**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Paul emerged from the caverns for the first time in over a month, but he did not dare tarry far. He wore the same indistinguishable coveralls as anyone who worked outside of the domes. On his head he wore a helmet. There was ample illumination from the two moons for the surveillance satellites. The eyes of the Colonial Authority were everywhere. They were more than capable of identifying him, so he did not look up.
It was a cool evening, due in large part to the elevation of the southern mountains and the low humidity of the high desert surrounding the foothills that lead up from the coastal plain. The air felt sweet and refreshing even if he was breathing it through a filter just to be safe. He longed to enjoy a world without domes, where the air was natural, clean and pure.
Under the relative cover of night he was scheduled to move. It would be soon now. The four pumas were on their way to pick-up Paul and three decoys. It was a flawed system, but so far it had worked well enough to keep his exact whereabouts a mystery from the authorities.
Paul failed his mission. The reason he was recruited and brought him to the mountain was to recruit Chase and through him Julie, Cristina, Alix and Pete the established cadre associated with the attributes. He gave his best pitch. Maybe he had relied too much on emotion, but he had not told a single lie – at least as far as he knew. The only thing he could do now was recruiting his sister directly. Cristina was all-important to The Resurrection’s longer-term plans. Maybe he didn’t need to be successful in recruiting anyone else. She was the empathic one the Architects had foretold to the Couriers. Paul was certain of it. Not only could she communicate without uttered words but also she could feel what others felt. It was The Resurrection’s hope that she could communicate with a sand-morph.
Paul had used the orb to hone and refine his attributes, making them acute and powerful. Amongst them he developed the ability to heal. He believed that with some help from Cristina and perhaps the others he might personally bring a sand-morph back to life. He would rely on Cristina to bring understanding. As the elder race of mankind ceased to be capable of reproduction, the new race of men and women – humans bearing the attributes – would emerge, multiply and thrive. Cristina would bridge the gap between a new mankind and the ancient indigenous race of the world.
As he descended into the cavern one last time, he imagined as he had many times before what it must have been like when the underground community of sand-morphs was bustling with activity. Did they ever go outside at night and look up in the night sky and see the stars and the two moons and wonder what was out there? Did they have a premonition that their world would be invaded by beings from star many light years away?
“I think we’re ready,” Jodi said as she met him on his descent.
“I just wanted to make sure I had everything I’ll need.”
“Good idea. I’ll meet you up top,” she said, and then continued on her way.
It seemed cruel that as a young child growing up in Haven he had not known he had a sister. Feeling alone in the world, different from the other kids at school, he found peace and comfort in solitude. His uncle told him that his father was dead. Now he understood it was the way it had to be. When Paul was twelve, his uncle and aunt left him to stay with friends while they went to New Milan to attend a relative’s funeral. When they returned home he overheard his aunt and uncle talking about how sad it was for little Cristy to be without her father. Later he heard his uncle refer to Cristy as his niece. Paul knew his uncle had a brother and two sisters; his one brother was Paul’s father. But he had met his aunts and knew each of their children as his cousins. So the conversation had seemed strange in light of what he was always told. He began to suspect he did not know the whole truth about his past.
He grabbed a few things and crammed them into a small bag that was sitting at the edge of the hard slab. It served as a firm foundation upon which layers of thick blankets and a sleeping bag became his bed for the past few weeks. He went a little bit deeper into the cave; into the places he experimented further with his orb. Having spotted it, he held out his hand and it appeared in his palm. Then he turned to begin his ascent to the cavern’s mouth. As he passed where he had left the small bag he summoned it. It obeyed, flying toward his outstretched hand. He had a premonition of danger ahead for the cavern while wondering whether he’d see it again. It was a silly thought so he immediately discounted it. He was the healer. He was key in The Resurrection’s plans, so he had to be involved.
He emerged from the cave with three others dressed in exactly the same attire, each of them wearing a black hood to conceal their identities from others. It was intentional. The other members of the clandestine group were not supposed to know the decoys from the real Paul. Each of them was escorted with armed guards to their respective Pumas where each of them handed a plain pouch to the driver containing instructions that were not to be opened until their vehicles were away from the caverns and out into the desert.
Once Paul and each of the others were safely inside respective vehicles they set out single file away from the protected alcove and out into the desert until they were well out of sight. Only then did the drivers open their pouches and read instructions. None of them would know whether they were carrying the real Paul.
The fallacy in their method of concealment was simple. The Colonial Authority resources could track each of their vehicles to its destination. In order to combat the potential danger to some extent the decoys and Paul would change Pumas at a given point and beyond there would be eight not four Pumas to track.
It was a delaying tactic, intended to keep the authorities busy.
Paul told no one except his one trusted friend of his true intentions. He told some of his cohorts that he was going to New Milan and others that he was going to Haven. There was another rumor that he was really going to Emerald. A few who were of the inner sanctum knew Cristina was in Andromeda. They speculated Paul was headed for a rendezvous with his sister while she was visiting Chase.
Paul had no intention of riding a Puma to any city where the authorities might look for him. He had other plans. Having made other arrangements with the only person he felt he could trust, Jodi, he felt everything was set.
When the Puma reached the climate observation station where he was scheduled to change vehicles and suddenly provide another target for the Colonial Authorities satellites to track, there was someone else inside the station, another decoy. The Authority could capture all eight Pumas but there would be no Paul inside any of them.
There was a series of rooms beneath the station. In the past they served as the caretaker’s quarters. Paul intended to live there until he was dark again. Then, he would use a little known tunnel under the desert that had served the engineers as they prepared the cultivated beds of green houses and the hydroponics facilities for providing food to the first colonists. Although still used for research, the area was long since replaced by acres of domed, organically amended agricultural lands to produce high quality fruits and vegetables. Along with the expansive fabrication facilities used to synthesize muscle tissue as a substitute for raising and slaughtering domesticated animals, the hungers of the world were fed.
There were similar facilities that served the needs of each city, the intention had always been to make each city self sufficient in the providing for the basic needs of their populations. In practice there were excesses and deficiencies. A healthy commodities market developed for trade from one city in surplus to another city in deficit.
Jodi ensured that Paul would have everything waiting for him, new identity cards, a payment wand and clothing to disguise him as an agricultural engineer. He took a nap in the safety of the room beneath the station while the Pumas went about their deception, drawing any surveillance away from the real point of interest.
When it was dark, Paul keyed the combination into the cipher lock to access the tunnel that had been sealed for years. Undetected, he advanced through the dimly lit tunnel beneath the old greenhouses. It took nearly all night for him to reach the far end of the tunnel and another locked door. He keyed in the combination again and emerged into another room beneath another climate observation station. Shortly after he arrived, a Puma pulled up outside and two passengers disembarked, both wearing inconspicuous agricultural engineer uniforms identical to Paul’s. Both went inside the station but one of them remained as Paul took his place in the Puma joining the driver and a guard.
While the man who remained behind would back-track Paul’s path and be picked up by a Puma at the station on the southeastern end of the tunnel, Paul would ride in a Puma to a relay station for the railcar system that was closer to Star City than it was to Delhi, the next closest city.
Dressed as an agricultural engineer and bearing an apparently valid AE’s identification and payment wand, his cover story was taking monthly recreation and relaxation break in the nearest city, including complimentary one way railcar transportation. It was a fringe offered for compensation in recognition of the hard work and harsh working environment of the exposed continental interior.
Paul’s plan was working flawlessly. He planned that once he was in Star City he would change into his personal attire and from there he would purchase one-way fare to Andromeda on a different payment wand.
He felt safe as he rode in the Puma across the desert toward the railcar relay station. There was not a great likelihood that he had been tracked. He had been careful and used the same procedure as always except he had added several additional twists. Paul supposed discovery was possible but not probable unless there was a major breech of security. He was meticulous in planning every detail and had not shared his complete plan with anyone except Jodi. He trusted others only to the extent of their relevant involvement as a portion of the overall plan.
There were only a few roads in the desert that the engineers had established for their purposes but they were not connected to anything but other engineering facilities. Pumas were essential as means of transportation across the open, undeveloped sections of the arid interior.
The infrastructure for anticipated travel needs were under construction in places. Thus far none of the cities were connected to one another in any way more economical than by railcar. In fact, a few kilometers from any of the city domes, all signs of construction disappeared. There was no indication to support the widely circulated rumors of roadbeds being prepped for paving to support floater coaches as a means of intercity travel in the near future. The common belief about progress in construction of the infrastructure across the interior was rooted in the Colonial Authority’s lies.
There were higher priorities in the desert, irrigation for one. Again, the illusion of progress supported lies. It was the stated goal of the terraform engineers to establish domed forests. Once the atmosphere was ready, the domes could be dismantled and the forests would thrive, expanding on their own. In other areas soft grasses were grown near the domed cities, allegedly so that once the city domes were dismantled people could establish parks and residential communities.
As he rode, Paul allowed his imagination to project into a different future that he dared to dream, one without the Colonial Authority. Anticipating he would be powerful and important in such a world, he would travel as the wealthy and important did, opting for efficient but expensive hover transportation. Although he could have arranged use of such a vehicle for this trip masquerading as a Colonial Authority official was at least ill advised. The security monitoring around the airlocks for receiving hovercraft in the cities was tight, far too risky for traveling with false credentials.
Paul saw some indications of construction projects but nothing appeared to be currently underway. Although there should be indications of widespread terraforming in the otherwise lifeless desert, vast areas remained untouched. It was a huge continent. In the interior there was a whole lot of sand and no surface water, but there should be some sign of development.
By the time the Puma reached the railcar relay station, it was almost morning again. It had taken all afternoon and all night to cross the stretch of harsh and barely navigable desert. Paul bade the driver and the guard good-bye with no words, only a wave and he exited the Puma. He trotted to the entrance and stood as he waited for his clothes to be sanitized and any contaminants neutralized. Then he entered the small lobby. Went to a ticket counter and stood for a few minutes, even clicking the attendant’s buzzer before an elderly gentleman approached. “Yes sir.”
“AE comp ticket to Star City on the next railcar.”
The gentleman brought up the seating confirmation screen for the next arriving car coming from Delhi. “I guess you are in luck. There are only five empty seats on that one, though. It’s one that originated all the way out in New Milan. I’ll confirm you for it.”
“Haven’t seen you before.”
“I just started a few months ago.”
“Well, they’ll pause here for you to board. But you gotta be ready. They’ll only wait for a couple of minutes.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“It’ll be a couple of hours yet.”
“I was expecting a wait.”
“We can talk for a bit. I always have time for conversation. Why in two hours we will be best friends.”
“Unless we run out of things to talk about.”
“That will never happen. I’ve been around a long time. I assure you I have a lot to talk about. What do you want to know?”
“Have you ever been to New Milan?”
“No. I have no use for the west coasters and their ways. I lived most of my life in Haven.”
“I was born in New Milan, but I don’t remember it. My mother died in child birth and I went to Haven to live with my uncle and aunt,” Paul revealed.
“I was born on a transport on the way here. My parents were immigrating from Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. My father was born on Mars. My mother was the daughter of a researcher who worked at a base on Luna. But she made regular trips to Earth back when they were still trying to fix all the things that people broke in that ecosystem. My mother and father met when they were attending The Armstrong-Aldrin Engineering Institute at Tranquility University on Luna.”
“Why’d they ever end up here?”
“My mother and father wanted to come to Pravda because the terraform engineers promised they were making it into paradise. The way they pitched it, this place was already so much like Earth that it seemed like it could be the one world that would convert easily, within a decade or two. Maybe it will be that paradise they promised after you and I are dead and gone. Who knows? You’re the Engineer. You tell me.”
“Agriculture is my expertise,” Paul pointed out. “I take what the enviros give me and try to make things grow.”
The attendant laughed, and then offered his hand across the counter. “My named Harold.”
“Randy,” Paul introduced using his assumed name while accepting the handshake.
“It’s been a lot more complicated than anyone believed,” Harold allowed. “Even the places where they say terraforming worked, it’s subject to opinion. Mars is the best they got and it is unstable, from what I read.”
“The agriculture there hasn’t been successful, but because of it there have been tremendous advances in hydroponics that were beneficial to the early needs of this world.”
“That’s true. We certainly eat well here.”
“The problem with Mars goes well beyond the soil. It does not have a molten core so it has a very weak magnetic field if it even has one at all. The solar winds tear away as the atmosphere constantly. It creates a wonderful lightshow every night. The terraform engineers have to replenish the gases in the atmosphere periodically and despite their certifying the world terraformed, for safety reasons they have never dismantled the domes.”
“Dad and Mom told me horror stories about Titan. People were cold and starving. The engineers tried orbital reflectors to focus more sunlight onto the planet to thaw the methane oceans and harvest the gases for use to heat the world. They tried all sorts of things to get the ambient temperature even close to what humans feel is tolerable. They got it to the point where it was livable, I guess.”
“We haven’t had a good track record finding a new home,” Paul stated.
“The most successful world so far has been C974, the large moon of one of the gas giants in the Centauri system.”
“I believe you’ll discover that one has issues as well,” Paul said.
“I heard that C974 had a much better atmosphere than here to begin with, denser than Mars, a molten core and a magnetic field. It has some surface water and small seas that could hardly be called oceans but fresh surface water. I thought terraforming was working there.”
“They have severely restricted human colonization,” Paul corrected, having read extensively about the subject when he worked for the Ministry of the Interior. “There is native flora and fauna, but the three cities have domes and humans need respirators if they walk outside. The enviros are attempting to adapt an already complex ecosystem with many species. But they are being extremely careful about introducing people into the mix. If it wasn’t for the indigenous life, it might be everything Pravda isn’t. With the average ambient temperature around fifteen to twenty Celsius, it is a perfect candidate.”
“Why has no one ever named it?”
“I heard someone wanted to name it Babylon,” Paul replied.
“I heard that, too. He had a huge campaign and spent a lot of his personal savings to get everyone to vote for the name. I guess everyone was used to calling the place C974 so that’s why it was never renamed.”
“They haven’t decided whether anyone will live there permanently. There are a lot of challenges making the environment like the engineers want without adversely affecting the environment. So until they say the world works, I doubt they’ll name it. Maybe not then. Once people get used to calling something one thing they usually resist changing to call it something else.”
“Human nature,” the old man agreed. “You know what happened and defined my life?”
“No,” Paul responded. “What?”
“Yes, irony. The world is filled with it. Maybe even the universe. I never knew it until I was older and had a chance to reflect on things, but I’ll bet if you did some of that too, you’d see what I see, lots of irony.”
“Okay,” Paul was willing to give Harold the benefit of doubt.”
“I was a toddler by the time the engineers had anyplace habitable on the surface here. It was a horrendous pain in the ass for my mother and father to have to deal with a new baby, being confined to cramped dorms for the first settlers. When Haven was opened, my folks were among the first to set foot there. I was young but I remember some of it. By the time I was in my teens, they finished Andromeda and they started Star City. There was nothing but a few tents and construction sites, but that was a big deal. They started building before the dome was finished. My folks moved there and we lived in an airlock tent until their residence was finished. Star City was offering incentives to have people relocate there and many people who wanted a new start or a fresh start flocked there and suffered for a while. Mom and Dad lived there the rest of their lives always waiting for this world to turn into paradise. I guess I was never as optimistic,” he concluded.
“Who can believe an enviro, right?”
“Well, you would know,” the old man said. “You work with them, right?”
Harold laughed. “At least you feed people. So that’s something good.”
“It’s rewarding in a way, but also it is lonely and boring.”
“Are you gonna find a lady friend in Star City.”
“I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s not like I can settle down. Not until they let people live outside of the domes.”
“I never married,” Harold revealed. “On the occasion of my eighteenth birthday my father took me out and was in the process of telling me how to be a man when two ladies came by the bar where we were sitting and, one came up on the either side of me. I didn’t understand what was going on at the moment, but my father backed off and… well, they were very persuasive and I ended up going back to their place.”
“Two of them?”
“Yeah, can you imagine that? My first time, too!”
“Your dad arranged it?”
“Maybe he did. He denied it afterwards. But that was one of the high points in my life, having two ladies at one time.”
Paul laughed. “Well, I guess settling down with one woman after that experience would have been… disappointing?”
“Oh, I had a number of encounters and several girlfriends after that. I may no longer look the part, but in my day I was quite the stud. Everywhere I went I met ladies. We danced. Sometimes we went back to my place. Other times I went to her place. When that got old, I tried to make lasting relationships, but after a while something always seemed to fall apart. I met this one lady named Charmin. She was something else! She had the voice of an angel and the body of a temptress. She wanted it all the time. It wore me out. I thought she was the one, too. But she would have killed me.”
“Two at once and one lady named Charmin could have killed you,” Paul said incredulously.
The old man chuckled, “Yeah, I hear ya but you don’t really know. The two ladies that initiated me into the brotherhood of men liked me a lot. I was a virgin. Neither of them had ever done a virgin. So they shared me; they also shared with me all of the secrets they knew about satisfying the desires of both men and women. They showed me their ways and wiles, how to satisfy anyone in a sexual way. It seemed like a gift from the gods for me, but it proved to be a curse. I could satisfy others, but never really myself,” he confessed.
“I practiced ancient tantric methods, ways of lingering on and on and on to ensure multiple orgasms for my partner. I was doing everything for them, nothing for me.”
Paul stepped back from the counter. “You have had quite a life, my friend,” he said.
“Yeah and the best is still to come,” he said.
“Watching a guy get it when he least expects it.”
Suddenly, security agents surrounded Paul. He knew from their uniforms they worked directly for the Colonial Authority.
“You did a good job delaying,” one of the agents told Harold.
“He must be pretty damned important for this many of you to come all the way out here and on hover craft to boot!”
“Can we borrow a room back there behind the counter?”
“Yeah, second one on the right has no window, four chairs and a table.”
“I thought it would suit your needs,” the old man beamed.
Paul’s hands were restrained behind his back as security guards poked him in the neck and injected a tranquilizer into his blood stream while other agents dragged him down to the room where other agents of the Colonial Authority desired to interrogate him. The guards deposited him harshly onto one of the chairs, and then made some comment about his traitorous acts. They taped his ankles and arms to the chair, and then taped his body to the chair to prevent him from slipping out of the chair onto the floor.
Paul was unconscious for a while. Maybe it was not all that long but it felt like at least an hour had elapsed. Anyway it seemed that the agents were expecting him to come out from under the influence of the drug. Paul wondered how many times had he been in this sort of situation. He had lost count. He sought to avoid any direct contact with the authorities, but ever so often they intersected with his existence and each time it became a more painful experience for him.
He sat there waiting, glancing around the room for any possible chance for escape. There were none obvious, especially with his bound hands and his head still groggy from the effects of the tranquilizer. After several minutes of relative isolation, two more agents entered the room, and then one guard posted inside the door and another outside the door.
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble detaining the wrong guy. I’m on my vacation.”
“You want to play that game, Paul. Yeah, we know who you are, how you got here, where you were for the past few weeks. We know you’re an integral part of The Resurrection’s plans. We can show you the evidence if you like. What we want from you is an open confession and a commitment to work with us to apprehend the other criminals involved. If you do this, your life will be spared. As you know, what you have done is sedition and treason. That is punishable by death.”
Paul leaned back in his chair. He even smiled. “Et tu, Jodi.”
One of the two men looked up.
“So she’s playing both sides, one against the other?”
“Who’s Jodi?” the agent asked.
“Look, if you want me to be honest with you, you need to be honest with me. I know when you’re lying.”
One of the two men leaned back and sighed while the other stood up and walked toward the door.
“Okay, here it is,” Paul said. “You can let me go now and if you don’t follow me I won’t kill you.”
The agent who was still sitting across from Paul just laughed as he allowed his chair to rock forward. “You’re a pretty funny guy.”
Paul rocked his chair to the front legs and stood bent over for the curve of the chair. He wore a kind of ironic smile as he decided to simply unravel the duct tape that bound his hands together. The two agents looked on in utter amazement, as the tape seemed to be unwinding itself. Then suddenly, Paul disappeared.
“What the…?” The agent who had been sitting leapt to his feet. The other ran over to confirm what his eyes had witnessed. Paul was not there. The two men rushed the door, trying to open it, throwing their weight against it to no immediate avail.
“Get him!” one shouted through the door to the guard outside.
“Where is it?”
“He’s gotta be out there, somewhere. Find him!”
Paul paused at the counter to address the old man. “You know what,” he said as he came up from behind and startled him. “I’ll bet that nothing in your life has ever surprised you as much as this.”
“I do what they want. There’s no point in fighting them. I can’t afford to live if I don’t have this job.”
“Maybe all that other crap about your past was bullshit too.”
“I don’t bullshit. I never bullshit.”
“You lie for the right cause. Is that it?” Paul reached out his hand toward the old man. He backed up at Paul’s advance, fear in his eyes.
Guards came running down the hallway toward them. Paul projected an invisible barrier both men ran into, striking it before falling backwards after knocking themselves out.
“I don’t have to touch you to end your miserable, lonely life.”
“I’m not afraid of dying, only the pain,” the old man said. “I’ve had a good long life. Maybe now I can finally reach paradise.”
“I can set you free, but I’m afraid the your heaven is a lie.”
Paul turned away. As he did the old man clutched his chest and collapsing to his knees and then to the floor. The railcar was just arriving at the station. Paul waited and when it stopped at the dock and its door opened, he passed through the airlock and boarded it. When he sat down and got comfortable, the railcar left the station, gradually resuming its course and speed.
He sat quietly contemplating what he had done. Despite the apparent natural causes of the old man’s death, the agents would surely pin the death on him. As a result he fully expected some confrontation whenever he reached Star City. Obviously, the authorities from Haven would be in contact with their authorities. Paul was ahead of them, though. He may not have expected any of this, but he had anticipated almost every variable, including betrayal.
The railcar progressed toward its destination. Paul had a brief conversation with the lady who was sitting across the aisle. After a time she fell asleep and he was pretty much left to his own diversions and devices, figuring out how he was going to avoid the army of security agents that would descend upon the railcar in Star City.
He mentally calculated the speed and distance of the railcar to the expected arrival time factoring in the two minutes the car paused for him to board and also the pause for the railcar to access the entrance to the dome at Star City. He knew it was iffy, of course, but he had the knowledge to do it.
Paul could put on the breathing filters and exit the train through a maintenance hatch in the back of the railcar before arriving at the dome. Yes, there would be an alarm and maybe it might alert the authorities that he was there, but if he did it close enough to the city, he could enter through one of the remote maintenance ports in the dome, the ones that engineers used whenever they were performing checks on the dome’s integrity.
Of course he should be dressed differently but they had confiscated his bags. He would have to make do with what he had to work with. He hoped that he could seek out Raven once he was in Star City. Maybe the Courier could help him.