Vigilant - Chapter Three (PG-13)

A sound came from inside the menacing helmet and it took a second for Jack to grasp that it was laughter. "And you think you have no imagination? Tarthiun is surely not evil," Draephas chuckled. "He is a being of the purest life energy and a protector of all that is good. He has been like a father to me. What makes you believe otherwise?"

Jack's face turned red with embarrassment. "I just assumed he was a bad guy after I drew him. I mean, his face just looks so mean. He is the villain in all my stories about Xebolis." Jack paused. "Is that what your dimension is called?"

Draephas moved to the side of the bed opposite Jack. "I will not tell him what you said, although Tarthiun may find it as humorous as I did." He extended his arms across the bed toward Jack, hands held palms up. "And yes, our dimension is Xebolis." Jack instinctively placed his hands on top of the well worn gloves. A great sense of relief came over him. Jack knew he was in the company of a trusted companion.

"It is time to go," Draephas stated as he withdrew his hands. "But first we need to get you proper dress for what lies ahead. I would not let my worst enemy step foot outside in those clothes."

Jack thought he heard another chuckle from the alien as he turned and strode toward the wall. Just as it appeared that Draephas would walk head long into it, the outline of a door materialized. It slid open and he was gone. Jack looked down and discovered that he was wearing the custom made Draephas pajamas a friend had given him for his birthday two years ago.

Draephas returned quickly with an armful of garments and some sort of mask. They were similar in height and build and it took only a few minutes to find something. Everything fit a little loosely but they would do. Jack decided on dark gray trousers with a multitude of cargo pockets, a long sleeved plain black shirt, and a gray utility vest with even more pockets than the pants. On his feet he wore tall black boots made out of a material resembling leather.

"Thanks a lot for the clothes, Draephas. What is this thing for?'" Jack asked as he picked up the mask.

"A respirator," Draephas answered. "You will need it to breath outdoors. This planet, Aeddonea, has an atmosphere that only its natural inhabitants can survive in."

"Then I'll make sure to use it! Hey, how come you don't wear this stuff anymore? It would be way more comfortable than all that armor."

"That is none of your concern," Draephas said sharply, surprising Jack with his tone. "We must be going. Tarthiun is waiting and you have much to learn from him before you begin-"

He caught himself but it was too late. Draephas quickly gathered up the remaining clothing and made to leave. Jack sat down on the bed, arms crossed. "So, what am I about to begin? I think I have a right to know."

Draephas stopped but kept his back to Jack. "Please be patient and save your questions for Tarthiun. We need to leave now. The sooner we do what is required of us, the sooner you may return home to your family."

Jack unfolded his arms with a sigh and sat staring at his lap. "I don't have any family. They're all gone."

In his haste, Draephas had not considered how taxing the recent events must be on his visitor. Tarthiun would tell me to show compassion in this situation... He turned to face Jack. "Tell me," he said quietly.

After a pause, Jack spoke. "When I was three my brother disappeared from our back yard. My Dad was supposed to be watching both of us but he ran inside to check the score of the football game. When he came out Patrick was gone. He was only five, so how far could he have gotten in a few minutes, right?"

Jack swallowed hard. "They searched for weeks but never found him. I was young but I still remember everything. I was playing with my Jawas and droids in the sandbox and Patrick was climbing an oak not 10 feet away. It was real windy that day and Dad told him not to climb or else he may get blown right out of the tree. One minute he was there and the next he...wasn't. I never even saw him leave."

"Mom could never forgive my father and he could never forgive himself. They separated about a year later and not long after that he was found hanging in his closet," Jack continued. "My mother and I survived pretty well considering. She passed away almost 4 years ago from cancer, so now it's just me. Hell...most of what I just said probably makes no sense to you, does it?"

Draephas walked over and placed the clothes on the end of the bed. "I, too, have no family." He put his hand on Jack's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Jack looked up at him and smiled weakly. Without another word he stood up and followed Draephas out of the sleeping chamber and into the unknown.