Previously in Only Slightly
Having been cleared of any wrongdoing in the mysterious deaths at their hotel, Linda and Anneka began some investigation of their own, starting with unusual noises in the night which turned out to be made by a group of shrouded figures. They followed them to the beach, where they encountered a submersible.
Despite their best efforts, Linda and Anneka were spotted. Anneka's ability to fly enabled her to escape the ensuing firefight, but Linda was shot and killed just as The Geraldine emerged from the ocean, using her power over water to sweep all the mysterious figures into the deep.
Anneka knelt next to Linda's body, tears streaming down her cheeks as she clutched her friend and mentor. She didn't want to let go; letting go would mean Linda wouldn't come back, she'd never seen her again, never hear her laugh, see her smile...
'We have to go,' The Geraldine said. 'It is not safe to stay here.'
Anneka looked up at her. In the moonlight, she could see the other woman's cheeks were dry. She felt angry.
'Can't you even grieve for a moment?'
The Geraldine stared at her for a long moment. Behind her eyes, Anneka caught the fleeting impression of the endless tides, the surf on the beach, majestic waterfalls, calmly flowing rivers and babbling streams.
'When it is time,' she said eventually. 'Then I will grieve. Come. I came for you, and there is much we have to do.'
'But... how did you get here? I thought you were on Mars!'
'I was. For a few minutes. Come, I'll explain later.' The Geraldine raised a hand, and the sea rose again. Water rose up around them, and before Anneka could say anything, the world blacked out.
She came to on a comfortable, soft surface, and blinked a few times before she took in what kind of room she was in. The ceiling was made of water, with brightly-coloured fish swimming around in it. She sat up, and realised that the walls and floor were water; as indeed was the bed - it was like a water bed, but without anything to hold the water in the shape it was.
Standing tentatively on the floor (which felt like a sheet of glass), Anneka looked around for a way out. Dimly through the water she could see another room, apparently made out of the water in the same way, and she walked towards it, ready to swim across if necessary. Instead, the water before her parted, forming a corridor to the room she'd seen, which had a table laden with food. There was a note on it.
'Eat what you wish, and then we will talk.'
Anneka put it down and stared at the food arrayed before her. Fresh fruits from a number of worlds, many of which had only recently started to become available on Earth. Cold meats, hard-boiled eggs, crusty bread, an assortment of jams and marmalades, croissants - everything Anneka had ever wanted for breakfast was there. Linda would have loved to have shared this breakfast with her. She would never share a breakfast with her mentor again.
Suddenly angry, Anneka swept the dishes from the table, then threw the table across the room. It hit the wall and passed straight through it, out into the water, where it sank slowly out of sight into the deep water. The food was doing the same, Anneka noticed, surrounded by a swarm of brightly-coloured fish. None of which she recognised.
'Where is this place?' she asked, anger fading in curiosity.
'A planet near the edge of the galaxy,' The Geraldine said. Anneka turned, and saw The Geraldine just emerging out of the water behind her. 'Human ships have passed through this solar system, but never paid this planet much mind. It has little land area, and so isn't very suited for human settlement at the moment.' The Geraldine looked up towards the surface and smiled slightly. 'Maybe one day it will be a holiday planet, and people will come and live on ships and submarines cruising around the oceans.'
'How did we get here?'
The Geraldine smiled. 'That's a long story,' she said. 'How about I show you? I'm sure you've got some things to pick up from Gir-Aris.'
She reached out and took Anneka's arm, and the room collapsed around them. Anneka fought the impulse to scream as the water closed in around her, but then the impulse drained away as she seemed to merge with the water, feeling what it was like to be a wave lapping on a shore, how it felt to have fish swimming through you from the coldest depths to the warmest tropical bays - and then they were somewhere else, a great void of disconnected islands, but all of them shining and wet in the dark. One came closer, they rushed towards it, and were in another ocean. Another world, Anneka realised, and just as she did so they were standing in the shallows on the very beach where Linda had died. Grief surged up again, but Anneka pushed it back down. She had things to do, first.
'About seven hundred light years,' The Geraldine said proudly. She checked the time display on the small computer she wore on her wrist. 'In thirty seconds.' She smiled, as if expecting an applause.
'It's a mere extension of my original ability to travel through water systems,' The Geraldine said, striding up the beach. She wasn't naked this time, Anneka noted, but instead wore a flowing silk robe of a beautiful sea green. 'Now I can travel between disconnected systems, no matter how far apart they are.'
'So... you can travel to any planet with water on it?'
'Anywhere in the galaxy?'
'Oh yes. And outside it as well. There are a lot of really nice planets in Andromeda, you know.'
'But why come to Gir-Aris just when you did? Why not ten minutes earlier? Why come at all!'
They had reached the top of the beach, and The Geraldine headed for the hotel where Anneka and Linda had been staying as if she'd lived there all her life. She walked for several minutes before she replied.
'I knew you needed help,' The Geraldine said. 'Don't ask me how, that's something to explain later. I came as soon as I knew. Believe me, if I could have come sooner, and prevented what happened, I would have. Linda was my friend, as well. We shared a lot with each other.'
'How did you know we needed help?'
'That is something you will have to discover for yourself.' They arrived at the front door of the hotel, and went in. There appeared to be no guests left at all, and the staff were sitting around in the courtyard looking worried. They didn't even notice Anneka and The Geraldine slip over to the stairs and go straight up to the suite Anneka and Linda had shared.
'Quiet,' The Geraldine commented when they had entered the room and closed the door.
'Just before... just before we went to the beach, we saw a crowd of guests leaving,' Anneka said. She went into her room and began to pack. 'After two murders in the same room, and a number of guests falling ill, and strange noises in the night, they weren't ready to stay any longer. Following those noises is what led us to the beach last night.'
'Illness?' The Geraldine asked the question with a curious intensity. 'What kind of illness? Do you know the symptoms?'
'No. No idea. We were in police custody at the time. Suspected of two murders.'
'Clearly I have a lot to catch up on. I wasn't expecting this... I'm going to go and ask the staff if they know what the symptoms of this illness are.'
'Is it important?'
The Geraldine was already halfway out into the corridor. 'It might be,' she said. 'It might be extremely important indeed.'
At the rim of the galaxy, Bill woke up sweating. He lay blinking at the ceiling in the small cabin he'd been assigned, wondering where the rising feeling of dread he was feeling was coming from.
When it didn't go away after a minute or so, he sat up. The lights came on automatically, and he found himself staring at his shoes. Something had changed in the Universe. He closed his eyes again, willing himself to find what it was. Dimly, a vision swept before his eyes. A beach at night. A fight. A death.
'Linda has been killed,' he said ten minutes later in Elizabeth's quarters. The Ambassador blinked at him.
'How do you...'
'I saw it,' Bill said. 'It happens sometimes, my magic is very focused on connections between things. On numerous occasions I've had cause to work magic which involved Linda, and that built a bond between us. A lesser one also exists between myself and The Geraldine, and between myself and Anneka, Linda's successor on the Chair of Mina. And they are strong enough to tell me that they were both present when Linda was killed.'
'Both of them? Where?'
'I'm not sure. A beach somewhere, but not on Earth.'
Elizabeth went to a computer console. 'Can you describe it?'
Bill closed his eyes again, summoning the vision back from his memory, avoiding the painful moment of Linda's death. 'The sand is pale and fine,' he said. 'There are a great many stars visible in the sky, and the moonlight is tinted like blood. The trees along the promenade are very dark.'
'Hmm... that could be several planets. Primary matches are Arelon and Gir-Aris. Both popular with people going on holiday.'
'Arelon... seven hundred light years. Gir-Aris, fifteen hundred. We can visit them both inside a week.'
'We'd better go then. Head for Arelon, and I'll see if I can get any more details to show us if we're on the right track.'
'At least The Geraldine is on a planet she can get back to Earth from,' Elizabeth said.
'Yes,' Bill replied, 'but how did she get there just after Linda was killed? There has to be a connection. I don't like this. It was bad enough when The Geraldine went missing, but now one of my friends has been killed, and I want to know who's behind it.'
Elizabeth nodded. 'I'll inform the pilot.'
What is the connection between the tragic happenings on Gir-Aris and The Geraldine's mysterious disappearance? Can we assume that she managed to solve the mysterious mystery put to her by the even more mysterious man in the highly mysterious stone dining hall, or is this all just a part of something larger? Read Part Ten of Only Slightly, and your questions may be answered.