Excerpt for Spirited by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





The Chronicles of Stara, Book 3



SPIRITED













By Pavan Lewis







Copyright Pavan Lewis, 2017 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

This book is copyrighted material. Other than for review, no part of this book may be produced in any form without permission from the author. The reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part and in any form, whether electronic, print, digital or mechanical or by any other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the express and written permission of the author.


Cover art and design Copyright 2017, by Pavan Lewis


Editing and Formatting by Gergana Ugrinova-Lewis


The characters and events in this book are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.






CHAPTER 1

Stara screamed.

The pressure was crushing her very soul. Stara did not know what it was – but it was destroying her completely. If she did not get out, she would die.

It had all been going so well. In the last few months, since her eighteenth birthday, Stara had learned to navigate the ‘Rivers of Void’ with confidence and ease. She slipped between dimensions, leaving her body behind: moving among the galaxies and beneath the fabric of space itself. And then this morning, without any kind of warning, Stara had become trapped. Something had taken a hold of her – some terrible gravity that pressed upon her spirit until it felt like it would crush her into oblivion.

No, Stara cried, in her mind.

But she was helpless to break free.

She had gone much deeper this time – further than she’d planned. And, clearly, this had been a mistake. Her teacher Zar-Wis had told her to take it slow and to learn everything she could about Will before she went too far. But Stara wanted to be free.


And now she was dying. She didn’t know what held her, but it was impossibly strong; and now her consciousness was beginning to fade: a vast darkness murmuring for her to come to it, and never wake again.

Let me go, Stara screamed.

There was no answer. Whatever had trapped her was a mindless, unbending force that could not be reasoned with. And it was taking Stara out of the universe, away from everything she knew.

Stara put every last bit of power she had into breaking free. She focused her spirit – her Will – and fought back against the crushing pressure.

I can do this, she told herself. I’m stronger then it is. Thinking of everything that she cared about – everything she would lose if she was destroyed – Stara pushed back.

For one horrible moment it seemed that nothing would happen – that it was over. And then she felt a shift. It was a rising tide of energy, from within her own heart and soul; and it was breaking open the insidious pressure. She could almost see it – a dark and mindless force quivering and coming apart. She pushed harder, feeling it rip and tear, its power swiftly fading.

In the fraction of a second, it shattered. She felt an earth-shattering explosion; and Stara was free. She slid outward into the deep of space, laughing with the power and relief of her accomplishment.


Stara hung in space, looking backward. She could now see the explosion happening from the outside. The colors of it billowed in the black of space – a slow motion rush of air and fire. It looked as if a sun had gone ‘supernova’: a star, somehow unbalanced, ripping itself apart as it expanded in flames.

As Stara, in spirit form, gazed at the ball of fire a horror grew in her heart. Was this actually a star, exploding before her? And had she caused this?

Something told her this was so. She did not want to believe it; but somehow she had become trapped at the center of some celestial body. And now it was expanding outward, a white wall of flames. And there were planets around it – tiny balls of color hanging in the deep.

Stara slid backward through space – covering endless miles in no time at all. She returned to her body.

She gasped, blinking; coming to herself. Stara was seated on her mat, in her new room – a much wider, airy and open space that her precious room; located on the top floor of her new house. Geoff had bought the expansive condo quite recently, in a downtown neighborhood in SFI, close to the bay. Stara loved it: it was bright, airy and spacious. And she essentially had her own little studio apartment.

But now Stara felt none of her usual sense of pleasure in her surroundings. Panic raced through her mind, and her body was tense, her heart racing wildly. Stara sat for a long moment, trying to calm herself: practicing the breathing exercises that Zar-Wis had taught her. Finally her heart had slowed, and her breath was steady. Stara rose, moving to the door. She had to talk to Geoff. She hurried down the narrow, brightly lit stairs, into the living room.


Stara’s father was sitting in front of the Holo-pad, leaning forward; watching a thin reporter hanging in the air – a perfect hologram that made it look as if he was a midget standing on the table in front of Geoff. He was speaking fast, his tone both horrified and excited.

An entire planetary system, wiped away, just like that. This is a developing story, but there is no doubt that the deaths are significant. Citizens are already flooding hotlines with outrage and demands for an investigation. Although there is no evidence this was intentional, the star 99-H1z was a stable sun; and there was no reason it should explode on its own. The Universal Federation to send an investigatory team immediately, to assess this situation, and to rescue any survivors – and to determine if this was an attack on a U-fed planetary system. It’s hard to imagine what kind of weapon could destroy an entire sun in this way, but…this is what is being considered. Our most recent updates tell us that two of the planets destroyed were inhabited; and it is estimated that some thirty million citizens have died…”

Stara stood frozen in horror. Geoff turned, holding the remote control in one hand. “Hey, love. Did you see this? They think someone blew up a sun – it’s incredible.”

Stara could not answer. Geoff swiveled, facing her more fully.

“You okay, Stara?”

She tried to speak. She finally managed a few words.

“I…I have to see Zar-Wis,” she said.

She turned, not waiting to hear Geoff’s next question, hurrying out – toward the landing dock where her little spaceship Seafire waited.


The flight was only a few hours but it felt like an eternity to Stara. She did answer her Holo-pad or phone– turning them both off once she had informed Zar-Wis she was on her way. Then she simply waited, trying not to think.

Zar-Wis met her beside his meditation circle: a wide patio inlayed with intricate designs, that overlooked a gray, stone bluff falling away below for hundreds of yards, until it ended in a cliff. Beyond this was the vast valleys of Krekret; the endless, lush jungles filled with wild beasts, and largely uninhabited. Zar-Wis – a colossal gray lizard dressed in a deep green robe – was sitting back on his short legs, staring into the distance. When Stara came up beside him he turned slowly to face her, blinking his glittering black eyes.

“Something is wrong,” he said – his deep voice rumbling like the far sound of thunder.

“Yes.” Stara was shaking with nerves. Her voice trembled.

“What did you do, Stara?”

It was impressive that Zar-Wis knew it was something she’d done – not something that had happened to her. But his stern tone did not make her feel any better.

“I was exploring the Rivers,” she said. “In…in my spirit body.”

Zar-Wis waited, silent.

“I got trapped. I don’t know how, but something held onto me. A terrible gravity, and…I couldn’t escape from it.”

“There are many pitfalls, for those who leave their bodies,” Zar-Wis rumbled. “It is why I have taught you to take it slow – and to seek my advice, and teaching, before you go too far on your own.”

Stara nodded, miserable. But she also felt a touch of anger – this sounded a little too close to a good old-fashioned ‘I told you so’.

“I know,” she said. “But…I just wanted to test myself. And then I got trapped, and I pushed back. And there was an explosion.”

Zar-Wis closed his eyes. It looked to Stara that his energy had drained away, in that one moment.

“The star,” he said.

“Yes,” Stara whispered.


There was complete silence.

“I mean…I don’t know for sure,” Stara hurried on. “But…I think I did it. I think I caused it to explode.”

Still Zar-Wis said nothing, as his eyes opened and he turned his gaze toward the far valley. Stara’s nerves were so raw she thought she would scream. She spoke again her voice shaking.

“I…I’m sorry, Zar-Wis. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know I could get trapped by…by a star…”

Zar-Wis let out his breath, once again swiveling his great, gray head in her direction.

“I have taught you this,” he said – his rumbling voice falling to a murmur. “I taught you that each thing has its own life – and stars, though they are not sentient like you or I, are also made of energy. And energy and spirit are not separate. Gravity can affect the spirit – if one is not conscious enough when they leave their body. If one goes foolishly where they do not belong.”

Zar-Wis shook his great head.

“I am sorry, Stara,” he said. “But there will be consequences for this.”

And without another word, he turned and moved slowly – majestically – up toward the rounded, stone temple that was his home.


Stara followed, barely able to hold herself together. Was Zar-Wis angry with her? It seemed like it, to Stara.

She was shaking all over. She had been through a lot in her young life. But this was something different. She had made a terrible mistake, and she was in the wrong. And Zar-Wis was upset with her.

He led her into his dim living room. Stara expected him to sit her down and to lecture her. She expected he would demand that she return to her training, to learn to control her powers better. But he did the last thing she expected. He turned on his Holo-pad – Stara had not even realized he had one – and dialed a number.

“What…what are you doing?” Stara asked.

“I am calling Velma Ness,” he said. “The leader of the Universal Federation.”

What?” Stara stared at her teacher in horror.

“She is someone that I know well,” Zar-Wis said. “She is a firm, inflexible woman in some ways – but she is fair, and a woman of integrity. She is not corrupt. She must know what caused the explosion. Otherwise the suspicion will rise, and there will be international tensions. We must tell her the truth.”

Stara listened, her horror growing. Perhaps Zar-Wis was right and Velma Ness was a fair woman. In fact, the new leader of the U-fed had asked one of Stara’s friends, the gambler and rebel Vice Javen, to be a junior senator – and that had to mean something. But to tell the Velma that Stara had destroyed a planet – this was something different. And Stara was afraid.

“Wait,” she said. “Please…can we talk first? I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing. But…I want to learn what I should do…”

“This is not a matter of learning,” Zar-Wis said heavily. “It is a matter of international peace and stability. Thirty million citizens have died – they will not let this go. It is best to move forward, and to let the truth come out.”

“But…what will they do to me?”

“I do not know,” Zar-Wis said. “But I will help you, if I can.”

He dialed a number, and waited.


Watching her teacher sit before the Holo-pad, Stara felt another surge of anger – much greater than before. Without bothering to think it through, she spoke again – her voice so unsteady she could barely get the words out.

“You never told me I could blow up a planet,” she cried. “You never said that! I knew about gravity, yes – but not that!”

She was shaking all over – unable to control her emotion. She realized then that she felt betrayed. She had done something terrible, yes – but Zar-Wis was not speaking to her about it. He wasn’t taking her side, he was simply turning her in. How could he do this?

“Why didn’t you tell me that it was possible?” Stara cried, her voice breaking. “How could I know, if no one told me? I didn’t know I had that power!”

Zar-Wis turned, slowly, as the thin ring from the Holo-pad went on and on.

“I taught you to take it slow, and to consult with me before you went too far.” Zar-Wis sighed, shaking his great head. “I cannot think of every possible danger and list them all – there are too many. But you should have been more careful. You should have stayed with your lessons, Stara; rather than going off to do everything on your own.”

“But I didn’t know I could hurt others!” Stara wailed. Now she was close to tears.

There was a high BEEP, and a figure appeared on the Holo-pad.

“Zar-Wis,” a clipped, professional voice stated. “I am quite busy, but it is always good to see an old friend. I can give you a moment.”

Stara vaguely recognized the thin, elderly woman with short gray hair from the news. Now, garbed in a dark blue robe, she stood looking at them in miniature. Stara thought she had the appearance of a stern, no-nonsense grandmother. And her voice was just as brusque.

“Thank you, Velma,” the great lizard rumbled. He drew in a deep breath, and Stara could feel the sorrow in his words. “I am afraid I have bad news, my old friend.”


Stara stood listening in shock, as Zar-Wis told the elderly leader everything he knew – about Stara’s abilities, and what she had explained to him. The woman’s face became grim as she listened, though she said nothing. Only when Zar-Wis had finished did she speak.

“I need Stara to come before the council,” she said. “Immediately.”

“That will be done,” Zar-Wis said. “But her safety must be assured.”

“Of course it is assured – we are not primitives. But there must be a hearing, and the full council of senators will have to weigh in. This is no small matter, my friend.”

“I understand,” Zar-Wis said heavily. “Send me the day and time, and I will bring her.”

“You will have a message within the hour,” Velma said. “I commend you for your call, Zar-Wis. You will hear from me.”

“Goodbye, then,” Zar-Wis said, with a low nod. “For now.”

The image of the woman disappeared.


As Zar-Wis turned toward Stara she could barely believe what was happening. He had told Velma she would be ‘brought’ to the hearing – as if she had no choice in the matter. As if she was a criminal. She fought both her hurt and anger, trying to speak with reason.

“Zar-Wis…I don’t know if I want to go,” she said. “I know you trust her, but…the entire council? It’s the U-fed! What if they want to punish me?”

“Stara, this is beyond me,” Zar-Wis answered. “The death toll is close to forty million. Do you understand this?”

“Yes, but…I didn’t mean to do it!”

“It does not change the gravity of this matter,” Zar-Wis rumbled. “I am sorry. You should have stayed with your training.”

“You should have told me more!” Stara cried.

She could not believe she was fighting with Zar-Wis. Her majestic teacher was her rock – the one she turned to when she was confused or afraid. Now, in one horrible moment, he had become a stone that dragged her downward into murky waters. Could he not see how unfair it was, to treat her this way? She had half a mind to go to Seafire and leave. But then, where would she go? Velma Ness knew what she had done – and Stara did not feel ready to run from the entire Federation.

Zar-Wis was speaking, his glittering black eyes fixed on her face. “Perhaps I should have taught you better,” he rumbled. “Perhaps I should have insisted you stay, and learn – but you have a strong will. And I did not think you would go so far, so fast. In some ways, this is my fault. And if so, I too will take responsibility.”

Stara stared at him, taking in these words. They should have made her feel better, but they didn’t.

Stara had a good feeling that the U-fed council would not blame Zar-Wis for what she had done. No, she was the only one who would be held accountable.




CHAPTER 2

Stara spent several miserable hours waiting to hear back from Velma Ness; and when Zar-Wis got the call she was stunned at the speed at which things were moving. She was to be taken to the planet Joogle the following morning, to speak before a council of thirty senators – and witnesses were welcomed to speak on her behalf. Stara could not believe it. It sounded like a trial. And she had one afternoon to try to come up with a defense? It seemed completely unfair.

But she told Zar-Wis, sullenly, that she would go – and then flew home. On her way she called her friend Vice: the brand new junior senator from Rangon. The Holo-pad only beeped twice before his image appeared in front of her.

“Hey, babe!”

The tall black man was sitting in a dark brown robe, in a wide leather couch – drinking what looked like a flask of brandy. With his well-trimmed mustache, perfectly combed hair and exposed chest he looked like the picture of a lady’s man. In fact, Stara knew him to be exactly that. But he was also a good friend, and he cared about her. And she needed him.

“Vice…I’m in trouble.”


Vice listened in silence, his face falling. She could see how concerned he was for her, by the fact that he said nothing at all during her entire explanation. When she was done he let out a low whistle.

“Damn, babe – you really put your foot in it this time.”

“I didn’t mean to do it!”

“I know, I know. Listen, I don’t care what you did – or what you ever do. I’m always on your side.” Vice offered her one of his disarming grins. “So, I will be there – and I’ll give them an earful. Believe me, I won’t let them throw the book at you.”

“Thank you, Vice.”

Stara was unspeakably grateful. It felt good to have someone hear what she had done, and not treat her like some kind of deviant.

Next she called Baron. Her friend – and, in a complicated way, her brother – was aghast.

“Stara – how could this happen?”

“I don’t know,” she said, miserably. “I didn’t know I had this kind of power. Baron, I’m scared.”

“I will be there.” Baron let out his breath, running his hand through his hair. “You said the hearing is in the morning?”

“Yes – on Joogle. I can send you the directions that Zar-Wis gave to me.”

“Okay, do. And I’ll talk to him.”

“Okay. But…he doesn’t seem to be on my side.”

“I find that hard to believe. But I’ll have to see what he says. Don’t worry, I’ll be there tomorrow no matter what.”

“Thank you, Baron.”

“Of course. And…I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Stara agreed, unhappily. “Me, too.”


When Stara got home she broke the news to Geoff. Her uncle – who was also, in Stara’s eyes, her dad – listened, his blue eyes widening in shock. “You…you exploded a sun.”

“Yes. By accident.”

“Stara…forty million people died.”

“I know.”

Stara felt her lips trembling once again. Everyone seemed to have the same horrified reaction, when it came to this. It was terrible, it was unimaginable. But it had been a complete accident.

“Good lord.” Geoff put his arm around her. “You want me to come with you, tomorrow?”

Stara nodded, unable to speak.

“Okay, I’ll call my work now – so they know. And I’ll have to go in tonight, to do some things I had planned for tomorrow. There’s so much going on right now.”

“It’s okay,” Stara managed.

Geoff had become almost obsessed with his work, lately. He spent at least some time there every single day. Apparently his ‘self-patch’ for robots was having real success, and his company – he was now the head of a small industry – was getting orders from the public, now that it was sanctioned by U-fed. But Stara missed him at times.

“Good lord.” Geoff frowned, shaking his head. “I hope Velma is as wise and reasonable as Zar-Wis says.”

Stara nodded. She did not feel very hopeful.

Geoff frowned, his expression now distracted.

“Oh, there was something I wanted to ask you about.”

“Okay…?”

“Your robot, Be-BB – I think with his level of sophistication he’s a perfect candidate for a ‘patch’. Would you be okay if we put one on him?”

“Oh…sure.”

“All right, thank you. I’ll bring him in tonight.”

“Okay.” Stara sighed, offering another nod. She wished Geoff would be a little more focused on what was happening with her. But at least she knew of one person that would be entirely sympathetic. She waited for him to leave, then went to see Echo-o.


Stara’s friend – and girlfriend, for that matter – lived a few blocks away in a small, high-rise apartment building. Echo-o had rented it when Stara moved, to be close to her. She had asked Stara to move in with her but Stara did not feel ready for such a commitment. She loved Echo-o, but there were times when she wondered if she could ever be ‘in love’ with her – as Echo-o clearly was, with Stara. But she appreciated how good a friend the slender, blue girl was; and Stara was very glad she was close by on a day like the one that she was having.

She didn’t bother to call – they had already arranged to meet that afternoon. She found Echo-o sitting on her tiny, cluttered balcony, overlooking a wide avenue, and the blue bay beyond. Echo-o loved growing plants, and the space was filled with pots of every size – and plants of every shape and color. Stara found it sweet and relaxing, to watch her garden. But today she could barely sit, she felt so restless. If the balcony had been wider, she would have paced.

“Echo-o,” she said – as soon as they had hugged and kissed. “I destroyed a sun. It blew up several planets and killed forty million people.”

Echo-o’s solid black eyes widened, like two oval stones.

“You…you’re joking?”

“No. I did it. The U-fed council summoned me to appear tomorrow. I have to go in the morning.”

“Oh, my god – baby!”

Echo-o leapt from her chair, moving to throw her arms about Stara: kissing her cheek and her hair.

“Oh, Stara – how could this happen?”

Stara tried to explain, but it was not easy. She didn’t really know, herself. She did her best, but Echo-o didn’t seam to care about the details. She was simply worried what would happen – as, of course, was Stara.


“They’d better not try to lock you up,” the blue girl rasped, the moment Stara was finished. The tone of her scratchy little voice was more vicious than Stara had ever heard it. “I don’t care if Velma is a friend of Zar-Wis. She had better take into account that it was an accident.”

“I hope she does.” Stara sighed, trying not to feel so utterly dejected. “But…forty million citizens.”

“It’s… a lot.” Echo-o nodded. “But you didn’t even know you had the power to do this!”

“I didn’t. Zar-Wis never told me.”

“I’m going to have to talk to him,” Echo-o said sharply. “If he’s letting you go running about in your spirit form, you should know what you’re getting into!”

“Well…he wanted to continue my training,” Stara admitted. “But I kind of blew it off.”

This was true. It was almost a year since Stara had fought Red Raven, the previous leader of the U-fed (and an android, like herself). Almost a year since she had learned that Dor-Vape had been her real father. In that time she had grown extremely adept at using her Will – to affect the world around her, and to see into the thoughts of others. She had learned to move in her spirit body so freely that it felt almost the same as being in the flesh. But when Zar-Wis had cautioned her, on several occasions, that more training was needed she had found excuses not to take him up on his offer.

“I don’t care whether you were training or not,” Echo-o was saying, adamantly. “This isn’t a little thing. ‘Oh, by the way, you can blow up an entire sun without even trying’. I mean, come on – like you would guess you had such power! He should have warned you!”

“I think so, too,” Stara agreed. “But…it doesn’t really help me now.”

“Maybe not,” Echo-o rasped. “But if things get bad for you, I’m holding him responsible.”


Things did get bad – the very next morning. Stara took a shuttle to Joogle, with Geoff and Echo-o. For some reason she didn’t feel comfortable flying Seafire. If something happened to her – god forbid – she didn’t want her little spaceship impounded.

Stara’s ‘hearing’ was held in a skyscraper that had to be five miles high – it was the most impressive building Stara thought she’d ever seen. Of course Joogle itself was almost entirely city, and there were many incredibly tall structures. But this had to be the tallest.

The room itself was more of a great meeting hall – a vast, domed area filled with benches. Stara was stunned to find that every seat was occupied – the hall crammed with creatures of every kind. There were red, armored Strikers lining the walls, with rifles on the ready. And in the front of the vast room was a curved table with at least twenty people sitting, facing the audience. There were several chairs in the space in front of them, facing this panel.

When she entered with Geoff and Echo-o a Striker indicated a seat in the back for her uncle and girlfriend, and brought Stara up toward the front, where she was seated in a chair separate from the general audience.

If this isn’t a trial, it sure feels like one, Stara thought. She was distracted for a moment – and relieved – to see another ‘box’ on her left, holding a line of chairs. Vice Javen was seated with Baron, and both waved to her. She waved back. But now there were murmurs in the crowd, and Stara could see that many in the audience were turning her way, craning to get a look at her.

Oh, great…I’m infamous.

Stara tried not to worry, but it was clear that a great many people were very upset with her. She could understand why: but it still felt unfair for her to be dragged before what was quite clearly some kind of tribunal.


As the murmurs grew a tall woman rose, and Stara recognized her immediately as Velma Ness. She was dressed in a deep red robe, and she looked both stern and commanding.

“There will now be order, and silence,” she said.

The crowd hushed. Velma surveyed the faces before her, then gave a satisfied nod.

“I want you all to understand that this is a hearing, not a trial,” she said. “This is to get all of the facts about what occurred regarding 99-H1z, a stable sun with a small planetary system, which recently exploded without any warning, killing an estimated forty-eight million U-fed citizens. We now believe that this event was caused unintentionally, by a single individual: and this responsible person will be allowed to speak, at length. Then our panel of senators will ask questions, and when the question period is over, witnesses and citizens will be allowed to offer their opinions.” She lifted a hand as more voices lifted in angry murmurs. “There will be no disruptions! Any citizens who are disorderly, and certainly any who try to cause harm to another, will be removed – and face appropriate consequences. Now, I will have silence.”

The voices died down.

“Stara Estrella,” Velma said. “Please approach the panel, now.”




CHAPTER 3


Stara moved slowly down the isle, and up to the chairs facing the table. It felt like she was walking in a nightmare. One moment she had been carefree and happy. Now she was on trial for the death of millions. It seemed almost impossible that things could change so quickly, so completely. But it was not a dream. She sat, staring at the curving table, and the grim faced senators watching her.

“Now,” Velma said. “Stara, I want you to tell this panel, in full and without leaving a single detail out, how it came that you caused an explosion, single-handedly, which you yourself believe resulted in the destruction of this sun. Please begin with your own abilities and powers, and then give us a full account of the particular situation that you found yourself in, before the explosion occurred.”

Stara nodded, taking a deep breath. Velma sounded stern, but she also came off as intelligent and reasonable. Stara just had to hope that she, and the others, would understand.


Stara told them everything. She talked about her training with Zar-Wis, and her ability to leave her body and travel in the ‘Rivers’ between dimensions. She told them how she could move objects, and even read the feelings – sometimes the thoughts – of others. And she explained how, somehow, she had become trapped by some crushing force she thought would destroy her: and that, in breaking free, she had caused something to explode with unimaginable power. And she believed it was a sun.

When she was finally finished, Velma gave her a deep nod.

“I commend you for the details you offer – they answer many questions, though of course they do raise others. Not everyone here even believes a spirit can leave the body. However, enough of us do understand this is possible that we will accept this as a factual account. And for now, that is enough. Please, return to your seat.”

Stara did, feeling vaguely hopeful. Velma was not screaming at her, or condemning her outright. Maybe things would not be so bad, after all.

“Now,” Velma said. “I call one of many witnesses who wish to speak on the behalf of Stara Estrella. Will the esteemed Zar-Wis please come to the front?”

Stara jerked upright. Zar-Wis had come! This made her feel even better. If he was speaking for her, then Velma would have to listen!

But when the great lizard was before the panel Stara was disappointed when he talked as much about her need for greater training and discipline as he did about her good character. He explained that he had made a mistake, letting her go so far on her own – and said it was equally his fault, what had occurred. But it was not a passionate defense of Stara herself, and that was disappointing. Velma thanked him, and Zar-Wis moved in his stately, majestic way to the back of the hall.


Vice spoke next. “Okay, look – Stara’s about the best damned person I’ve ever known,” he said. “Hell, I would trust her with my life. She made a mistake, and a bad one; but we’ve all done some dumb stuff in our lives, right? And she had no idea her power was this great. Look, I know there are a lot of upset folks, and I can see why – this is a real tragedy. But Stara’s not the one we should punish here – it’s our own selves, for not trying to understand the forces at work in this universe. Heck, Velma, you said yourself that a lot of folks don’t even believe there’s a spirit! But clearly Stara’s on trial here for the ability to be in her spirit body any old time she wants. You can’t have it both ways – either we start learning what this universe is about, or we’re responsible ourselves, as leaders, for not being able to teach young folk what’s real and what’s not. Stara’s young – and yet she’s learning about things most of us are still trying to wrestle with just as ideas! Let’s cut her some slack. And let’s learn a lesson, for ourselves – and maybe put more of a focus on what this universe is really about. That’s what I say.”

Vice ended by flashing one of his disarming grins, and Stara could see some at the panel nodding.

Stara was utterly stunned. This was Vice Javen – the gunslinger and gambler. And now he was talking with real thoughtfulness, on her behalf: and maybe at the risk of his job as senator. Stara felt deeply grateful to the point where tears welled in her eyes. She promised herself she would thank him properly, when she got the chance.


Baron spoke next. But he took an entirely different tone – his voice was deadly serious, even grim.

“I don’t know how many of you are aware of this,” he said. “But not much more than a year ago we had a corrupt government that was serving a shadowy force bent in taking over the entire universe. There was a thing called the Hollow Star that was being fed by a warlord, with the help of this government. I know that none of the individuals present were part of this. But it does show that no one is perfect. And Stara, on her own, destroyed this Hollow Star – risking her life for the sake of her friends, and the universe. Maybe you all didn’t know this, but I do – and it is the truth. Stara does not deserve to be condemned for her mistake. There must be a thoughtful response, and consequences – but not punishment. Stara is, if anything, a hero – and she should be recognized for that, rather than put on trial for something that was an innocent mistake. Yes, it’s a horrible tragedy. But it is not something we can condemn her for.”

Baron went on for some time, talking about Stara’s willingness to give up her own safety – even life – for others. He spoke so eloquently and favorably toward her that Stara once again felt tears start up in her eyes. It occurred to her that this was more than friendship – Baron loved her as a brother.

Finally it was Geoff’s turn. Stara’s uncle/father spoke at length, as well. But he faced far more questions. The senators asked him about his work, and Stara’s creation. They asked him about her powers. They grilled him about what he knew, and did not know, about her mind – and even her spirit. Geoff looked exhausted by the end, and though he’d tried to defend her, Stara could see he was having trouble. He ended up doing little more than answer questions, and much of his answers showed how little about her he actually knew, in some ways.

When he was done others spoke – citizens demanding justice, while others questioned the senators for not knowing more about her, or Geoff’s work. Finally, after well over two hours, the last of those wishing to speak had been granted their say.

Velma told the audience there would be a fifteen minute deliberation, and then a recommendation for further action. With the senators behind her, she filed out of the room.


Stara could barely stand to wait. What were they deliberating? She had made a mistake – they could not condemn her for it!

Fortunately the senators returned in even less than their stated time. They took their seats, while Velma remained standing.

“Here is our decision,” she said. “Zar-Wis is publicly chastised, and ordered to inform the council if he has a student of extraordinary abilities. But he is not held accountable for what occurred. Geoff is ordered to cease all activities regarding the enhancement of robotic minds; and the sale of his Self-Patch. He is also ordered to accept U-fed oversight of his work, and to address a separate panel on technology, to answer questions regarding the direction his company is taking. Stara Estrella, please come to the front.”

Stara got up, her mind reeling. Geoff was being punished? It wasn’t fair at all!

When she was seated, Velma addressed her.

“The panel is unanimous. No one believes you had any ill intentions, and so you are not to be charged with any criminal activity. However, as it has been stated over and over again, you do not understand your power – and neither do we. And, as you have admitted, it is greater than anyone imagined. Thus, though we do not condemn you, you will be taken into Federation custody. You will be treated with utmost respect. But you will not be allowed to roam freely until we understand what you are capable of. There will be another more in-depth hearing in the next week, to determine a longer term course of action. Strikers, please take Stara to the security wing. That is all.”

She sat down, as a murmur rose in the hall; and red clad Strikers moved in to take Stara by her arms.


Stara could not believe it was actually happening.

“Wait!” she cried.

She could hear Geoff calling out to her, and Vice had lifted his voice in protest. But the Strikers were everywhere, blocking the audience as Stara was pulled away.

It happened so fast she had no time to react. She was led through a side door, and then down a long, marble hall. The room she ended up in was the oddest she had ever seen. It was wide and round, with windows on all sides; and there was a single, massive ball at the center. In this ball was a bed, a small toilet, and a shelf. In the room around it were panels, and Stara could feel the crackle of electricity under the air.

“This is where you will stay,” one of the Striker’s holding her said. “You will be allowed to address a senate representative shortly.”

The backed out, and the door slid shut.

Stara could only stare after them in shock and anger. Whatever they said about not treating her as a criminal, she was definitely being imprisoned.

It occurred to her then how ridiculous the entire thing was. Stara had just been accused of blowing up a sun – with nothing but her spirit. Now she was being placed in a room, as if walls could hold her.

I could just leave, she thought. I could leave my body. Maybe I could even just break out of here – just smash this room apart.

Stara had never actually smashed through solid stone and iron. But she had a feeling her power was great enough that this was not out of the question.


As Stara tried to get her mind around everything that had occurred a tall figure appeared behind the glass, outside of the room. Velma Ness strode to the nearest window and pressed a button. Her voice sounded in Stara’s ears.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.

Stara stared at her, confused.

“You are wondering what good it is, to keep you locked up; when you can leave your body.”

Stara felt her confusion turn to wonder. The woman had essentially read her mind.

“Please understand,” Velma continued, “That whatever the other senators believe, I at least have a knowledge of the spirit – the ‘self-I’ that Geoff’s work is centered around. I know that it is real, and that it is possible to travel beyond the body. I also know that such travel depends on the body, and mind, being in a peaceful state.”

Velma lifted a hand, indicating the panels around the room.

“You will be monitored at all times. Other than during times of sleep you will not be allowed to go into any sort of trance – and we will measure your heart rate and brain activity, as well as your appearance, to understand when you are sleeping. If you seek to leave your body these panels will send an electrical jolt into your brain , with enough power to disrupt your process. So, please, do not attempt to leave your body, while in our care.”

Stara listened with shock. They had actually put her in a trap that could prevent her from going out of her body? It felt not only disrespectful, but cruel.

“As for the physical constraints,” Velma added. “Well, these walls are made with Durillium – the strongest substance known in all the know universe. This is meant to trap monsters, even demons. You will not escape this room.”


Stara felt her heart sink. It truly was as if Velma had read her mind – and anticipated anything she might attempt.

“You have no right to do this!” she cried.

“It’s not a matter of right,” Velma said. “Those who justify evil always speak of ‘right’. I am not justifying this. I am simply doing what I must, to keep people safe. I am not seeking to destroy you. I would rather study you, Stara – and to do it with respect. And when we are satisfied that you are not a threat to the universe, we will let you go. This is our goal.”

Stara tried to calm herself. Velma sounded reasonable. But Stara was the one held in a room – a prison – against her will.

“How long?” she cried. “How long will it be?”

“As long as it takes.” Velma shrugged. “I wish I could give you a better answer, but I cannot. I would hope less than a month. But it is hard to know.”

“A month?” Stara stared at her, aghast. “You want me to stay in here for a MONTH?”

“As long as necessary,” Velma said. “You will, of course, be provided with whatever you need. And I’ll come to speak with you regularly: along with a professional counselor, and our theoretical-robotics consultant. You will not be left on your own all the time, if that makes you feel better. Now, I must be off.”

With that, Velma turned, moving through the door and out of the room.

“Wait!” Stara cried.

But the tall woman did not look back. Stara was alone.




CHAPTER 4


For a long time Stara simply sat staring through the high, clear windows. She understood quite clearly that she was trapped – that there was no way out. But part of her could not accept this. Velma’s words ran over and over in her mind – that if she tried to leave her body she would be electrocuted. This seemed so cruel, so…wicked. No matter what Zar-Wis thought of the woman, she was not some honest and honorable leader. What she was doing to Stara was wrong.

The though of Zar-Wis did not comfort Stara at all. In fact it made her angry. Zar-Wis had let her down. He had spoken on her behalf – sort of. It had not been an impassioned plea for Stara’s freedom, but a sort of rambling explanation of why she was not entirely to blame.

Stara took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. There was no point in becoming enraged for nothing. She would still be caught, like a fly in a web; her freedom stripped of her, in a single, cruel morning.


Stara got up, pacing her strange, round room. She didn’t imagine that her friends would be able to see her – not so soon. And she also was sure that Echo-o, at least, would be beside herself with worry. Geoff would also be upset, of course. But recently it felt like her uncle – creator/dad, whatever he was to her – had become so focused on his work that she, Stara, now took second place.

This didn’t mean he’d sit back and let her rot in a cell. But it was hard to say how focused on her plight he would be: especially if he took Zar-Wis’s word, that Velma was a person of integrity – someone who would treat Stara fairly.

As Stara thought these things, her anger grew; a deep fire, rising in slow and powerful swells, somewhere down in her spirit. Geoff was not to blame for where she was. But, he had let her down, too – as so many others had. Stara had been allowed to act without knowing who she truly was. She had, essentially, taken the life of her own true father – the warlord, Dor-Vape. And she had banished the broken, twisted spirit of her grandfather – the Pale King – to the darkness beyond the universe. She had not had a choice: it had needed to be done. But Stara had done it without knowing who, and what, they were to her. Information had been kept from her by everyone that she knew – including her brother, Baron.

Stara found herself breathing harder as she paced up and down the round room. It was not right for her to be kept in a cell. It was wrong. It was horrible. She was being punished for the failings of others. Stara could not help what she was! And she had not been properly taught, from a young age, of her own nature and power. And now she was the one being locked away, while some government council decided what they should do with her?

“No way,” Stara said, aloud.

She was feeling dizzy with the strength of her emotion: her hands locked in front of her, her fingers twisting together involuntarily. Stara had never been so angry in all her life.

This was simply wrong. They wanted a scapegoat for their own failings. What had Vice said? That it was up to the council to teach young people what the universe was really about. And of course Baron had also been right – Stara had quite possibly saved the universe. And now she was punished for an honest mistake.


As her anger built, like slow, bright waves it occurred to Stara then that no one around her was truly wise. Not a single person she knew – not Zar-Wis, or Geoff, or Baron – could tell her what she was, or what was truly right and fair. Vice was, in his way, as wise as these others. Zar-Wis, despite his wisdom, could be mistaken.

In that moment, Stara felt more alone than she ever had. For some reason this made her think of Red Raven – the only other android with a soul, who now slept forever, somewhere out in the universe. Stara wished suddenly that they had been able to remain friends. Yes, the creature had been dangerous and power hungry. But she had also understood Stara, in ways others had not.

But these thoughts were useless. Not only was Red Raven unconscious, but she was hidden away somewhere secret. And Stara, herself, was in prison. And no one was coming for her.

Stara took another deep breath, shivering with nerves and rage. She could feel the rage swirling and dancing, like fire; becoming uncontainable.

The lights flickered around her. There was a low hum of electricity, that rose and fell away. Stara glanced around, frowning anxiously. Were they thinking of electrocuting her, just for pacing around the room?

Her rage exploded. It was horrible, it was sick – that she should be treated in this way. And no one was helping her.

To hell with them, she thought. To hell with all of them!

The lights brightened with a high buzz – and then one bulb outside of the window shattered; glass raining to the floor.


At that moment, Stara understood. She could hear voices out in the hall, coming toward her. But it didn’t matter. The moment she knew that it was her own Will that was creating the disturbance, she understood what she had to do.

She had to use her anger to destroy her prison.

Stara closed her eyes. She peered within everything that surrounded her – the room, the electrical cables, the lights, the people. She let certain places stand out – the door, the walls beyond. And then she threw the fire of rage outward, in a single, violent blast.

Burn, Stara said in the white fire of her mind.

The door – a curved construction many inches thick – was smashed open, flying off the hinges. It crashed into the metal wall behind it, creating a massive crater. The windows all shattered at once. And the wall on Stara’s left split entirely in half.

Stara kept those approaching in her mind – she did not want to kill them. But as she moved slowly toward the door, Stara knew she was leaving.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-27 show above.)