyr's direction. With the faerie standing only a few feet away, the Nietzschean had no chance to dodge the attack. The globe of fire erupted in a blast of heat, and moments later Tyr could smell the sickening scent of burned hair and skin. His arms were beginning to blister with the same speed his leg had, and as he continued to cut back to his right, he could tell that a great deal of his hair had been burned off.

Bouncing off the wall, Tyr then lunged at Randex, landing a crushing blow in the center of the faerie's forehead. Randex stumbled again, but this time Tyr followed up on his initial success, grabbing the back of Randex's head as he landed several overwhelming strikes with his free elbow, cracking bone and teeth and reducing the faerie's face to a gory mess. The Nietzschean then stood silently for several moments, straining his ears to hear anyone's approach. There was nothing. He could only presume that the amber pendant had magically stifled the noise the two had made during their confrontation.

Grabbing the faerie by his matted, blood-soaked hair, Tyr gazed deeply into Randex's eyes, satisfied at the fear he saw there. "You will never, ever, go anywhere near Mr. Harper again," he spat furiously, gritting his teeth, fighting to prevent betraying the amount of pain that was shooting through his scorched flesh. Tyr's agony only increased with every passing second that he wasn't solely focused on injuring his opponent. "You will walk away down the hall, and you will make certain you tell no one of what just happened here. You will forget your claims to Trance Gemini, and you will never even consider contacting her. Is that understood?" Randex nodded his head weakly, and Tyr released his vice-like grip, allowing Randex's battered body slump to the floor. "I told you to walk away," Tyr growled, not allowing the scheming faerie a chance to gather himself enough to resume the fight. Mustering strength from somewhere deep inside, Randex rose to his feet and stumbled back the way he had come, never looking back at the Nietzschean that watched him go.

Once Randex was out of sight, Tyr returned to his hiding place in the shadows and slumped into a crouch with his back to the corner. Only two more hours, he told himself, digging deep within to find the resolve he would need to tolerate the excruciating pain until people started to wake up. Two more hours, and I can go tend to my wounds.

*************************************************


Harper's head swam as he stood facing Trance, a slight breeze carrying the scent of lilacs in the air and cooling his skin in defiance of the strong, hot sunlight. Try as he might, he found it almost impossible to focus on his surroundings - it almost felt like he had stepped into a dream. Trance had warned him the wedding could be a bit disorienting, but he had never expected this.

Weddings are extremely rare among my people, she had told him. As a result, they're very special occasions. Some of the most powerful of my people will be there, and they'll be rather… expressive. Harper had wondered what she meant, and all Trance could say was that her people projected their emotions and their lifeforces around them at all times in a way most other species did not. It was part of their magic, and enhanced the natural beauty of their world, just as Trance's presence had done wonders for Andromeda's hydroponics garden. A human might not notice the effect when confronted by a small number of her people, but in large groups, like they were now, humans were inevitably going to become unsettled.

Struggling to focus, Harper looked to his left, where Dylan, Rev, and Tyr were standing next to him. Dylan looked stoic as always, though Harper was certain his captain's perceptions were as muddled as his own were. Rev also seemed distracted, though more so by the awe-inspiring view atop Sunrise Bluff than by the effect of Trance's people. Tyr, surprisingly, looked somewhat glassy-eyed. Harper also noted that Tyr had shaved his head for some reason. Having his hair trimmed back to only about a centimeter's length made the Nietzschean seem even more menacing than ever.

Leaving his contemplation of his friends aside for the moment, Harper turned back toward Trance, trying to focus on her glimmering eyes looking back at him.

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Trance was also almost completely overwhelmed by the moment. Ever since she had been old enough to understand the concept of marriage, she had dreaded her wedding day. The reason was obvious - she had no desire to have her parents choose the one with whom she would spend eternity. Had she ever guessed that she would be permitted to choose her own husband, and that she would care about him as much as she cared about Harper, she would have longed for this moment as much as so many of her friends always looked forward to their own weddings.

Glancing to her right, she saw the proud smile on Beka's face. Though Trance was certain Beka was unable to understand most of the ceremony, she was obviously absolutely delighted to be present. Jasmine also seemed thrilled, and every few seconds the faerie looked off into the gathered throng, smiling and winking at individuals in the assemblage, loving the fact that she was garnering almost as much attention as Trance, herself, was. Behind Jasmine, Rommie stood impassively, her synthetic eyes taking in everything around her, completely oblivious to the empathic effect of Trance's people.

She turned to face forward once again, allowing her gaze to settle upon the druid that was performing the ceremony. High Priest Conchybar, the head of the Druidic Order of Dana, was reciting from memory the ancient incantations used to celebrate the joining of two beings. It was the second of his responsibilities that day, having first undertaken the ritual that stripped Trance of her immortality, instead bestowing upon her the lifespan of an average human woman. As great as the effect had been, however, Trance had seen the morning event as insignificant compared to the wedding ceremony. For this there were over a thousand faeries present, while the morning ritual permitted only three - Conchybar, Trance, and Oberon. Trance did not react well to having an audience.

The high priest continued to ramble on in his native tongue, which Trance knew none of her guests could understand. She had promised to get a copy of Rommie's visual recording and provide a translation within a month. For the time being, she simply had to hope that they stayed conscious.

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Harper's mind continued to wander until his thoughts were interrupted by a high-pitched keening wail coming from behind him. He turned quickly, and saw that Trance's mother was saying something. Though he couldn't understand the words, he realized that within moments he would be expected to speak. The Queen continued for only a few brief seconds, and then Conchybar gazed at Harper for a long moment before launching into a long verse that seemed to flow with the entertaining pace of iambic pentameter. The high priest unexpectedly stopped speaking, and Harper waited just long enough to make certain the old faerie was done. Then, with a broad smile on his face, he said, "I do." And that's all that's going to be required of me here, he thought with tremendous relief.

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Having finished with Harper, Conchybar then turned to Trance, who had to make a conscious effort to hide the shaking in her legs. She hardly heard the words that the old druid spoke, instead making certain that she listened for the one word that was her own cue to speak. She didn't want to get so wrapped up in the poetry of the early druids that she embarrassed herself by forgetting to give her own response. Finally she heard it, and said, "I do," in English, so that Harper could understand her as she spoke. Her lips spread wide in a delighted smile, and she looked at her new husband, seeing a look of wonderment in his eyes.

Conchybar began to speak more quickly, his voice becoming more melodious until Trance finally realized that at some point the high priest had begun singing, concluding the ceremony with the Ode to Life, the traditional song of faerie weddings. Minutes later, the ceremony was complete, and Trance and Harper turned to face the collected faces of her people. Finally it's over, she thought with a satisfied sigh. Now my life can truly begin.

*************************************************


Trance fought hard to suppress the wide smile she wanted to display on her face. Instead, she attempted to remain as nobly impassive as possible, though she knew she was failing. Not that it mattered, though. Even her father seemed pleased, speaking with several of the courtiers and letting slip an occasional chuckle.

"I'm so happy for you," Trance heard Beka say from behind her. The princess whirled and came face to face with the human woman.

"Thank you," Trance said, beaming with glee.

"You looked beautiful up there," Beka commented. "That material," she added, reaching forward and touching the iridescent gown that Trance was wearing, "what is it?"

"It's gossamer," Trance answered. "It's a specially enchanted material that's used only for brides. It's almost completely weightless… in fact it sorta feels like I'm not wearing anything at all."

"You think there's any way I can get my hands on some of that?" Beka asked.

"I doubt it," Trance replied. "Even my father had some trouble getting enough to make this gown. There are only two people on the planet that still know how to make it, and they demand exorbitant amounts of money and favors in exchange for small amounts."

"Do you have any idea how much I could make selling that stuff off-world?" Beka asked with a gleam in her eye. "In only a year I'd probably never have to work again."

"And then what would you do?" Trance asked, crossing her arms and looking deep into the human's eyes. "Wouldn't you get bored, not having anything to do?"

"Oh, there's always something to do," Beka replied.

"Which reminds me of something very important," Dylan's voice cut in as he joined the two women. "I'd really like to talk with you when you get a chance," he said to Trance.

"Talk away," the princess responded happily. "I'm ever at your service."

"Well, I just want to know if you plan on staying here, coming back aboard Andromeda for awhile, or if you have somewhere else in mind."

"Why wouldn't I stay aboard?" Trance asked. "Aren't I still welcome?"

"Of course you are," Dylan said, "but if you and Harper are planning on starting a family, I kinda thought you might prefer to live somewhere safer."

"There is nowhere safer," Harper said as he also walked over and joined the conversation. "The universe is a mess, Dylan. Nietzscheans are prowling around, subjugating everyone they can, and don't forget there's an army of Magog getting closer every day. I don't know what Trance has planned as far as a family goes, but if we ever have one, I'd like them to enjoy a safer life than I ever had. That means I support you now more than I ever did."

"Me, too," Trance added.

"Well, I would expect you'll want a bit of a honeymoon, though," Dylan said. "I was thinking about giving everyone a week's shore leave here on Avalon. King Oberon said we're more than welcome to stay for awhile."

"Great," Harper said. "A week here would be awesome. Trance and I can get some rest and relaxation, and then we'll be totally ready to go back out there."

"Congratulations," Rommie said to Harper and Trance as she walked over to the group.

"Thanks, Rommie," Trance said with a smile. "Anything we can do for ya?"

"Well, I'll admit I do have one question," the android said. "Are you planning on changing your designation, Trance?"

"Excuse me?" the faerie asked, completely confused.

"Are you still Trance Gemini, or are you Trance Harper now?" Rommie clarified. "I'd just like to keep it straight in my crew manifest."

"Umm… I don't know," Trance admitted. "I hadn't even thought about it."

"Well, you don't really look like a Harper," the engineer pointed out. "You're skin's the wrong shade of purple, I think. Why don't you just keep your own name?"

"You sure?" Trance asked, wanting to be certain that her husband didn't mind her not taking his surname.

"Absolutely," the human assured her.

"But any kids will have your name," Trance said.

"Lots of little Harpers," Beka said with a wicked smirk. "I can't wait to see them crawling around in the hydroponics garden."

"What?" Rommie suddenly interrupted. "No one said anything about children aboard."

"Is there a problem?" Dylan asked.

"I'm a warship, not a slipstream-capable nursery," Rommie shot back. "I'm not sure it would be appropriate to have children aboard."

"We'll work it all out," Dylan assured his ship's avatar. "Harper and Trance are members of our crew, and they may end up having children. That's not a problem, Rommie. Look at it this way - it'll help increase the crew complement."

"That's not entirely what I had in mind," the android groused as she walked away.

"Dylan, I don't want to be a problem," Trance said immediately.

"Oh, it's not a problem," the captain assured her. "Didn't you see the look in Rommie's eyes? She's thrilled, but she's too uncomfortable with the idea of showing it. Everything will work out - you'll see."

"I hope so," Trance muttered. "I really want it to be possible to stay on Andromeda."

"If it's possible for Tyr to get some action at a faerie wedding reception, it's definitely possible for Andromeda to be fine with children on board," Beka said as she pointed over toward her Nietzschean crewmate standing next to Jasmine. The faerie bridesmaid was fawning over Tyr, seeming to be more comfortable in his presence than anyone had likely ever been.

"Oh, now I've seen everything," Harper said with a smile.

"Well, maybe not everything," Trance whispered into his ear as she leaned in to give her husband a kiss on the cheek. "There's still the wedding night, you know."


Fin


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