My own death caught me by surprise. I was not prepared for it, even in the darkest times. When I watched my husband slowly fade into a sickened, weakened shell of a man, I focused on the present, and ignored my childish fears of purgatory and scalding fires from the pit of hell. As a child, I had only heard rumors of the nine Corellian Hells; but somehow, those tales had taken hold of me and affected my thinking. I thought I could ignore them: black tongues of flame, annihilating my fragile soul and consuming any trace of life. They were schoolgirl terrors. I was an adult, with mature reasoning; in my rational world those horrors could not exist. Thoughts of searing heat and endless torments were replaced by a careless ignorance of the world beyond my own. Fear was for the foolish. My parents were killed, old friends passed away, and Pter lost his health and life; I was left unscathed?except by the dread that continued to plague my mind. Bereavement stabbed my heart like a sharp assassin's knife, yet I was still intact. I was invincible, vivacious, triumphant. Possible perpetual torment had no place in the ambitious existence I had carved for myself. The wheel of time spun, first up, then down, while I dwelt in the middle, callously oblivious to the struggles that ensued around me.
Nothing in my limited experiences could have prepared me for the dangers in my distant future. I was not a Jedi; how could I have foreseen the tragedy ahead? The battle in the Corellian system was fierce, for Sal-Solo's forces were well armed. Our ship would be hit; it was only a matter of time. I remember a sharp jolt, then the tingling sensation of numbness. It must have been a serious injury, for the others onboard stared at me with both pity and alarm. Admiral Ossilege staggered forward, a crimson stain spreading across the pure white of his dress uniform. I shut my eyes, but the image still persisted: blood red drops oozing from his prominent stomach, leaking his strength with each cloyed molecule. He was dying. And I was dying.
I broadcast a call to abandon ship, as I fought against the loss of feeling in my feet, my legs, my back. Something must have damaged my spine. There was no way I could have escaped with the others, and in any case, someone had to remain behind. I suppressed my fears about my daughter and my people, reached for the self-destruct panel, and quickly pressed the button.
It was strange. The Cosmic Balance emphasized the present rather than the afterlife, so I entered that nether world with no prior knowledge. Death was not fading into oblivion, but waking to a very bright light. I found myself in a strange land: a dark, vacant environment, with silver glimmers of jewel-like intensity bursting through the nothingness surrounding me. The air was tranquil, but overlaid with an eerie chill. I felt awed, and just a little frightened. It was so different, so unfamiliar- so beautiful. I was overcome by the wondrous display about me. I looked down at my arm, and wasn't amazed at what I saw. Somehow, I expected it.
I was still clothed in the simple, flowing dress in which I died, but the hues seemed muted, softened. In this supernatural body I felt no pain, but simply the gentle breeze of a Bakuran summer day rustling through my wispy skirt. I reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, but it accomplished nothing. My hand was transparent, my appearance unalterable. I was an illusion, no longer a living, breathing amalgam of flesh and blood.
And hidden insights began to come, wisdom that I had never known. I saw more in death than I ever had in life. Perception of other things returned, vague and shadowy remembrances of my past. I looked around, and realized I was in deep space. The brilliant sparks of light were stars, shining through the cold black vacuum. I looked for others, for some form of ghostly company, but found myself alone. An unending miracle, experienced in solitude.
Who had cursed me to walk this galaxy alone? Was this punishment for some long-forgotten sin? Why was I here, and what was my purpose?
Thoughts sprang to my mind of Malinza, my baby, my daughter. She had already lost her father, and now her mother was also gone. Would this spectral frame allow me to visit her one last time, to reassure and encourage her? Or was the yawning abyss between the temporal and the eternal too wide to pass?
At least I could travel. I walked, covering massive distances in a few strides. Planetary systems soared past, yet I felt like my movements were sluggish, my feet swathed in an ethereal fabric that hindered any steps I tried to take. Perhaps I was not meant to voyage far. But I felt propelled by a sense of urgency, the feeling that I must see my daughter before it was too late. I came upon a world, greens and browns mottled with the brightest, deepest blue. It was shrouded in nightfall, darkness covering part of the lush world, but if I squinted hard enough I could pick out recognizable landmarks. It was Bakura. It was my home.
I broke into a run, and passed through the atmosphere with the same effort required of walking through a doorway. Salis D'aar shone below, yellow specks twinkling and forming its classical horizon. I headed for a familiar building, and flew through the small shuttered window that overlooked a booming metropolis by day and a sleepy city by night. I was amazed at the grace and ease of my immaterial form; steps that felt awkward and clumsy were in reality executed with a dancer's elegance. Did death always grant poise, or was I one of a fortunate few? Would these advantages allow me to communicate with the material world?
I was in a rectangular room, its walls bathed in cheerful pinks and purples: a little girl's abode. My eyes roamed from the cluttered dresser to the messy floor, and finally stopped at the child-sized repulsor bed that rested in a dim corner. Malinza.
I crept forward, and cast a loving glance over my baby. Her face was relaxed in a look of sweet repose, her dark hair tangled into a primitive knot. She looked so helpless asleep, like a treasure abandoned in an unsafe place. But I had returned, to protect her and calm her. I smiled, and slowly reached out a tentative hand to brush a long strand off her peaceful face. But my fingers fell through her pale forehead. I was no longer part of this mortal sphere.
I opened my mouth to speak, but no words emerged; only the distant rustling of the northern wind. Malinza stirred, stretching tired limbs, and returned to her normal sleeping position. Moonlight tricked though the cracks in the window covering, but no pale shadow lurked behind my diaphanous frame. I wasn't even there.
What was the point of this? I couldn't speak to my daughter, or comfort her, or explain to her about her mother's death. I was a wraith, flitting from places I once knew with a useless body and the decaying corpses of memories. I saw, I observed, I noted, yet I could do nothing. Was there any reason why my spirit still remained?
My heart sank, and I retreated to a corner. My eyes felt heavy and swollen, but no tears of grief trickled down my ghostly cheeks. Tears were for the living, for those with genuine troubles and sorrows. I was dead, and displays of emotion were far behind me. Besides, physical representations of my anguish were no longer possible; it was meant to be this way. For I was truly gone, and nothing- not even regret for my loved ones- could alter that fact. I could not be concerned with such things.
Silence. Malinza turned, murmuring something in indistinct tones. The room darkened as clouds passed over the moon, shielding its gentle beams. The pastel wallpaper rippled, its soothing shapes transforming into leering monsters. Were those ebony flames, gnawing, flaring in the woodwork behind me? The dark tongues crept closer, leaping and burning any remnants of light. My skin boiled, blistered, as the vicious fire surrounded me, licked at the train of my gown. Heat. Unending, infinite darkness. My worst nightmare.
I couldn't scream, couldn't escape this hell. Was this how it would all end? Had my young nightmares of a torturous inferno been true?
A man appeared, tall and thin, yet his incorporeal form resembled my own. His curly dark hair was faded, his narrow face hazy and unreadable, but his eyes instantly captured mine. They were calm, composed, not blazing with anger as I first expected. He approached me, and with each step the hideous flames recoiled and sputtered out all around him. But the phantasms continued to climb up my leg, nibbling and inching closer to my soul. I gasped, sucking in hot, scalded air, and found myself trapped. Fears encircled me from all sides, forming a writhing prison of growing agony. The man stopped.
"Gaeriel," he whispered, a soft sound like the falling of autumn leaves. "Take my hand."
I paused. I needed to let go. I could not dwell here, in this midpoint between existence and emptiness. The life of the living had become a hellish realm; to linger any longer among this suffering would lead to a fate worse than that which I was offered. But I still had my child.
I glanced at Malinza anxiously. Could I desert her to this world? How I longed to take my daughter in my arms and hold her warm, young body against my heart. To brace her helpless form against my wounded spirit, and protect her from the devouring darkness that hid behind every corner. But the scorching fire stopped me from reaching her, a wall of pain threatening the last of my kin. The man extended his hand again, and beckoned urgently.
"Please, Gaeri. Malinza will be safe, and will face this nightmare and other troubles on her own. Trust me."
I nodded mutely, and placed my trembling fingers in his shimmering palm. His skin was warm, and his dark eyes comforting. In his serenity I found completeness, and a sense that I was finally where I belonged. There was something inexplicably familiar in his gentle gaze, and I couldn't look away. The flames began to fade, dying down into bitter ash.
I shut my eyes, and took a step forward, away from Malinza and my past. I was her mother. But death had a higher calling on my soul, and an appointment that maternal instincts could not postpone.
Vision returned; Malinza's room had disappeared. Bright, intense light permeated my every pore, and my skin glistened, gaining warmth and life. I studied the man before me, his face illuminated by an everlasting joy. At last, I knew him. Knowledge was complete; in this inexpressible paradise, I finally felt at peace. My daughter would experience troubles and the normal struggles of life, but she would not be alone. My spirit, and the memory of my presence, would be with her always.
I smiled at my husband. I was the dead.
Original cover by LianaMara. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.