**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.**
Alix fought the urge to close his eyes. It wasn’t easy in the night-darkened railcar. He was tired, but he knew he had to stay alert. He trusted no one, except for Cristina. She trusted him enough to be resting beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder and her shoulder against his side as his arm was wrapped around her. She used his broad chest as her pillow.
Every once in a while she would jump. Perhaps the memories of recent events were intruding upon her dreams. In a soft voice he would tell her everything was fine, reassuring her until the tension left her face and she slipped back into slumber, however uneasy.
Why were the authorities chasing them? Was Paul that dangerous? They were merely looking for him, but now they were treated as if they were dangerous criminals. Now, they were fugitives, too.
He couldn’t imagine any way of entering Star City undetected. The problem with entering a domed city was that everyone came and went through the same few airlocks. Paul had experienced an ambush when he arrived in Star City. He was certain of it. Paul must have developed his control of the attributes to the point of having willed the transformer to explode. It was a diversion. If he was still at large, he had the attributes to thank.
Alix knew their escape was the product of luck, timing and spontaneous innovation. There was no planning involved. Someday, when this was over he would confess that to Cristina. For the moment it served no purpose to undermine her faith and confidence in him. Still, he worried. He could not fail her. He would not. She was too important to him.
Before their escape he never tried anything to the extent of what he did to ensure their escape. He had toyed around with the gifts he discovered as part of the attributes, slipping from one part of a room to another. He considered it a mere novelty, as in an instant he could be somewhere else. Intuitively, he knew it was how to explain where the orb went whenever it seemed to disappear. He had played with the veils just never with anyone else along for the ride.
There were only those two times he went beyond what he knew was possible. When the situation forced him to act he had no choice. He did the only thing he thought might work. What amazed him was the distance they negotiated. He was glad it worked. The alternative was unacceptable.
A few hours into the ride, while Alix was staring out the window at the emptiness of the desert in the moonlight, Cristina roused and stretched. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know. We are out in the desert, still on the way.”
“How much longer do you think it will be?”
“I’m not sure,” Alix said, then looked at his chronometer. “We’re not even close to half way. Go back to sleep.”
“You need sleep. I can keep watch for a while.”
“They wouldn’t do anything while the railcar is in motion,” Alix said. “It would be too messy. It would involve too many people and their families.”
“Then we both can rest,” Cristina suggested.
“I still don’t think that’s wise.”
“The new paradigm for us is sleep sparingly and never too soundly.”
“A lot has changed.”
“They have been watching us for a while, Alix. They may be watching Pete as well, maybe everyone in the band.”
“It’s obvious from the attack and the break-in, they were watching Chase and Julie as well.”
“Exactly,” Cristina said. “They were after something, whether it was information, evidence or anything linking us to Paul, and his organization.”
“They planted bugs.”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Chase didn’t seem to care whether they had.”
Cristina nodded. “Maybe they were in on it.”
“Just something creepy I feel. They took Chase out first.”
“But he was beat up in the restroom.”
“I don’t know. Maybe that scared him into cooperating.”
Alix looked out the window, staring at nothing in particular.
After several moments, she asked. “What is so important out there?”
“It’s nothing really. It was just while you were sleeping I was imagining what it would be like seeing lights of small towns and farms as we pass them by. I read about how Earth used to be. Riding by train was not so different than being in a railcar. In a future time, maybe Pravda is going to be like Earth used to be.”
“We may not live to see it.”
“They say we can live for a very long time.”
“My recent experience screams otherwise.”
Alix forced a smile but its insincerity also showed in the dimness of the subdued dome lights in the railcar.
“My brave Alix,” Cristina kissed him for his smile anyway. “We’ll make it through this. Do you know why?”
“Because we have to?”
“I want to see our children playing in the playground, while you and I sit side by side on a park bench eating a lunch we made to bring with us. I see us there beneath a clear blue sky, not an acrylic dome, breathing the fresh air carried on a gentle sea breeze.”
“I want to sit on the bench with our children while we watch our grandchildren playing in the soft green grass.”
Alix leaned over and kissed her.
“Then maybe three generations of our family watching the newest generation playing in the peaceful world that somehow we provided for them.”
“It seems a long ways off,” Alix said.
“I believe it can be. ‘Dreams are mere potentials, shadows without form or substance. To make them reality you need the means, know the way to begin the journey and never stop believing until you arrive’.”
“Who said that?”
“A writer named Andrew L. Hunter. My father loved to read that book to me at night. He told me that at one time Hunter had the potential for an idyllic life but he gave it up to pursue the love of his life. But she was as much an illusion as the dream he had of being together with her.”
“No one knows that happened to Hunter. He stopped writing – or at least he stopped publishing what he wrote. I’m not sure a writer has it in him or her to just stop writing. It would be like losing our music. Or deciding not to breathe.”
“Did he ever find the love of his life?” Alix asked.
“Father said he always wanted to think that the reason no one ever heard from Hunter was that he found a way to be with her.”
Alix smiled. “You father was a romantic.”
“That he was,” Cristina said. “And a dreamer too.” She wiped a tear from her eye.
“I think I would have liked your father.”
“I think he would have approved of you. He always loved music. That’s why I sing, I guess. Even when I was an awkward little girl, he told me my voice was my most amazing gift. He paid to have an instructor give me singing lessons, singing opera of all things,” she laughed.
“I can’t imagine you singing like that.”
“Well then my voice deepened a bit as I matured and my vocal range slipped from soprano to mezzo-soprano and finally to contralto.”
“It’s better suited for our band.”
“I have had this voice ever since.”
“I love your voice,” Alix said. “I think that all of us in the band have loved your voice from the first time you auditioned for us. In fact you don’t know this because we never told anyone, but after we were together for a couple of years, Pete and I were offered places in another band that at the time was doing really well in New Milan. Pete spoke for both of us knowing what I would say.”
“Obviously, he said no.”
“He told the other guys that we were in the right band already.”
“We have always had a good chemistry in the band. I see other bands changing people all the time, but we had it right to begin with,” Cristina said. “Maybe it was luck.”
“No, destiny was when we finally got together after knowing one another for ten years.” She kissed him. “Get some rest. I’ll be up for a while.”
“Wake me if you start getting sleepy,” Alix said as he leaned his head against the window.
“I will,” she promised.
At first she didn’t know what to do except stare straight ahead. Only the exit lights and some tiny lights indicating the path of the aisle along the floor were illuminated. Still her eyes were sensitive enough to make out some very subtle details even in the dark. She could see ashen faces of some people toward the front who were talking quietly. One row back from the front a young man was reading text from an infotab, the preferred way of reading text. Three rows back from him there was another couple, using one another for support as they slept. A businessman was behind them, apparently stretched out as best he could across the two seats and sleeping – the snoring was coming from his direction.
Then there was a distinct difference. It startled her at first. Cristina fought the urge to turn and look. She felt uncomfortable with what intimate secrets she perceived. The girl’s name was Clare. She was going to see her boyfriend of five years. Last year he had gone away to Star City to find work when no one in Andromeda seemed to need his talents or wanted to hire him for any other position. Even though he had told them he needed a job, no one seemed to care.
He answered an on-line ad from Star City. Although it had been painful for them both, Clare kissed him goodbye at the railcar station. He promised to save up and send for her, and then they could restart their life together in Star City.
After a year he had not sent for her. At first and for several months thereafter he had been good about sending messages across the global network. Then the messages became less frequent until now she received no response to her messages.
Clare was going to Star City unannounced and not for any purpose other than to break-up. She suspected he found someone else and just didn’t know how to gracefully end his previous relationship. She had been faithful to him, but it was becoming increasingly hard.
A heartthrob from her school days had been asking her out. He had a very good-paying job downtown and was living in a nice apartment in a great part of town. He let her charge the railcar tickets on his payment wand because she could not afford the trip.
Why was Cristina privy to so much of Clare’s deeply private information? There was no purpose she could perceive. They had never met. And yet of all the people aboard the railcar, the two of them were somehow connected in thought. She knew what Clare was thinking and feeling. She understood Clare’s anxiety about seeing her boyfriend again after being apart for a year. What did Clare have to do with anything that involved anyone but herself and her soon to be ex-boyfriend?
Cristina focused, trying to disconnect from Clare but couldn’t. She needed a distraction, something to force her mind away. Maybe Alix could serve that purpose, but she didn’t want to disturb him so soon after he fell asleep.
She tried staring straight-ahead, focusing on the back of the seats where the businessman was sleeping, still snoring. At first it seemed to be working. She was forcing Clare’s internal monologue out of her immediate consciousness. Then, abruptly Clare barged in again. “Who do you think you are?”
It was clearly a directed comment, direct in thought to her. Clare was aware.
‘You have the attributes?’ Cristina projected her query.
‘It’s what they call them. You do as well.’
‘I had no intentions of violating your privacy.’
‘I didn’t notice until you tried so hard not to… I’m sure you know everything by now.’
‘Maybe not everything,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t disengage.’
‘When I need to, I have to pinch myself, really hard. I have bruises all over my arms from it.’
Cristina turned around as much as she could in the seat and saw Clare for the first time. Even in the darkness she could tell that she was much prettier than the mental self-image she projected. ‘We are still connected.’
‘I know. Maybe that’s my fault. I was lonely and bored and I was thinking that it might be nice to just talk to someone.’
‘Telepathic conversations are not normal.’ Cristina focused as best she could on Clare’s eyes. ‘I guess I’m kinda new to all this and you are more experienced in using your gift –’
‘Curse,’ Clare interrupted her thought.
‘However it seems to be, I really did not intend to intrude.’
‘Well since you probably know all about my relationship, what is you opinion?’
‘You’re asking for my advice?’
‘Yes, I think that was what I was doing.’
Cristina shook her head as if for emphasis whether Clare could see it or not. ‘I would not pretend to know the answer to your dilemma. I suppose that if he has found someone else then you are free to do as you seem to desire.’
‘What if he is not seeing someone else? What if he really is in love with me and still trying to save up…?’
‘Then why the silence?’
‘That is what worries me.’
‘You have been intimate?’
‘Yes, he knows about my differences.’
‘You have been intimate with your new boyfriend?’
‘No, not yet. I have been faithful. It’s just…well, it’s getting hard to deal with it.’
‘I understand.’ Cristina felt for Clare’s situation. “I guess you really have to play it as it comes. I do not envy you this.’
‘Yeah, well maybe it was good just to talk about it with someone else, someone who knows what it’s like to have the attributes.’
‘You realize that you have someone that you will eventually meet who also has the attributes.’
Clare laughed out loud. ‘You offer me that as hope.’
‘My boyfriend has the attributes. Other than Alix, my best friends are a couple who have the attributes.’
‘Some of my friends in school had the attributes. It took forever for us to really admit it because as small children we were ashamed and hid from other people.’
‘We all experienced it, I think.’
‘It was really odd though. I guess in a way it was funny. Everyone who had the attributes sort of formed a clique in school, boys and girls. We formed it even before everyone knew we all had the same differences. We were just like each other and all of us were different from the ‘norms’. Some of them had ‘norm’ friends and some of them knew about the differences, but it didn’t matter to them so it was very ‘kewl’.’
‘I have very close friends who are ‘norm’ as you call it. Some of them are in my band.’
‘Your band? You mean like musicians?’
‘Wow, that’s very, very ‘kewl’. You perform on stage and everything.’
‘Record Mod cards, hit songs hopefully, and we just finished touring.’
Clare strained to look at her. ‘I’m pretty much up on music. Listening helps me get through the day. The whole scene in Andromeda –’
‘My band is from New Milan.’
‘Not Duae Lunae!’
‘You say it like it is a bad thing.’
‘I saw your band perform live. You have…I mean, your voice is simply amazing. I really love your music.’
‘Thank you.’ Dealing with telepathic embarrassment for the first time was as much of a new experience for Cristina as mentally projecting modesty.
‘Uh, now I don’t know what to say. I mean I have met some of the local bands, I know a couple of guys from school who now play in one of the bands. One of my best friends is like you. She sings and writes songs. She plays guitar but not on stage, just when she writing music.’
‘I’m okay playing some instruments, but the guys are so much better. But, yeah I play guitar too,’ Cristina revealed. ‘So does Alix, but he plays the bass in the band.’
‘I don’t know. Maybe we are a lot more alike than not, all of us. I mean I played in the high school orchestra.’
‘I’ll bet you were good.’
‘I was okay. I played alto and tenor saxophone. I just lost interest. I started focusing more on drawing, line drawing and then I started doing water colors and painting with acrylics.’
‘You are good at it.’ It was a statement borne of capturing some of the mental images of her work that Cristina received.
‘I love it. It’s just very hard to get recognized.’
‘But if you do what you love you will be happy and maybe if you are fortunate people will accept you for what you are and what you do.’
‘I hope,’ Clare said.
‘You’re young. You have time to become better than you are now. Very few artists ever start out producing a masterpiece.’
Clare laughed, both mentally and out loud. ‘One of my friends from high school had some of her pieces exhibited. She’s into sculpture. She’s very good. She’s one of the lucky ones I guess. She met a guy her first year at the Andromeda Art Institute. He was studying to be an instructor and was two years older than she was. He helped her a lot and introduced her to people he had met. They were married last year and have twins on the way.’
‘Wow,’ Cristina replied mentally. ‘She has the attributes?’
‘She does; he doesn’t. Actually, I have a lot of friends who are like that. I jokingly call them mixed marriages.’
‘Actually, that’s probably what to call them.’
‘Well when they were dating they were lucky enough to find guys or gals that loved them despite the physical oddities. A few of them have children.’
‘Their children have the attributes?’
‘So, apparently having the attributes is a dominant trait.’ Cristina thought more to herself than she projected.
‘Regardless of whether the partner with the attributes is the man or the woman, the children always have the attributes.’
‘Interesting,’ Cristina considered.
‘Is that more significant than it seems?’
‘Have you ever met a Courier?’
‘I’ll take that as a, no,’ Cristina paused, wondering how to explain someone like Raven to her. Then she began, ‘There are these very wise and fairly old men – I don’t know of any that are women yet but there could be I suppose. They are the Couriers. When they identify us they give us a small orb that helps to train us in how to develop our abilities.’
‘How do I meet one?’
‘I can arrange it,’ Cristina said.
‘They believe the attributes will be diluted in mixed marriages and eventually if allowed to continue, the attributes will be rendered useless after several generations and mankind will perish.’
‘I don’t believe that,’ Clare said. ‘I think the attributes predominate. After a while everyone will display them.’
‘I hope that’s the case,’ Cristina said.
‘Obviously, it is.’
‘At least for the first generation it is.’
‘Yeah, I see your point. What if the children with mixed heritage conceive children with ‘norms’?”
‘Or even with each other.’
‘There are all sorts of possibilities. The Couriers believe we are intended to become the succeeding race of mankind and that we risk the purity of our genetic codes if we cross-breed with those who lack the attributes.’
‘But as I understand it, unless the decline in the birthrate isn’t fixed within fifty years, mankind will not be able to sustain the population.’ Clare countered.
‘That is true. Introduction of the attributes into the genetic code will correct the fertility problem. But the question is for how long with the succeeding generations of dilution. We may only be extending fifty years into a few hundred years.’
‘But that might give the scientists enough time to figure out how to combat the decline in fertility rates.’
Cristina sat back in her seat thoughtfully considering the entire argument about maintaining the purity of the attributes and how it was somehow destined to produce another version of mankind while the elder race of men declined into oblivion. She had never liked the feeling of despair that gave her. Why were the bearers of the attributes chosen? Why should only they survive? It was the root of all the emptiness she felt. It was not enough merely carrying on the continuity of the amassed knowledge, culture and art of mankind.